On gender, parenting and academic careers


It used to happen all the time. I’d be out in public, with my son, at the grocery store, zoo or bagel shop. A friendly person would ask,

Babysitting today?

And I want to punch someone. Or punch something else. Or cry.

Instead, I grit my teeth, and reply with masked fury, in a moderately loud and determined voice:

I am not babysitting. I am parenting. This is my own son. We do this all the time.

Then, I mutter under my breath:


I don’t get this remark anymore, now that my kid is approaching ten years of age. Instead, I can see that when I’m hanging out with my kid on a Saturday morning, folks could be jumping to a couple other conclusions. One might be that I have partial custody and am getting in “quality time,” or that I’m letting mom sleep in because she’s worked so hard parenting during the week. They might not jump to these conclusions. But one that is less likely is the truth, is that I’m parenting while my spouse is working.

I regularly get asked about my field research. I go to one place in the rainforest for weeks at a time, during which I am supervising students, working in the field and lab, and am generally really busy.

Do you take your wife down with you?

What is odd, is that people rarely ask if she joins me. They ask if I’m taking her. I do take students down. But if my wife were to go, I wouldn’t be “taking” her. She’d be making the time to come along. I think, “She’s not a possession for me to bring along as I please wherever I go. We both have things to do you know.” Instead, I reply:

No, she’s busy working. I don’t think she can blow so much time to go to watch me work or to volunteer as my field tech. Also, someone has to take our kid to school and feed him, so I’m rather grateful to her to cover for me while I’m gone. She has come down a few times, for some vacation before or after my work, though we’d rather vacation somewhere new when we have the chance. Actually, this summer my kid’s coming along for a couple weeks and I’m looking forward to that.

I’m more inclined to give people a free pass, because most people — even other scientists — can’t really imagine what it’s like down at the field station where I work, nor what I do from moment to moment. Nevertheless, it does seem absurd that someone would think my wife could just drop everything and join me as an accessory.

The bottom line is that If I was a woman, nobody would be asking me if I “take my husband” to the rainforest while I was working. Nobody would ask me if I was “babysitting” my own child if they saw me with him in a jogging stroller at the zoo.

These remarks don’t make me a victim of bias, other than the fact that I find them annoying. These remarks actually have the false presumption that I am the beneficiary of bias.

The unfortunate truth is that these mistaken assumptions have a real basis. Why do I really want to punch someone when they ask if I’m babysitting? Because most of the other guys at the grocery store with their kids probably are babysitting their own children.

Many families that I know well have one parent employed full-time, with the other part-time or not at all. In those cases, the division of parenting and household labor makes sense. In dual-career couples, though, it’s far too often that the guy ends up not holding up his end of the marital bargain.

I don’t know if my wife would tolerate it if I didn’t do my fair share of parenting. She presumably would be annoyed, but if I just abdicated my responsibility, then she would have no choice to pick up the slack. It would be the same the other way around, if she didn’t do her share of the parenting then I would have to.

This is the book I'm reading with my kid now, from a 1927 edition. The token role of fathers in their children's lives has always been important to their development

This is title page of the book that I’m reading with my kid now, from a 1927 printing. Even back then, the token role of fathers in their children’s lives was promoted, perhaps even more robustly than in today’s parenting culture that still emphasizes the role of mothers over fathers.

In our culture, in dual-career couples, many fathers feel perfectly free to let the mothers do more than their fair share. This rarely happens the other way around.

I don’t look at the arc of history and see the need for systemic progress. It would be great if our jobs made more accommodations for working families and the entire NSF work-life balance agenda is great. But this is not the root of the problem, and you can’t fix it by simply giving women more slack or more time or more money. Those fixes just make it less worse.

I see individual people making bad decisions. I see men who choose work over family voluntarily, and I also see some women who step in and parent without giving their spouses the opportunity to carry the load.  The problem starts once a dual-career family lets one spouse assume more responsibility than the other one.

In my family, we’re not equal, but I think we are equivalent. I have to admit that I rarely do our laundry. On the other hand, I spend an equivalent amount of time cooking. I would hope that if a behaviorist were scoring my house with an ethogram, that we’d come out relatively even with respect to domestic duties. The number of nights that I’m out for social affairs or volunteering match hers. (I do teach nights a couple times per week, though that often means that I get other mornings and evenings. It evens out.)

