What is an equal relationship? Childcare
Oxford Dictionaries define equality as ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities’. But what does this mean in practice, in real relationships between men and women? In our three part blog series, we take a look at this question in relation to three areas – chores, childcare and career – using some of the stories submitted to the First Man Standing website so far.
In the previous post, we had a look at some statistics about the problem of housework inequality. Here, we’re going to start off on a more positive note and look at why equality in childcare and chores is so desirable.
For starters, research by sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams found that when men increase their share of housework and childcare, their children are happier, healthier and do better at school – in terms of personal development and of academic results. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, less likely to develop behavioural problems and less likely to have days off school.
What's more, when school-aged children do housework with their fathers, they get along better with their peers and have more friends. ‘Because fewer men do housework than women,’ said Adams, ‘when they share the work, it has more impact on children.’ Doing chores with their fathers, the children learn the value of cooperation and partnerships – both with family and friends.
Partners of men who take equal responsibility for housework and childcare are, obviously, happier. They report the highest levels of marital satisfaction and lowest rates of depression. They are less likely to see therapists or to take prescription medication. They are also more likely to stay fit, since they probably have more time for themselves.
And the men benefit, too: men who share housework and childcare are healthier – physically and psychologically. They smoke less, drink less and take recreational drugs less often. They are more likely to stay in shape and more likely to go to doctors for routine screenings, but less likely to have to go to A&E or miss work due to illness. They're psychologically healthier, report higher levels of marital satisfaction and they live longer.*
So equality is, from the point of view of all family members, extremely desirable. The good news is that the majority of fathers say that being a parent is more important to them that it was to their own father, and they are spending more and more time with their children.
Once again, we see the trend that equality at home leads to more equal and more fulfilling lives in the public sphere, too. Corinna’s story from the First Man Standing website is a wonderful illustration of the benefits of an equal, self-sacrificial approach to childcare:
I've found freedom to pursue my ambitions and opportunities through my husband's continual encouragement of me. […] We live in South Africa with our son, and I was offered the chance to go to work in the United Kingdom for a few weeks over the summer. After just two weeks of marriage he insisted I pursue the opportunity to come to UK, and leave him to care for our child and our home. He did so graciously and wholeheartedly. We work as a team, in partnership…
As in the story on our last blog, the word ‘team’ is used to describe the relationship that Corinna and her husband share. Being equal or being part of a team does not mean everyone has to do exactly the same amount all the time. Rather, it is a give-and-take, an ebb and flow. As in this example, one partner may offer to take on extra responsibility at home for a few weeks so the other can pursue opportunities outside the home. This partner may later take on more childcare to allow the other partner to do the same, or so they can simply have a rest. Equality is not about keeping a record of who’s-done-what, but rather working out an arrangement which suits both partners equally – an arrangement based on their individual relationship, health and respective situations at work, rather than on gendered assumptions.
Did you know that in 2015, laws on paternity and maternity leave changed in the UK to allow both partners to share the 50 weeks between them? You can read more about it here. If you and your partner are expecting a child or thinking about having children, find out more about this change in the law and think about how you might divide up the leave between you to make this time an equally happy one for both of you and for your child.
*The statistics from the Coltrane and Adams study are taken from Michael Kimmel’s Guardian article ‘Has the New Dad finally arrived?’
Read more examples or tell us about a First Man Standing you know here.
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