During a busy day of seeing patients I checked my cell phone and saw that I had two missed calls from my daughter’s daycare. Over an hour had passed since her teacher left me a voicemail message stating that she needed to be picked up due to vomiting. When I called back the teacher, she updated me about the situation and I apologized about taking so long to respond to her call. As is typical for most daycares, they have a policy that sick children need to be picked up within one hour, so I imagined that they were upset about not being able to reach her parents. “Oh I didn’t even call your husband,” the teacher informed me, “because I didn’t want to bother him.” I wondered what the threshold would have been for calling a Dad versus a Mom. How sick would she have to be in order to reach that level? Nevermind that I was having this conversation while letting my own work start to pile up around me with patients waiting in exam rooms.
While I am often asked if I work outside the home, my husband is never asked if he is a stay-at-home dad. While the stay-at-home dad trend is growing, this group faces their own biases. The same raised eyebrow I get when I say I work full time with two young children, these dads get when they say they gave up their careers to stay home. At first other moms enjoy talking to them on the playground, but then they aren’t as likely to include the dad in their weekly lunch date or stroller strides class. Furthermore, moms are less likely to leave their children unattended at a stay-at-home dad’s house. So gender stereotypes work both ways.
My husband and I have an ongoing joke about how whenever he sends our son to school in mismatched socks or with a hole in his pants or food on his face, I say “oh no, they are going to think I sent him in like that” and he laughs because he knows it’s true. Regardless of us both working and splitting our parenting duties equally, my gender automatically makes others assume that I am responsible for a majority of the childcare. When my husband picks up my son from school or takes him to the park, people tell me he’s a “good dad,” but when I do those things, I’m just being mom.
Given that working mothers are now the top earners in 40% of households with children and roughly 67% of moms are in the workforce, it surprises me that only 21% of people think that working moms of young children are good for society. There is an assumption that women work because they have to, and as a married woman with an employed husband, many still think it is better for my children if I stay home. My 3-year-old son recently told me a few times that I “work too much,” which was devastating to hear. I know though that I am not working too much and that as he gets older he will learn that my career makes me happy, that I am valued outside my role as mother, and that he (and his partner) can follow his (their) passion(s) as I did. In the meantime, he reminds me that my first and most important job is always being his mother. Finding a way to integrate my work and family is one of the greatest life challenges I will face, but so far, I think it is going pretty well and I hope that soon more than 21% will agree with me.