More importantly, we come out equivalent on parenting. I hold this as a point of pride, but it really should not be a point of pride. It should be the status quo, at least when both parents are working as much as the other.

The fact is that women are doing more parenting than their spouses, in most dual-career couples. This is not caused by biology or by the system. It’s caused by individual men screwing up.

I am tired of the trope that biological differences between genders makes women expend more time parenting than men. For most academic work (aside from dealing with reagents, and some fieldwork, and medical complications), women are capable of working for nearly the entire time they are pregnant. A few weeks after giving birth, in some cases, women are as physiologically capable of working as men. The one factor that continues is milk production. However, pumping can often work well and formula isn’t exactly evil. (For what it’s worth, my wife went back to work full time after six weeks and we never spent a dime on formula.)

The only biological difference that causes women to parent more is that men might be more likely to be born as jerks that let their wives’ careers suffer because they are inadequate parents.

Just because women are the producers of milk, shouldn’t that mean that men can just as easily step up to the plate and contribute in other ways?

Especially in academia, men have plenty of latitude to do their fair share of parenting compared to other careers because it’s so flexible. Women partnered with someone working a typical non-academic inflexible job also can get lots of spousal support, from a partner that is available to cover mornings, evenings and weekends.

I essentially took six months off to parent full-time, aside from Tuesdays when Grandma stepped in for us. Did this hurt my career? Actually, it did. I was at a Catholic university at the time, and my male Dean expressed concern about my request for paid parental leave (as clearly specified in faculty handbook), because that was intended only for mothers and not fathers. He told me that he understood my dilemma because he had five children of his own and he never missed a day of work. That conversation was not good for my career.

My point is that there is no inherent biological reason that mothers, more than fathers, may have more negative repercussions at their work because of parenting, because both are equally capable of doing so. There may be sexist reasons that transcend scheduling and effort, like I experienced, but that’s not going to stop me from doing my job as a parent.

(As a side note, have you ever looked inside Parenting magazine? It should be renamed Mothering magazine. There is always a column about fathers, but it is always, without exception, about how women can convince their husbands to do something like change a diaper once in a blue moon or do bedtime reading.)

The only biological difference that makes women parent more is that some men are assholes. These men don’t fulfill their duties to their spouses or they demonstrably care less about raising their families on a day to day basis.

If you tell me that women have more problems at work because of they have more parenting obligations than their spouses, then I tell you: their spouses are doing it wrong. And the women are doing it wrong because they’re accepting less than 50% from their spouses.

As you can tell, I get mad when gender is conflated with work-life balance issues. This is probably a chip on my shoulder from being a dad and spouse that did his fair share, in an environment where this is a rarity.

If you want to fix the dual-career couple inequity issue with respect to parenting, the first step is to tell women to not marry men who don’t parent enough. Women should not be spending more time parenting than their partners if they’re both living in the same house and both working full time. How many times and ways do I have to write this? Apparently, it is a lot, because it doesn’t seem like anybody else is saying it.

Of course, in our country there is so little systemic support, from the government, our own workplaces and our extended families, that we have a greater stress placed on working parents overall. This is not a gender issue, it’s a parenting issue.

If a married woman says that she has a greater challenge at her job because of the time demands of parenting, then she needs to hear that the problem is not the system, it’s her spouse. The problem might be her spouse’s boss, but I’m not convinced that this is a rampant problem. Perhaps this should be the main problem, but right now it isn’t.

I avoid these conversations because I it never has ended well when I’ve told a guy that he needed to spend more time parenting. And I don’t have the temerity to tell a woman that she picked a crappy husband who isn’t willing to accept 50% of the parenting load. (Now, I can just tell people to read my blog post about it and be done with it.) I’m not sure how to implement change when the necessary change requires individual responsibility on the part of others. We can raise sensitive males that understand their roles as partners. Hopefully, I’m doing that by example.

