Monday, March 22, 2010

How do I best serve my family?

I recently wrote a very short, very cursory article for website dedicated to working moms. I was trying to offer a 101 of why some men might not be as involved with their kids and domestic duties as some moms would like. In brief, I made three points—1) We are at the office all the time because it is in our genes to provide for our families 2) We can compare the housework we do, not with the work of our spouse, but with the work of our fathers 3) Maternal gate keeping chases some men away. (To read the short article, click here.)  This wasn't a "one size fits all" article.  This was intended to be a "if your husband is doing this..." article.

The responses have been fascinating—I’ve been called everything from “bang on” to a chauvinist pig. What has surprised me, however, is how many people have disagreed with my first point—men are hardwired to provide. Now, when I say “provide”, I mean in the traditional financial sense. I am a firm believer (and have based my business on the point) that men need to broaden their definition of “provide” to go beyond a strictly financial one (this is in no way to bash hard working, responsible, breadwinning dads, but rather to better understand them.)

I know we have a lot of at home dad readers on this blog, who have done just that—they realize that they have so much to offer their children and their families beyond just a paycheck. They are leading the evolutionary process.

Having said that, I’m guessing if you asked the average working father what are his two greatest fears concerning his family he would say, in order:

1) That someone gets sick, hurt or dies.

2) That I will no longer be able to “provide” for them.

There is a reason that more men than ever are saying that their work lives interfere with their family lives. Men are becoming more involved dads, and more is expected of them on the home front than was of the previous generation. They want to spend more time with their kids. However, there is still a pull (push?) from society and our genetic make up that says we are best serving those we love by earning money.  We feel guilty being away from our kids like never before, but still feel we are doing the right thing.

Do you feel genetics and society still puts pressure on you to earn?  If society still portrays women as sex objects, do they portray men as "money objects?"

 I’d love to hear some of your thoughts..


  1. Thanks for writing this.

    If it's any consolation most women, myself included, feel pressure to provide as well (it's in our genes). Before industrialization we were involved in lots of activities to provide for ourselves and families, from activities on the farm, to urban activities like teaching and sewing. In fact, I've heard of stories of men making their wives plow the fields while they watched. And, of course, we always have to be able to provide for ourselves in case our husbands die or leave or otherwise become abusive to us or children in some way.

    I think what some men see in the term "provide" is power and entitlement, and this is what makes many women cringe. Men want the status of being the primary breadwinner so they can have the final word on decisions? And we've all seen many men leave their wives to start second families or have affairs based on the size of their wallet. And such male-dominance puts us women on the defensive.

    Wanting to provide for your family is admirable, but if you're doing it at the expense of parenting your children, I think an adjustment to get better balance is needed?

    My dad, although he was kinda rude and mean, was around a lot and even in his rudeness and meanness he made a big difference in my life and my ability to survive and take care of myself. I can only imagine the benefits of having better quality dads like yourself and the others I hear about.

  2. It's very true what you say about the pre-industrialized world. Were you also aware that there are many documented cases that men were very involved in raising their children at that time as well?

    Perhaps, when I talk about providing, I am over simplifying things. I do know that men still feel like society expects them to be the chief financial provider (whether they succumb to that pressure is a different point. Much the same way society puts pressure on women to have big boobs and a tiny waist...not every woman gives into that, but I am guessing most feel it when they are wearing their bathing suit at the beach.) I don’t think men do it for the power of running the household (most anyway.) I think they do it because it is what the past few generations of men have used as measuring sticks when it comes to how good a partner/husband they are (though I say that with absolutely no proof.) “What do you earn?” is really a penis measuring contest for many men.

    Part of the problem in the whole "provide" scenario has to do with wage inequity. As long as we continue to pay women .70 on the dollar for their work, the pressure will still fall on men's shoulders to carry that financial burden.

    Thanks so much for your comments!

  3. Thanks for your reply.

    I have heard about the way men used to be more involved in raising children, and, in fact, it is thought to be the reason we were able to develop more intelligence.

    The separation of men from their children is ironically I think a direct result of the status competition between men to which you refer. Many women, myself included, hate this status competition, not only because it excludes us and ends up making us objects to be won and depriving us of autonomy and initiative, but also because we hate what it does to the men we care about; they lose track of who they are, they lose a sense of their personal power, worth and self-esteem and see themselves as defined only by the power given to them in the status competition. This intense competition also requires suppressing your emotions (sometimes permanently), which you need to make good decisions and to bond with children. I would love to see us get out training boys to win and be dominant and into more well-rounded personalities, with the kind-of self-awareness and emotional ability that frees their creativity, makes for better relationships with wives and children, and helps them lead more satisfying lives.

    If it's any consolation, even though we women are making $0.70 on the dollar, we are starting to get to parity in graduate schools and other places which will help drag other women's salaries up, I suspect. Also, if more men are supportive of gender-neutral parental leave policies and flex-time and flexible tracks to promotion, etc., I think this will help get women and men equal.

    I lost my chance at having children because of this status-competition phenomenon (I'm a Gen-Xer in my early 40s) and because I felt the need to provide for myself. A lot of men of my era still had expectations that they would be dominant and did not have the kind of emotional availability or willingness to put in the unpaid hours needed for good quality parenting & sharing in domestic chores. Also, they always were chasing younger women and I wanted a man my own age, both to raise children and to grow old with. Alas.

  4. PS - The current ratio of female pay/male pay is greater than 0.70 in the US. I think it is actually 0.78 or 0.80. And, if you choose well among women, you'll get one who is an even better earner.

    Unmarried, childless women make as much as men. So, if we can move some of the overmomming still going on the culture onto the underdadding, I think it will fix the problem.