Monday, February 13, 2012


An Open Letter to the U.S. Census Bureau

Dear Census People,

The folks at BlogHer picked this up, and I just saw it today.  

In a study of childcare arrangements done by the census, childcare provided by mothers is counted as parenting, but childcare provided by fathers is counted as babysitting.  

And the report isn’t subtle about it.  In the words of the report, on the first page:

In households where both parents are present, the mother is counted as the designated parent.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse just one sentence later:

If the mother is not available for an interview, the father can give proxy responses for her.

Proxy responses.  You know, if you can’t find the real parent.

The survey only asked about child care provided by the father for the time the designated parent was working.

Wow.  By that logic, since TW stays home, I don’t do any parenting at all!

This comes as news to me.  I would have thought that the hours I spent lying on my back, with my arm outstretched upward, holding little TB’s hand through the crib slats until he stopped crying and went to sleep, counted as parenting.  Apparently not.  Or maybe the week that I spent shuttling between home and the NICU, where I held my newborn daughter gently, so as not to disturb the IV stitched into her head.  No?

Sorry, my bad.

All those books read aloud, diapers changed, baths given, meals made, sleep lost, dishes done, soccer games, t-ball games, baseball games, soccer games, basketball games, parent-teacher conferences, emotional crises, family trips, skipped evening events, training wheels,  heart-to-heart talks, tickle fights, board games, unwatchable kids’ movies, sledding, skiing, hiking, holding...nothing?

No.  Apparently, that pesky Y chromosome invalidates it all.

This is madness.

You don’t encourage men to step up as parents by dismissing our efforts as babysitting.  

Census people, I have endured idiotic charges of “patriarchalism” from critics who assume from my pseudonym that I’m some kind of Archie Bunker character.  And I’ve endured charges of aloofness from coworkers who don’t understand why I go straight home every night after work.

I will say this one time.

I am a parent.  A devoted, sleep-deprived, frustrated, proud, consumed, active, worried, imperfect, unapologetic, parent.  As are millions of other men just like me.  I am not a babysitter, a stand-in, a substitute, or a proxy.  I am a father, and a damned good one.  

My seven-year-old knows that.  That man taking her to the Daddy-Daughter dance this week isn’t a babysitter.  He’s the man who has been there from the beginning, walking the walk, talking with her before she had words to respond, and who’s still here.

We’re done with this.  


Dean Dad

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the elementary schools which can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there are mothers who actually work outside the home.

Today there is a winter concert at my kids' school. I managed to swing things so I can attend; I will have to cancel the hour lecture to my four hour lecture/lab combination today, but I figured that is OK. The principal has stated that leaving the concert once your kids are done is frowned upon. I understand that it borders on rude, but they need to understand that once my kids are done, I have a responsibility to get to work so I can continue to support my family and not hang around to see kids I don't know singing songs.

My bigger question is why can't we have the winter concert at, say, 7 PM one night, rather than at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning? I guess no one at all works? Want to bet that the audience is 80% moms and very few dads? (My husband is currently unemployed, so he will be there, but in other years, he did not attend this concert.)

On a related note, a note was sent home addressed to me requesting that we send more snacks for my son since he is always hungry. Why was the note addressed just to me? Is my husband not capable of reading and complying? We sort of shook our heads at this one, considering that many of the teachers there are working moms!

Still a huge double standard out there, and it encompasses both genders. Sure, women can do any job they want, including being college professors, or surgeons, or CEOs, but they had better be sure to throw an extra granola bar in their kids' lunches or they don't make the cut as a mom.
That's so weird. I wish I could get the page to load to see who did the study.

The census has been making pretty big strides in how they count gay couples as couples. It's weird that they would be going backwards on this. Especially since everybody that I know who works for the census is a woman(!)

It wasn't so long ago that any woman with a name different from her husband's on the baby's birth certificate was counted as an unmarried mother. (So that makes me a bastard, but my sister was born after they changed that.)
The reason for this decision is probably the same as the reason the term "baby daddy" has come into common use. Your household is increasingly unusual. More than 1/3 of all children do not live with both biological parents.
This is just bureaucrats being bureaucrats. I used to get mad about it too, but that's not constructive, it's like being angry with the mosquito. As stupid and frustrating as it may be, it's nothing compared to the idiotic waste and humiliation of the TSA, and their pat-downs of grandmothers in wheelchairs.

Nice post, but you don't have to prove your parenting to anyone DD.
The "Who's Minding the Kids" reports come from the Survey of Income & Program Participation. This survey -- which began in the 1970s -- helps gauge effectiveness of government programs, such as welfare, food stamps, etc. The survey questions try to remain fairly consistent over the years to show historical trends. Though some fathers may feel offended, this particular survey's purpose is not designed to validate fathers as parents.
DD your frustration is understandable but this survey is not about you - it is about understanding who takes care of kids when their parents work. The survey looks primarily at mothers because the number of men who choose to stay home with their kids instead of working is small (less than 25% of kids receive care from their fathers while their mothers work - grandparents pitch in a higher percent of the time). Most of the time the toggle switch is mom works / mom doesn't work. This study's language also leaves out gay and lesbian parents, heaven help you if your transgendered (who's the mother? father?) and thus fails to capture many of the different care arrangements in which kids thrive.