For me, it’s not a problem, because hanging out with my kid is the best thing in the world. I can’t conceive how a man would think otherwise about his own kids. I was lucky that my academic career gave me the flexibility to shut down my research program for a spell, so that I could be at home with my baby. (This I could do because I was at a teaching institution. With a big lab, and pressure for grants and pubs, it wouldn’t have happened that way, and daycare would have started earlier or we would have relied on extended family, both of which also would be fine options.) If I didn’t have that flexibility, I wouldn’t demand it of my wife. We’d solve it together, and it wouldn’t involve sacrificing her career.

There are substantial issues involving sexism in the sciences and academia, independent of parenting. That’s a separate issue, and one that I’m not addressing here. Perhaps I’m addressing it by claiming overtly that it is a separate issue — that parenting should not be a gender issue, and it’s only an issue in dual-career families in which the man is a wretched bum.

Every time I see a story or hear a person remark, “it’s great and inspiring that this woman can be a scientist and a parent” I get mad. You know what? That statement can apply to me, too, aside from the fact that I’m a man. I do just as much parenting as my spouse. My “success” or the lack thereof, that is tied to my status as a parent and a researcher, should represented in equal measure as it is for female scientists. (This would be different, of course, for single parents or those who have demonstrably jerky husbands.)

If you think that notion isn’t broadly applicable to all men, that’s because you think that many male scientists with kids are deadbeats. I might agree with you on that. The father-scientists I’m working with now seem to be dedicated and supportive of both their kids and their spouses, but that’s not the norm. My non-academic father friends are also doing their 50%, or their share depending on the family employment situation, but then again, I feel like I can’t relate to most guys, in part because of a fundamental difference in values. I can accept that some guys would be nuts for basketball, or have a specific religious belief, or drive a fuel-inefficient vehicle. But not parent 50%? That’s a dealbreaker.

If a man says that his full-time job doesn’t allow him the time or flexibility to do what needs to be done as a parent, and that’s why his wife is doing more parenting, I call bullshit. A woman would never say that she is incapable of doing what is necessary to be a good parent. A man should never be able to get away with saying something like that.

That just means that you don’t have the courage to tell your work that you prioritize your family over the job, and it means that you’re letting your wife do that and take the damage to her career as a result. That’s cowardice.

If there’s going to be a change, then men have to stop being cowards and start parenting. Men can address this problem by accepting the same career risks of parenting that are being endured by their partners. Until that happens, any progress is a mirage.

41 thoughts on “On gender, parenting and academic careers

  1. Really nice text. Quite eye-opening.
    I’ve never thought about this problem in such a way. Maybe because I am far away from being a father yet:) Neither way, thanks! :)

  2. Terry,
    As usual, you and I are on the same page – except in my case I have 3 kidz. I was a stay at home dad for the first 1.5 years of my oldest’s life and my wife, until recently, was always the bread-winner, and chose not to be a stay-at-home or to reduce her career aspirations. I get my kids ready for school every day and drop them off (my wife leaves for work before we awake) and I usually pick them up. I take the vast majority of sick days. I am the neat-freak/housekeeper in my household and we split cooking and errand running. I’ll take it even further, though. I purposely chose academia to be sure that I always had time for family and I structure my life to accommodate my wife’s work and my kidz schedules. I’m happy to do it. I get eye-glaze when listening to the horrors of white males in science, the inability of men to do anything helpful for women in dual career families, the inability of men to understand parenting, the plight of women, mansplaining, etc., because I cannot relate to any of the stereotypes that are thrown around about men in science. I don’t even like entering into those conversations with colleagues, people I meet, or even friends because it is so often assumed from the start that I cannot possibly relate or understand. I actually think that this is mostly a visual bias. Because I am male, large (think NFL linebacker large), and white, I just can never relate or offer advice, right? I keep waiting for a conversation about men and women in science that pushes a pro-women stance, without the underlying assumption that men in science are all “cave-men.”

    • Exactly, Josh. I know the eye-glaze.

      Most of these women-in-science conversations have the tacit assumption that every women having a gender-based problem has a crappy husband.

      They (meaning, we as a community) need to separate the women-in-science conversation from the parent-in-science conversation. When the two are conflated, there’ll never be a fix, and you wont’ be able to get men to step up to the plate if there’s never any recognition at work that we have the same parental responsibilities as our spouses.

