A recent survey found that more than three-quarters of adults would choose to celebrate Mother's Day over Father's Day if both parent appreciation holidays fell on the same day. I agree with the 78%, largely for the same reasons the participants in the survey enumerated. My wife spends countless off-work hours contemplating and anticipating our 14-month-old's needs—Which foods can he consume? Which music classes should he attend? What is his room's ideal temperature?—while my role is closer to that of Babe the Blue Ox.
On Mother's Day people generally show their appreciation in the form of presents and attention. (The word "flowers" is searched more often in middle May than around Valentine's Day.) Children prepare breakfast and write sweet cards, and the day usually ends with a picnic or a dinner in mom's honor. For the past few weeks, multinational corporations have been utilizing all the screens that occupy my life to persuade me to buy their products. Last year I bought my wife a massage. This year I'm considering a scarf.
But there's something a touch cynical, or at least incongruous, about Mother's Day. Dads praise moms for the multitude of roles (breadwinner, caretaker, chef) they take on to help the family function, even as the guys don't quite pull their own weight the rest of the year. So in addition to deciding between a rose-gold watch and white-gold earrings, dads should consider adapting their behavior in the following ways.
Pull your weight
Fathers today certainly contribute more to household responsibilities than their fathers did. In 1965, fathers spent 42 hours a week on the job and less than three hours on child care. Today's dads look after the kids seven hours a week, and average 37 hours of paid work, per Pew Research Center. Moms tend to the kids for 14 hours a week, while averaging 21 hours on paid work.
When it comes to housework, dads put in about 10 hours a week compared with 18 for moms. Working mothers spend more time during the week on parental responsibilities that their husbands, and fathers even do less child care and housework on the weekends than moms. Dads still find the time to engage in more leisure activity. Eschewing a round of golf for babysitting duties should not be a headline-making event.
Support working moms
Only 12% of American workers have access to paid family leave, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By way of comparison, 26% of Americans believe in the existence of witches. Many pixels and column inches have highlighted just how much better other nations treat new families. (You can find a nice graphic here.)
Of course someone has to pay for this country's insanely expensive child care. The average bill depends on where you live, with married couples in Colorado, for instance, allocating about 15% of their income to day care. Massachusetts parents fork over more than $16,500 a year. That's around $2,500 less than in-state tuition and fees at UMass Amherst.
As child care costs have skyrocketed, women are leaving the workforce. In 1999, 23% of moms did not work outside the home. By 2012, that percentage had risen to 29%. And the average number of hours worked by mothers declined slightly between 1995 and 2011. The female labor force participation rate has dropped by about 3.5 percentage points over the past 15 years, now well below other advanced nations.
Meanwhile 60% of Americans believe that children are better off with a parent at home, per Pew. Mothers, and fathers for that matter, should stay at home if that's what they feel is best for their family. But the idea that one choice is better than another strikes me as anachronistic. I for one am proud that Luke will grow up with a working mom.
I don't mean to suggest that dads should spend mom's Sunday engaged in a wonky debate about gender equality. But I do think that dads would do well to appreciate the disadvantages endemic to our society, and in the division of household chores. Its benefits may be longer lasting than flowers.
More From the First-Time Dad:
- Why Millennials Are in for a Worse Midlife Crisis than their Parents
- The One Benefit All Millennials Should Consider Before Accepting a Job
- Read This Before Taking a Road Trip with a Baby
- How to Cook a Real Dinner for Your Family…and Finish Before 9 p.m.
- Why Work-Life Balance is Just as Impossible for Dads