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When All's Equal
The minute I saw the front cover of The New York Times Magazine for June 15, which showed a cute little boy holding a sign saying "A Day at My House" and had a headline that read "Will Dad Ever Do His Share?" I thought, really, an article about sharing housework and parenting in 2008?
That was the premise behind Lisa Belkin's well-executed and extensive piece. And yet, I couldn't get over the fact that we were still talking about the issue of equal parenting in the new millennium. But, obviously, I must be the naive one.
The second headline on the cover pretty much summed up the piece, despite all the splendid detail Belkin poured into it. After asking if Dad would ever do his share, we were told that "Some fathers do. And throw over their old lives. And draw up elaborate charts." That was what the little boy was holding.
Those of us who came of age in the 1960s, started our families in the '70s, and are grandparents just about now entered into marriage thinking it was going to be a partnership -- economic, domestic, parental. But perhaps my naivete stems from thinking that lots of others thought the same way, and thus would help to do away with the need for articles like Belkin's in one fell swoop.
Yet I wasn't the only one who was a little surprised to see this particular subject discussed at this moment in history. In fact, the responses to Belkin's article that appeared in the Times magazine of June 29 were as fascinating as her findings.
For me, the letter by Sadie Zea Ishee of Brooklyn summed up the matter succinctly. "I find it disheartening that in 2008 couples who share parenting duties equally have such an unusual arrangement that it merits a cover article in your magazine and that much of Lisa Belkin's focus was on organizations that assist parents who may strive to achieve such equality. My husband and I equally divide parenting tasks in much the same manner as the schedule set forth on your cover, but not because we discuss divisions of labor ad nauseum or take classes to learn how to split the work -- it simply never occurred to either of us that we're not equally responsible."
But the real point behind the article and the letters is what's always been the case: The problem doesn't lie with those who divvy things up, but with those who don't. The issue, at its very center, has a great deal to do with attitude, as several of the other Times respondents pointed out.
I've said it before in this space (and am only echoing some letter-writers): Nothing will change until men begin to feel the joy of children and then revel in that joy; and also begin to take a child's concerns seriously, rather than looking at the young as appendages to their lives. And they must also begin to realize that there is worth (and glory) in the "traditional" things women have always done at home -- cooking, cleaning, nurturing.
When that day comes, it will be the true revolution we all once talked about.