  3. I just discovered your blog – Wow, thank you so much for this post! Finally I find some discussion about the gender/parenting in academia issues that I all agree with!! I’m a (female – no kids yet but with a partner in academia too) newly granted PhD probably going for a postdoc soon. I am – of course – much concerned, if not, very worried, about all these conceptions/expectations of the academic world regarding parenting and gender. Your post is comforting me that there are some people thinking the right way out there!

    I totally agree that men who don’t take 50% of their parenting are jerks. I see some of my female friends trying to convince their partners to go change the diaper because they havn’t done it in days. Pathetic. A jerk like that wouldn’t last long with me. But as women, we have to make the effort to take these 50%, and only these, and encourage our partners to do the other half and not be criticizing them about how they do it. Some women think because they are women, they are the ones who know how to do parenting and therefore have the right to criticize their partners all the time. This is anything but true, and men should be given their equal part with all of our confidence. Maybe you guys do things differently, but it is all good.

    I hope my partner (and his boss) will make all the efforts ( wait – this shouldn’t be an effort!) to make this true… Luckily up here in Canada (Quebec), we have a wicked subsidized day care system (not to mention awesome parental leave $ support), which helped thousand of women (and maybe a few men!) to get back to the workforce quickly after having kids since it was implemented about 15 years ago.

    Thanks again


    • MJ, you just made my day. In all sincerity. Today the blog just rocked with lots of new traffic about math and ants and natural history, but this is the best ever.

      I wanted to write this a little gingerly, as guys usually aren’t given latitude for credibility to discuss these things. But I really think that women who chose partners that are bad parents need to assume some responsibility for that poor choice. When going into a relationship, people know – or should know – what parenting can be expected of their spouse. And if they don’t deliver as expected, then make it happen. There is no a priori reason why men can’t do it as much as and as well as women (aside from the milk). I guy who says otherwise, in my view, isn’t marriageable material.
      Considering how progressive most men are in academia, in other respects, I’m continuously flabbergasted at the sexism tied to parenting. When women want progress, where it has to come from is in their choice of partner and in the choices of their partner. (Hey, I like that.)

  4. I’m glad I’ve made your day! This also help me gain a little confidence in my way of seeing things – especially during this critical time I need to decide postdoc or not! -MJ

  5. Thanks for this post. I mostly agree. But, milk production is a drain on women. At the very least, pumping takes time — think 20-30 minutes every 3 hours or so. It also requires more time eating and less energy for other things. And “women can go back to work a few weeks after birth” is a wild simplification — especially if the birth was traumatic. If you’re a woman doing field or bench work, it can take months to really be able to do your work again. These physical issues merit acknowledging.

    Nevertheless, these issues don’t invalidate your main point, which is that parents ought to contribute 50-50 to household and parenting responsibilities. But I think it would be more fair to point out that this 50-50 doesn’t have to be on the same tasks. (It’s actually rather inefficient for each of us to do half of the grocery shopping and half of the laundry; it might make more sense for one of us to do all the laundry and the other do all the grocery shopping.)

    The way my husband and I solved the fact that there were things I couldn’t easily do before (wash dishes) and after (carry anything more than 10 pounds) birth, and the fact that nursing took hours of my days for months (and years) is that my husband took on *more than* 50 percent of the household tasks during that time. Yes, I did more parenting early on, but I think that’s normal and necessary (due to breastfeeding), and I did far less dish-washing, laundry, and diaper-changing.

    Another important point is that things don’t have to be 50-50 at all times. When my husband was in the last few months of his Ph.D. program, I did more of the household/parenting tasks. Now that I’m in the last few months of my Ph.D. program, he’s doing more than 50% of the household/parenting tasks. I assume that when you’re doing fieldwork, your wife is doing more than 50% and that you make up for that by doing more than 50% at other times of the year.

    And, of course, like MJ said, it’s important that both partners *let* the other do the housework and parenting, acknowledging that the partner may do things differently. This is not necessarily an easy thing to learn to do, especially for the type of people (fussy, detail-oriented) who end up in academia.

    • Yes, equivalent rather than equal. Of course, parenting includes nursing and recovery, and as everybody is different, then early on everybody is very busy. While my spouse was nursing for the first year, I was plenty busy with other household things. Then after weaning, we redistributed.

