Like many people, I’ve been shocked by the news of Dave Goldberg’s death late last week. It was an utterly senseless accident, and regardless of who the people in question were, the idea of a happy couple going off on vacation and the wife coming back as a widow with two young kids is just heart wrenching.
Most readers of this blog know what we do of Goldberg from reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. She praised him as a true partner as she told younger women that someday there will be nothing sexier than a man doing laundry. To be sure, I doubt either member of the Goldberg-Sandberg clan had done laundry in years. But I also have no doubt that he valued his wife’s career as much as his own, and was equally committed to spending time with their children in the midst of the professional responsibilities each of them had.
I’ve been thinking of him this week as I write about faulty work/life narratives. A key problem with much “mommy war” talk is that it’s all about the mommies, as if they are the only parents who matter. Daddies are in this too. One can be fully in awe of single mothers while still feeling that dads have much to contribute to home and family life. Expecting that they can and will shoulder the burdens and celebrate the victories equally should not be revolutionary. It is not only Mom’s decisions that matter. It is Dad’s too.
This faulty narrative that it’s all on mom plays out in many unfortunate ways. Sure, some women run themselves ragged trying to do 100 percent of the parenting and housework because their “partners” won’t step up to the plate. Some men absorb the cultural narrative that the absolute best thing they can do for their kids is work as hard as possible so mom can choose to work or not work. I get that. But I think what happens just as frequently is a more insidious problem. Mom absorbs the cultural narrative that she knows best. She expects Dad to do things her way, as if he’s her assistant, and perhaps a rather dim one at that. She swoops in to rescue, to micromanage, to freak out when he forgets the wipes on a park trip (even though he’s probably bright enough to mooch some off another family). Next thing we know, a father who might have entertained being a partner gives up.
I’m not 100 percent thrilled with the split my husband and I have on things, but because he often has taken the kids on the weekends while I work, he’s figured out his own ways of managing a passel of children. He gets them to swim lessons. He’s taken kids on an all-day excursion to Coney Island and survived.
Incidentally, my own father took care of us quite a bit growing up. He always had the full-time job (as a professor); my mom worked part-time. But for many years when I was little she worked as a tutor. This happened from about 3-7 p.m. So my mom would be on during the day, then my dad would come home from work and take the afternoon and evening shift. He got us dinner and supervised (and, for what it’s worth, still got tenure).
I’ve seen a few time logs from single dads over the years. In general, there’s less housework, and more fast food. Men don’t necessarily do things as women do. The idea of ending a session playing in the mud in the backyard just to get dinner started may not seem immediately appealing. But the kids thrive in any case. Putting it all on mom and assuming she knows best limits both men and women. It’s a narrative that needs to go.
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Photo: The little dude plans to be a fully involved father.