Partner's a Great Parent; that Make You a Bad One?

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If your partner is a fantastic parent, does that make you a crappy one? Hardly worth the energy to think about, really, but that's exactly what an MSNBC article last week describes when it comes to mothers' anxieties. The article starts out with an objectionable sentence - "Dads are helping out with childrearing more and more these days"- which gives us a big clue to the crazy-thinking of the moms in question.

The key word here is 'helping,' of course, and we find out a few sentences later that new research from Osaka University of Commerce in Japan (in collaboration with the University of Texas) reveals a drop in self-esteem in mothers who rate their husbands' parenting as high quality. Now, the 78 couples interviewed for this study were not ESP couples. They were dual-earners, and the moms spent on average triple the time caring for their babies (all had 8-month old infants) as compared to the dads. In other words, Dad may have been an involved parent, but he was probably thought of as a 'helper' by his partner.

In these quasi-traditional relationships, the mothers seemed to want to hold on to their role as primary caregiver - which makes sense since our society (and probably even more so, Japan's) expects this and has a way of making a mother feel guilty if she doesn't. Yet, the moms wanted help with the parenting too...just not so much help that their place in the family was usurped by a too-good daddy.

I can see the (sad) logic in this. But I can see a no-win situation, surely. For both partners. It puts mothers between a rock and a hard place and it cheats fathers out of the joys of full-on parenting their own way. And it sure sets a couple up for resentment rather than appreciation of their arrangement!

I bet that if this same study were done with ESP couples - meaning couples who had made a deep commitment to equal partnership in their parenting - the results would have been very different. It seems to me that the women in this study weren't really ready to let go. But in an ESP family, the eyes of both partners are wide open to the challenges of re-sculpting traditional roles and are focusing on creating balanced lives and a team approach to raising their children. In an ESP mom's soul, a competent father is the best thing in the world for her/his/their children - and her self-worth is no longer tied to what culture expects.