      Also, as others scientist have pointed out elsewhere on the internets after I wrote this, 50% by each partner isn’t enough, because what we perceive as 50% probably isn’t 50%. It’s more like 70-70, not 50-50.

  6. You are so right. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize that we have a crappy husband until baby comes. Now I struggle to be a solo mom academic with zero support. Still the same crappy guy – he’s just an ex now.

  7. I think what you wrote about women being pregnant and nursing and saying that there’s no difference between men and women because woman can work up to the day she gives birth and go back to work shortly after, and there’s pumping and formula, is totally wrong and actually degrading to women, even though you meant it to be the opposite. Pregnancy takes a lot out of a woman. Especially towards the end, woman may not be feeling too good, not sleeping well, having much less energy then usual, etc.., not to mention time taken for doctor’s appointments. Woman after birth too – nursing a baby takes a ton of energy, woman needs to rest and eat well, also she’s probably up at night nursing a baby and doesn’t get much sleep. Besides, woman having a baby inside her body for 9 months and giving birth – her bond with a baby is very special, a man never had a baby inside of him for 9 months and didn’t give birth. He’s a father of course, and is bonding with a baby in other ways, but the physical bond is never the same since the 2 of them didn’t have that same experience. This is not something that any social policies can change. I think writing things like that actually harms both women and their babies who benefit from having their mom next to them in their first months in the world. It also harms women because it denies women a special bond and connection that only a woman is meant to experience.

    • What I wrote was merely factual.

      I don’t know what we were “meant” to do. We once were “meant” to obtain oxygen using gills in an aqueous environment, but we’ve evolved beyond that.

      I find it troubling that you see being a mom as more special than being a dad. It’s crap like this that keeps some men from being the fathers that they should be.

      • I don’t know what being evolved has to do with being pregnant and giving birth, unless we’ve already evolved so much that men are capable of those things, and I somehow missed it.
        Sorry I don’t see being a mom as more special then being a dad. Both are important and special. But a mom is a mom. A man has never been pregnant or gave birth. Even physically woman’s body goes through many changes during that time (hormonally, etc..) which affect her. You can’t deny that someone has a major experience and dismiss it as nothing and not a big deal, and is the same as someone else who never had this experience.
        This doesn’t keep men from being fathers, it is actually the opposite. Men who understand that pregnancy, birth, nursing a baby are extremely important experiences, and that motherhood is a major responsibility are the ones who step up the most to be the best most involved fathers and most supportive and caring husbands. Men who treat those experiences as nothing and not a big deal, are the ones whose wives struggle the most, because they have to go through one of the biggest experiences of their life and pretend that nothing happened and they’re “just like men”.

        • I don’t know what being evolved has to do with being pregnant and giving birth
          We are organisms. The biological and social roles in reproduction are the consequence of a series of evolutionary events.

          Sorry I don’t see being a mom as more special then being a dad. Both are important and special. But a mom is a mom.
          You do see the hypocrisy in this, right?

          You can’t deny that someone has a major experience and dismiss it as nothing and not a big deal, and is the same as someone else who never had this experience.
          Right. So stop minimizing my role as a father, which you can never experience. If a mom is a mom, then being a dad is a dad. Being with your partner going through a physical transformation and being an equal genetic contributor to a new being who starts out wholly dependent on you is a transformational experience. If I’m somehow unqualified to assess the role of women, then you are equally unqualified to assess the role of men.

          If mothers have a special role right after the baby is born, when does the greater role due to this special bond fade? When the meconium is out? When the baby eats solid food? When the kid stops nursing? When the child goes to school? When the baby goes to college? If a mom doesn’t let a dad be a full 100% dad from the very beginning, then it doesn’t happen.

          My whole goddamn point here is that men need to be dads, and for women to thrive they need their partners to assume their responsibilities. If you want to make the argument that women shouldn’t let men fulfill these roles, try Parenting magazine.

