Much of the feminist movement has been wrapped in a maternal bow. Suffrage was sold to naysayers as a way to give mothers a say in government, not to mention the view that women would clean up politics. Organizations like Moms Rising and CODEPink appeal to women as caregivers and moms for ending wars and realizing universal healthcare. But a funny thing happened on our way to a feminist society - we also impacted the way boys and men are viewed.
For the boys lucky enough to be raised by feminist moms, they were taught that they could also be anything they wanted: CEO or school teacher. Boys might had been given dolls and made to do cooking & cleaning. They were given the chance to learn important caregiving skills. Some of them are today's stay-at-home dads (SAHD).
A collision of feminist wins (job discrimination protections, Title IX) and a change in economics (male-dominated jobs outsourced overseas) has lead to a moment where it appears that working women are on the uptick and working men on a downward slide. This has lead to the rise of bread-winning women and this had given men the economic ability to choose work or caregiving full-time.
The families Smith profiles are diverse by age, race/ethnicity, politics and class. They answer the question of why with simplicity. Why would a man give up his work to stay at home? Why would a woman choose work over her child(ren)? Oddly Smith somehow fails to profile a two-dad family until the conclusion and it comes off as an after thought. Gay male households often have a higher family income and thus may be more prone to having a stay at home dad.
Two main ideas stuck out that may provide key to this revolution (I disagree with Smith who thinks of the Daddy Shift as an evolution): 1) Redefining fatherhood as providing for children's emotional well-being and/or breaking any aspect of financial support off of the definition (A paid job does not define fatherhood - How you father does) and 2) Redefining the providing aspect of motherhood to include paid work. The diversity in class stories provide evidence that working moms are not working for the modern equivalent of pin money - tennis lessons or a bigger house. Rather she loves her work, is often being paid more and bringing home better benefits for the family's survival. Makes you wonder what the family would look like if we had universal healthcare that wasn't tied to employment.
Back to that revolution: Ironically Smith says that parenting isn't the same as activism. I know a long list of moms who would say otherwise. I believe that is because many women do stop and consider the things that come with motherhood that Smith admits he didn't - the cost of living, cost of child care, impact on our careers, etc. Is motherhood more political or revolutionary than fatherhood? Or does our society simply put too high a price on women to become mothers? Could it change as we raise more boys to prepare for caregiving? Will motherhood become less radical as society becomes a partner in parenthood rather than an obstacle?
I was put off by the gender stereotypes presented especially the mom is more cautious and the dad lets kids explore tenor. Not just because they are stereotypes, but because it's the exact opposite in my family. I also got the sense that Smith presented SAHDs as having made an economic sacrifice (as it is) and contrasted it with SAHM's view that a certain level of luxury is expected:
"My wife doesn't want to work, but she wants a nanny two days a week and she wants to be able to buy clothes. She's depending on me to be the provider, and so are the kids." - A chemical engineer dad who spends two hours a day with his children.
There was a clear distinction of how different classes viewed child care. It's hard for me to wrap my head around it as we had a great experience with child care for our daughter. She started at 4 months in full day child care and only two times ever cried as I left her. But as Smith points out, those of us who can afford to pay for top of the line care get great care. Lower class parents get to choose from lower-level care or staying at home. So yes, it does make more sense that there are more stay-at-home parents who start out as working class/low-income.
As I did put my daughter in child care it was also hard to hear story after story of parents who say, "I couldn't see myself letting someone else raise my child," or "After all we went through with adoption, why would I hand her over to someone else?" I understand logically, but it's still hard.
"The Daddy Shift" is a wonderful peek into an emerging new world of fatherhood where men of all sorts of backgrounds decide that they will be the one to stay home and raise the kids. And as the subtitle says, it is also a peek into shared parenting.