It's a pretty 2 dimensional look at childcare (they only in the last few years included work outside of the traditional day shift and captured data on kids receiving care from multiple providers) but it's not a referendum on parenting. It's statisticians trying to capture data and understand what care kids receive. Perhaps a veteran of some cultural studies seminars could help them write it in a way that doesn't piss off the parents included in the survey. Looking for a hobby?
There's nothing to like about the lack of gender neutrality in the study as DD has reported. However, before we all pile on against bureaucrats, the government, etc. it is worth considering the scholarship and research behind the study.

The Census has a particularly difficult job in keeping abreast of new cultural trends, while at the same time trying to maintain some consistency in information gathered in past decades. I don't know enough about this particular study or its origins, but this is an opportunity where thoughtful members of the academy refrain from drawing quick conclusions. Have some sympathy or at least a calm question or two for our colleagues, the demographers.
I have some sympathy for consistency, but we could also have consistency in racist survey design too. I'm an economist, I use Census Data all the time, I appreciate the work they do and the challenges they face. This is plain sexist, and plain wrong.
The best response I saw to this was in the comments of the NYT Motherlode blog: "Great! Does the IRS feel this way too? If so then I am totally signing up for DCAP and paying my husband $5000/year in pre-tax money to stay home with our son."
Well said.

I also wish schools would get your message: I've been called more than once to pick up a sick child. They called me over and over at all my numbers while I was in class when they had not called my husband at all, even though he was free at that time. Argghh!
I just experienced what The Steel Magnolia mentioned. The school called my home (no one there), my cell (in my office), my office number (I was in class) and then the security office at which point a police officer was dispatched to my classroom to get me. Meanwhile, my husband was picking up a few items at the store which happens to be less than three minutes from the school. He would have answered his cell phone and went to pick up our son if they would have called him! This kind of crap drives me nuts. He's even listed as the first number to call!

On the other hand, I worked with a postdoc in graduate school who regularly referred to his babysitting obligations on the weekend. The "babysitting" was for his own two kids. I would correct him and call it "parenting". I think he was mildly offended but it was so ridiculous that I couldn't let it pass.
I read that and was just sick at it. The idea that if a male comes home and spends two hours with the kids it's "childcare" and therefore should be paid and a woman it's "parenting" and therefore doesn't count?

I hope you and your daughter have a lovely time at the dance. r
Well stated, DD. And as for defenses of the study's parameters based on consistency, sexist views of parenting are nonetheless sexist. No need to ratify the worst of the past, nor do we need to pretend that social trends do not change over time. Otherwise, my ten-year-old son will be regarded as a non-parent thirty years from now, no matter how active a dad he might be.
The survey looks primarily at mothers because the number of men who choose to stay home with their kids instead of working is small (less than 25% of kids receive care from their fathers while their mothers work - grandparents pitch in a higher percent of the time). Most of the time the toggle switch is mom works / mom doesn't work.

most men don't stay home with the kids because most men make more money than their wives; it's just part of life. i don't know a single couple where the dad stays home, and that choice was always made for money reasons. i've always said that, if my wife would've gotten a better degree in a higher paying field, i would love to stay at home with my son; would be the joy of my life. we have 4 married couples in my usual clique, and all have stay at home homes. about 1/3 of my Sunday School class is made up of couples where the mom stays home. i don't know a single couple where the roles are reversed.

if you're a woman and you've managed to earn more than your husband, good for you and good for him. it's rare.

this census stuff isn't something worth getting upset over (it has no real effect on my life), but it's a fairly ignorant way of looking at the lives of americans.
I am so with you. It's denigrating to the contributions of both parents. This kind of stuff reinforces the idea that any guy who changes a single diaper is some kind of medal-worthy hero and the division of domestic labor ought to be husband = full-time job + nothing else and wife = all forms of domestic labor + incessant judgment about all life choices.

My husband and I both work outside the home, and the only thing that makes the division of labor even remotely proportional is that he does the bulk of the cooking and grocery shopping. I live in what can only be considered World Heritage Site for Liberals, and half the people I know seem to think I've hornswoggled my husband into some kind of indentured servitude using Jedi mind tricks.

There is a tremendous amount of labor involved in being at home with kids, and it's labor that inures to the benefit of the wage-earner. People ought to study that, hopefully as a means to an end that makes all work better for everybody.

I appreciate trying to regularize how data is collected, but seriously, you can't use data if you change the names and expectations around a little? Is the technology so very fragile?
Wow, that is totally frustrating. In many of the couples i know, the wife has been the primary earner, and the husband was the one who stayed home with the kids. The alternative has been both parents working from the get-go. The Census needs to clean up its act.

Hope you had a great time at the dance with your princess!!
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