  8. It’s too funny that your post started with ‘standing up’ for women’s right and ending in this last post with men not getting something, so I guess it is not about women afterall. Being 100% dad is awesome. But if that definition includes pushing women to work when they’re close to giving birth and operating at 5% energy level, not getting sleep, having many uncomfortable physical issues, or when they have a newborn or an infant and the best for them and their babies at that point is for a mom to nurse her baby and get a good amount of rest, have time to eat and drink properly, then we must have different definition of what being a 100% dad means. Pumping at work is very hard. It takes a lot of time, and woman can’t pump that much milk unless she’s resting and has time to eat and drink at the right times and normal and nutritious food. The best way at those times to be 100% dad is to take care of cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, changing diapers, holding the baby, taking baby out for a walk or doing anything else with a baby, play, bath time, anything. I hope those are enough tasks to be very involved. But saying that woman is just like a man, that pregancy/birth/nursing are not a big deal, and better step it up to work equal amount is not one of them.

    • It’s too funny that your post started with ‘standing up’ for women’s right and ending in this last post with men not getting something

      The two go hand in hand. Men being fathers is the missing part of the conversation for gender equity in the workplace. That’s the point. No irony involved.

      Of course the physical part of being a mom is hard. I know this from supporting a partner who pumped for a whole year, including travel. That’s why the role of a dad can be so critical.

      I am not minimizing it, indeed, it’s a lot of work. You’re reading things that aren’t there in the post. Someone *does* has to step up to make sure that parenting is equivalent. And that someone is the dad.

      But some dads aren’t going to be doing that if people keep saying that being a mom is more important.

      • Well I see what you mean, but that all sounds nice on theory. In practice though, usually men who believe in “equality” the most are the ones who help the least, because equality usually means to them that a woman has to work as much as a man so that she shares the financial burden, and the rest of the stuff – childcare, housework – is completely forgotten to them and they don’t contribute much even if their wife asks. In practice, I find that men who consider motherhood to be very important, and who understand what it takes to take care of babies, toddlers, children, and run a household, and who have a lot of respect for those tasks are the ones who end up helping out the most, because they don’t consider it to be “nothing” or “not important”, but instead they understand and respect it and so they help and participate to the fullest.

        • You know, we don’t do ad hominems around these parts.

          It’s funny that you’ve actually found a blog post by a dude who is calling out other dudes to be full parents and do their share of the parenting (which is as much domestic stuff as anything else), and you’ve gone a good job alienating him.

          I respect “motherhood” as much as “fatherhood” and “parenthood.”

          You’re complaining that men don’t respect “motherhood” but I’m not detecting much respect for “fatherhood.”

          Parenting is a two way street. If women want equality in the workplace, they’re going to have to grant equivalency at home as parents – meaning that the men do as much childcare, cleaning, cooking, washing, laundry, and such as the mom. And, of course, even more when the mom is recovering from birth and nursing.

          In practice though, usually men who believe in “equality” the most are the ones who help the least
          It sounds to me like your experience has been with those crappy jerky dudes who are bad fathers and bad spouses. As I wrote in the post, “The only biological difference that makes women parent more is that some men are assholes. These men don’t fulfill their duties to their spouses or they demonstrably care less about raising their families on a day to day basis.” That apparently is standard operating procedure in your social environment. The solution to this problem isn’t putting “motherhood” on some special pedestal, but quite the opposite: to realize that being a parent is being a parent regardless of gender, and there are obvious biological stresses of giving birth and nursing but this can’t preclude dads from being a full partner from the very beginning.

        • I find that men who consider motherhood to be very important, and who understand what it takes to take care of babies, toddlers, children, and run a household, and who have a lot of respect for those tasks are the ones who end up helping out the most, because they don’t consider it to be “nothing” or “not important”, but instead they understand and respect it and so they help and participate to the fullest.

          So, “motherhood” is “taking care of babies, toddlers, children and running a household?” That’s the problem. That’s not motherhood. That’s parenthood. Men shouldn’t “help out” – they should be as responsible as the mom. They better not just “participate” – they better take charge because they are just as responsible.

          This attitude of defining being a mother as the one who does the work is at the root of this social ill that prevents dads from fully parenting. I’m not “babysitting” my kid. I’m his parent. I’m not “particpating to the fullest” I’m running the show with my partner.

          This isn’t the status quo with some families, though. That’s what a parent needs to have equity at work – equivalence at home. My spouse respects fatherhood just as much as I respect motherhood. But we don’t look at it that way. We’re just parents.

