Sexist Parenting: Do You Know Someone Who's Guilty?
"It's a trickle-down effect from older generations when it was the norm for men and women to have stereotypical parental roles," explains parenting coach Eirene Heidelberger.
We've certainly come a long way from our parents' and grandparents' generation, especially when it comes to parenting, but there's no denying that some traditional roles, responsibilities, and stereotypes still ring true today. Yes, more women work than ever before and, in most household, chores are handled more equally between partners than they were back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. That said, it's still obvious to most that sexism exists today in the workplace as well as in our homes—and it's even more prevalent when we become parents.
What's considered to be "sexist parenting" is quite real even in our day and age, regardless of sociological or economic status. "It's a trickle-down effect from older generations when it was the norm for men and women to have stereotypical parental roles," explains Eirene Heidelberger, parenting coach and founder of GIT Mom, a service that helps moms parent more efficiently so they have more "me" time. "Although gender stereotypes are less rigid today, there are still certain expectations on women, not to mention the pressure and expectations we women place on ourselves."
Comedian and actor Russell Brand is the latest perpetrator of sexist parenting, recently revealing in an interview with The Sunday Times magazine that he leaves the bulk of responsibility related to raising his two children to his wife, Laura. Brand claimed that she would never leave him alone with the kids for too long because "she respects and cares for them too much." Essentially what he's saying is that he doesn't have to learn how to care for his own flesh and blood, and there's no expectation for him to do so. Sexist? Most certainly.
In addition to the fact that Brand is a celebrity commenting on a contentious topic between men and women, Heidelberger believes that the Me Too Movement also plays a role in highlighting this realm of sexist parenting as a dysfunctional problem in households across America, and even the world. "Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare, even if they work full-time, so the 'mental load' of parenting is still heavier for women than men," she says. "Brand is highlighting how empowered he is by societal expectations to be as lazy as he wants to be—free from pressure to be anything else."
Jenn Mann, a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist (L.M.F.T) and author of "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids," agrees, adding that Brand's approach is innately sexist and harkens back to the 1940s father who let the "little lady" handle all of the child-related tasks. "The idea that he doesn't have to participate in parenting because it is hard and exhausting, but that his wife does, is sexist," she says. "Most parents feel that it is hard and exhausting, but that participating in the day-to-day parenting of their child is an honor and a privilege." She also believes that Brand's attitude does a disservice to the many competent, hands-on, hard-working dads who don't hesitate to change a diaper, feed their child, or help them in any way.
Despite some of the blatantly sexist things Brand said in his interview, it's true that we don't know the full picture of what life is like in his household. As columnist, radio host, and author of The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be, Armin Brott, points out, it's entirely possible that Brand is exaggerating his lack of involvement to make himself the butt of jokes. It's also not clear how much of what's happening in his home is the result of his "traditional" views or his wife's pushing him out of the way.
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"This might fall into the category of 'sexist parenting,' but Russell isn't the only sexist. Yes, he admits that he leaves the parenting to his wife, but he also admits that his wife would never leave him alone with the children, which is outrageous," says Brott. "The only way his wife Laura learned to handle basic parenting tasks was by making a bunch of mistakes—and that's the only way Russell could ever develop the same skills."
What Brott feels Brand needs to do is step it up more, but he also feels that his wife too will have to play a role in enabling him to fulfill his equal role by stepping back, leaving him alone, allowing him to make mistakes, and putting him in a position where he has to learn on the job. "One of the biggest reasons men back away from parenting is because their partner keeps telling them they aren't doing it right," says Brott. "No one wants to be criticized all the time."
Susan G. Groner, the founder of The Parenting Mentor and author of "Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World", agrees that making these shifts within a household requires openness on the parts of both parents. "Moms must be willing to give up control and let dad figure things out for himself by communicating calmly, lovingly, and respectfully without being on the defensive," she says. "Once there is an agreement for dad to take on more responsibilities, create a list of who will do what and when, including diaper changes, prep, feeding of meals, morning and evening routines, bedtime, mom or dad nights off, etc." She also reminds parents to view these responsibilities less as chores and more as opportunities to bond with your child and spend time with them.
As a society overall, there's still much left to do to break the stigma that's been long held since the dawn of time—that women are the caregivers and men are the providers. "For too long, we've talked about 'maternity leave,' which implies that parenting is a woman's role, but the conversation really needs to be focused on the topic of 'family leave,' emphasizing that fathers have an important role to play too," says Brott. "We also need to educate ourselves about the importance of fathers and their unique contributions (which are just as important as mothers) to their children's development."