Justin Baldoni on Caregiving: 'The Economy Cannot Function Without the Unpaid Labor of Mothers'
Caregiving has been a poignant topic of discussion during the pandemic, especially as many women are leaving the workforce for that reason. It's a conversation actor and director Justin Baldoni is shining light on in his new limited series Man Enough to Care.
The father of two admits when he once thought of caregivers, he immediately thought of women. "It's not something that I've ever thought of," says Baldoni. "And then I realized, 'Wow, it's been ingrained in me socially and culturally, since I was a baby that women are the nurturers, women are the caretakers."
Women do make up the majority of caregivers in the United States, but statistics show roughly 40 percent of caregivers are men—a fact highlighted in the new show, a branch off his original series Man Enough. "Yet, most of those men do not consider themselves caregivers. They don't actually say or admit to being a caregiver, as if being a caregiver would weaken their masculinity," says Baldoni. "I would argue that being a caregiver is perhaps one of the most masculine things a man can be."
Baldoni's new series, released on Valentine's Day in time for National Caregivers Day on February 19, discusses why male caregivers are often left out of the conversation. It features deep conversations with several male caregivers, including actor Nathan Kress who cares for his wife battling endometriosis and former NFL star player Devon Still who retired to care for his young daughter when she was battling stage 4 cancer. Also appearing is activist Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and director of Caring Across Generations, whose work advocates for caregivers.
The series was filmed before the COVID pandemic hit but it couldn't be more relevant. Caregivers are at greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including anxiety and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These issues have only intensified for many caregivers during the pandemic because of additional stressors. Hence why there's been more talk than ever about investing in caregiving and child care. "The economy cannot function without the unpaid labor of mothers," says Baldoni.
His focus on these issue shouldn't surprise fans, or anyone really, since the Clouds director has spoken openly about toxic masculinity for years. His goal? "Undefining all of these rules and these stereotypes and these tropes and these scripts that have been passed down to us for generations, so that we can define them individually. So that we don't have to have this cultural societal pressure to maintain or be a certain way as men," he says.
He also tackles these issues in his forthcoming book, Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity, out on April 27. "It's my exploration of what it means to be a man and how I've been defining masculinity for myself and the traps and the tropes that I've fallen into," he says.
What inspired Baldoni to join in on this much-needed conversation, one that so many men tend to take a backseat on? "I've always really struggled with who I am versus who I'm supposed to be as a man," he says. "And that's oftentimes bumped up against the cultural expectations that I feel are put on me or other men. And I've often found myself living in conflict or playing a role."
It was a struggle that he says caused repressed feelings. His mindset, he adds, really began to shift after getting married to wife, Emily Baldoni, an actress, and welcoming their daughter Maiya Grace, 5, and realizing how important respect for women is. The couple is also parents to son Maxwell Roland-Samuel, 3.
Once Baldoni landed the role of Rafael Solano on Jane the Virgin, he was able to have these important conversations on a larger platform. Those include parts of parenting that have often been left for moms, including balancing work and being a present dad. It's something he struggled with during the pandemic as his family stayed home and he worked on his film Clouds and his book. "The hardest part about it was that my children had to experience me being in their presence, yet not present. I was home, but I wasn't available," he says. "And in many ways, that's like, my own personal version of hell." It caused him great parent guilt, and even made him want to call it quits.
But the experience helped him understand the importance of communication with his wife and splitting duties at home when needed—and again how much praise caregivers deserve. "Truthfully, an hour with my kids, sometimes I'm more tired than I am with six hours of work," he jokes.
Another important lesson? Radical acceptance.
"I don't believe that balance exists—and that's an OK thing," says Baldoni. "I want to let men know that we can't bottle that down. I think if we don't feel that guilt or that shame in some way, I think that's the problem. I think allowing ourselves to feel that we're failing in one area but succeeding in another is an OK thing. … so long as I find a way to show up in other ways."