          Someone mentioned on twitter that this practice, of letting dads “help out” but deny an equivalent role in running the home and parenting, is called “mommyjacking.” I was averse to the phrase because it shed more heat than light. But its appeal is growing on me.

  9. “My point is that there is no inherent biological reason that mothers, more than fathers, may have more negative repercussions at their work because of parenting, because both are equally capable of doing so. ”

    I agree with the sentiments expressed in the comments that it does seem you downplay the physical effects of pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding on the pregnant-person’s body. Recovery, prepartum/postpartum depression, mastitis, pumping, can all take extra-tolls on the birthing-parent’s body and mind. Even if your health is great – pumping is lonely, and can be embarrassing when there is nowhere to go, and you have to explain to your non-parent labmates why you can’t eat lunch with them, or why you cried when you accidentally spilled the bottle of breastmilk you just spent 30 minutes pumping (because of the pressure to be “all natural” and not everyone is a super-producer… but I digress). I had a supportive spouse who helped me through pre- and post-partum recovery, but it did affect my work more than his – exactly because of biology. Now that our daughter is nearly 3 the waves have settled, and we are “equivalent”, in your terms.

    It seems like what you meant was that there is no inherent difference between a mother or father’s ability to contribute to care for a child, then, yes, I agree. For example, in the case of adoption, there should be no expectation of a biological difference in the ability of a mom or dad to care for the child.

    I worry that by suggesting there are no biological differences between the birthing parent and the non-birthing parent, that it will discourage birth parents who need to seek out help (physical or mental), and make them feel like they are even more alone.

    I have always been a huge advocate of gender-neutral policies to promote work-life balance. And, I think my husband has gone through most of the same experiences as you have. It is immensely frustrating that people assume he’s some sort of super-dad for the time he does care for our daughter, instead of just realizing that he’s being a dad. Y’know, how it should be.

    • I know, all too well, how difficult nursing and pumping is in the workplace, even though I don’t have those working parts. Any spouse would have to be blind (or a jerk) to not be aware of all of that.

      This is exactly my point. Dads need to step up to the place. Nursing and pumping are things that only the mom can do, which provide both physiological and personal stress. Which means that the dads need to accept the level of responsibility to take up the other things. As a dad, I had just as many ‘problems’ at work from being a parent as my spouse. Her issues were different, finding the time/space/professional role while nursing and pumping, that I didn’t have to deal with. But I accepted equivalent challenges and responsibilities, that involved having the baby at work a lot, identifying childcare while we both were working, and so on.

      Also, not too many babies nurse past a year. When people discuss the parenting issues and gender equity at work, it’s usually not about the biological stuff but about picking up and dropping off the kid, doing laundry, making lunch, doing playdates, and so on. The biological piece of parenting is only a small fraction of the effort of the mom in the whole experience. For a while, it’s a big big big thing, of course.

  10. There is a lot of truth in this piece but the continual references to ‘spouses’ itself seems biased. You don’t have to be married to be a parent, and you don’t have to be married to parent.

  11. Well written, thank you! I’m excited to have discovered your blog!

  12. Where is the ‘like’ button for this post? Because… Gosh! This is one post that I would ‘like’ over and over again. You, dear smallpondscience, are a feminist after my own heart. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for thinking it. For living it. For trying to set an example. If only all men where like you.
    I am lucky in my husband. We don’t have children – yet – as the PhD put all other life events on hold for the last four years, but he is very much of the same opinion as you are. I am grateful that I did not pick a crappy husband who would shy away from sharing the load – whether parenting or household or anything else. He is not an academic (rather a sales executive), but although he travels a lot, he also made sure to be officially home-based so… the set up is there. Even before we began discussing the issue of children, he announced that he fully intends to reduce the days he is travelling and be fully on-board with all child-related responsibilities. My career would not have to suffer (I think he was really worried that if he didn’t tell me this I’d continue under the delusion that he wanted me to be a housewife – ha! not me :) )
    Did I tell you yet how much I enjoyed your post?
    Because I did – LOTS – and shared it on my social media sites in the hope that my colleagues will take heed. There’s also a link to your post on my latest blog entry – I re-blogged TenureSheWrote’s post and luckily the link connection held. Must thank her for introducing me to your blog.
    All the best in your parenting adventures from your newest and enthused follower,

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