When I decided to end my marriage I imagined the divorce would be handled like a lot of divorces these days. I thought we’d go to mediation, put everything on the table (parenting time, debts, and assets), split it all down the middle, shake hands and walk away. That didn’t happen. We went to mediation, but the rest didn’t happen. The rest became a nightmare and it still is.
I’m not willing to share many details of the nightmare, but I do want to share one part that has me totally annoyed with my ex and with society in general. As it’s worked out, my boys spend roughly 65% of the time with me, and 35% with their father. I have been both fascinated and angered by how many people respond to this information with, “well that’s pretty good.” By what standard is that pretty good??
If I, or any mother, told you that she has her kids 35% of the time, you would wonder what on earth was wrong with her! If a mom spends less time with her children than their father does, we likely assume she is ill, struggling with substance abuse, or horribly unfit in some way. But for a dad, 35% is “pretty good.” I’d like to call out a big, giant, “BULLSHIT!” on that one.
I’ll concede that, measured against the standard of an absentee father, 35% is pretty good. But is that really as high as we’re willing to set the bar? We’ve seen the Equal Rights Amendment, the Cosby show, and a significant increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. Yet, well after the kids are born, we still think of fatherhood as an option, not an obligation. Additionally, dads who do their FAIR SHARE are practically regarded as heroes. Again, I call bullshit.
The other day some dude I am facebook friends with posted, “War on women?? Haaaaaaa! That’s a good one!” He went on to comment that American women should quit whining and realize how lucky they are for the privileges they have, including the fact that more women than men go to college these days.
I am always appreciative of safe places to vent my pent-up frustrations and so I commented, “You should be so ashamed of your own ignorance. Sexism (the original and biggest weapon in this war) is alive and kicking– or rather lurking– in the hearts of so many men JUST LIKE YOU. When are all the little white boys going to stop feeling sorry for themselves because they didn’t inherit as much white male privilege as their fathers did? Yes America has more equality than lots of places, but how dare you tell women to be quiet and thank our lucky stars just because we have access to a college education?? Goddess help you and any daughter you may spawn.” I have a sharp tongue; we’ve established that.
My point is this: Sexism is alive and well; it’s just camouflaged better these days. In nearly every facet of our lives, we women are expected to make do with whatever the power-holders (usually men) decide to bestow upon us. I was discussing this point with another guy the other day and he brought in the “there are lots of women in power” argument. Yes there are lots of women in power, but for nearly every woman with power, there is some dude above her who has more. (The one exception being Oprah, of course.)
When it comes to family, more often than not, we work just as many (if not more) hours as our male partners, and still do most of the parenting and housekeeping. Mothers are far more likely to bepassed up for jobs and promotions than fathers are, because employers know how true the previous sentence is. The more we do at home, the less energy we have for work. And more often than not, we still earn less for doing the same work as men—kids or no kids.
I know the scenarios I’ve created are not the sum total of the female or motherhood experience. I know several fathers who are equal partners and equal parents. But from where I sit, these men are the exception and not the rule. If things are ever going to change, we have to expect more of the men in our lives. We have to stop buying into the notion that it’s only natural for mothers to do more for their children than fathers. We must also acknowledge that there are situations where it is natural for mothers to do more than fathers (breastfeeding comes to mind), and understand that in those situations, it’s the father’s responsibility to provide care for the mother so that she can provide care for their child.
For me, marriage was single motherhood without the weekends off. That isn’t what I signed up for and it isn’t the model I want to give to my boys. I expect and deserve better, and so do my kids, and so do we all.