Maternal instinct. The idea sounds so damn sweet: Women naturally know how to take care of babies and children. Just one problem: it doesn’t exist in humans. Parenting skills aren’t instinctual or genetic — they are learned.
“It’s the love part that is innate, and fathers love their children as deeply as mothers,” says Darcy Lockman, a NYC-based psychologist and author of “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership” (Harper).
Sure, the experience of parenting is open to both sexes — but only moms are expected to feel guilty about perceived shortcomings. “It is the day-in and day-out experience of attending to children — not biological sex — that encompasses what we now refer to as motherhood,” Lockman says.
The concept of some primal mama bond is only alluring because it gives dads an out when it comes to fair division of child-rearing responsibilities.
Mothers do 65% of the childcare. Fathers? 35% — per US Bureau of Labor statistics. Regardless of background, class or professional status. Those stubborn stats haven’t budged since 2000. It’s an improvement over the 80-20 split of the 1970s and ’80s — but it’s still a big rip-off, one that the outdated “maternal instinct” myth helps to justify.
“Chalking the unequal division of childcare labor up to biology is the spoonful of sugar that makes the misogyny go down,” Lockman tells The Post.
“All the Rage” sprang from Lockman’s own child-rearing issues as she and her husband raise two girls. “Before I started researching the book, I knew it was a problem my friends and I were having,” she says. “I didn’t realize how ubiquitous it was.”
Not only is the workload lopsided, many women were grateful for any measly help they did get.
“There’s a history of women doing all the unpaid labor,” she says. “So a dad who ‘helps’ — and I hate that word because it implies the unpaid work he does is not actually his responsibility — can seem like a gift.”
Besides attributing the gender gap to maternal instinct, another trap is mother blaming, which Lockman accuses me of, when I ask her why moms don’t delegate more.
“Delegating itself is a big responsibility. You are saying mothers alone should shoulder the mental load — the planning and remembering,” she says. “Many women said that even when they delegate they can’t count on their husbands to remember what they’ve committed to doing. That’s often where mothers were most frustrated — ‘My husband has no idea that we need to find a summer camp, or need $7 in exact change for a field trip.’ ”
Perhaps, I suggest, moms don’t trust their husbands’ “instincts” when it comes to handling bedtime.
That’s just more mommy blaming! “People love to say that, ‘It’s the fault of mothers, they’re so controlling.’ That can happen, but I don’t blame women or men for this predicament couples find themselves in. We enact sexism in our homes. That takes two.”
Again and again, Lockman heard tell of fathers saying, “I’m happy to do it if you ask,” instead of taking the initiative. The dads’ “generally positive attitude about being second-in-command made it hard for his wife to feel frustrated without a generous amount of self-rebuke,” she writes. Women then blamed themselves for not speaking up, but why they were left to speak up wasn’t questioned.
Know what else is a myth? Co-parenting and the bogus idea of the modern involved father. That’s why, “when mothers find themselves doing so much more than their male partners, they are surprised,” says Lockman.
Knowledge is key to change — not instinct. “We need to be aware of how sexist we are, men and women both, even those of us with egalitarian values,” she says. “I wrote ‘All the Rage’ to really drive home all the things that couples need to know, if these numbers are ever to shift.”
But it’s a long road to equality at home. “The women I spoke with for the book were very clear that they’d worked to bring their frustration to their husbands’ attention,” says Lockman. “One woman said to me, ‘He recognizes we have this problem, but he says there’s nothing he can do about it, so it would be helpful if I could be less bothered by it.’”
If that doesn’t make you want to rip your hair out, I’m not sure what would.
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