A different glimpse of parenting

Posted by Dora

During my childhood, my parents operated within a very traditional framework. My father worked … a lot. My mother stayed at home with the children, doing the physical and emotional nurturing of the children and home. I can’t decide if this was more a function of the era (early 70’s), their political leanings (Republican), their religion (LDS) or their own family heritage (immigrants from Japan and Korea).

My memories of my mother are legion. Being exposed to all types of lessons: ballet, gymnastics, drawing, swimming, tennis, Japanese language. She finally settled on piano, and that stuck for about ten years. Being taught the importance of education. Having her do my hair up in precise ponytails, very occasionally with curls. Learning primary songs together, and looking up the words I didn’t know in the dictionary. Flying with me to Japan when I was five years old. Always petitioning my father on my behalf for any type of learning experience, especially travel. She pervades every part of my childhood, along with my maternal grandmother, who spent half the year with my family.

My memories of my father are different. They revolve around weekends (doing gardening chores and attending church sports events) and family vacations (camping and cultural trips). From what I remember, my father worked a lot of overtime, and provided very amply for his  family, and made up for it outside of the workweek. And when I really stop to think, my father seems strangely absent from the day to day memories of school, friends and lessons. However, things started changing around the time I turned fourteen (or when my youngest brother turned seven). I’ve written before about how my mother gradually returned to the work force, and how my maternal grandmother took over many of the physical nurturing aspects of our home, and how we children pitched in to make it all work. However, when I think back to it, I can’t say that my father did a lot to fill in the gaps. My mother still did the shopping and cooking, and was still the one that we all congregated around. This came home to me as I thought about the examples of a couple of friends that really astound me.

I was out dancing a couple of weeks ago, when I saw E for the first time in ages. Turns out that he and his wife had recently moved back from Massachusetts, where he continued some work on his dissertation in computer science. When I asked him how life was, he replied that it was exhausting. Why? The baby. Turns out that they have a three month old infant, and he and his wife spend equal time taking care of the baby. This surprised me. E comes from an Israeli background (spent years doing Israeli folkdance before coming to lindy), and with knowing hoe busy he was with his school work, I had just assumed that his wife had taken over all the parenting duties.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that other examples were out there. My good friends P & M are both very active latter-day saints. M grew up in what I assume was a very traditionally structured home. However, P grew up with an aged father who did most of the nurturing while her mother worked fulltime. P & M had a baby a little less than a year ago, and had just assumed that P would probably not return to work. However, after maternity leave was over, P returned to work in the evenings. M shifted his work schedule so as to be home in the early evening when P went to work. It’s his responsibility to get the baby into bed and asleep. The more I talked with them about it, the more it astounded me. I don’t know many fathers who have regular, dedicated time and responsibilities with their infant. M doesn’t just slip in time between work and sleep. He has actually changed his work schedule to be home and care for his child. M gets bonding time with the baby, P gets time to be out and interact with other adults and contribute to the family finances.

I was so awed by P & M’s example. I envision something like it for myself. And yet, I wonder. How will their arrangement change with time? Will P want to continue to work? Will M still want to have dedicated time alone with his son? Infants are so dependent on parents. Will M’s relationship change as the baby becomes more independent? Or will their increased interaction carry over throughout their lifetimes?

Lastly, I hosted a picnic dinner with a bunch of friends, and was able to reconnect with L & S, who are also very active latter-day saints. L has recently started staying at home with their two children, both pre-Kindergarten-aged. She’s actually been home for a while, but now she is not doing any part-time work from home. She’s taken this step because she recognizes the importance of having one parents at home. From our little stolen conversation in the kitchen, she’s told me that it’s been tough. And yet, she is constantly on the trail to find activities and experiences that enrich both the mother’s and children’s lives. S, after having worked in his industry for a while, returned to school, and is now a professor. At one point during the evening, L thanked S for taking a job in academia, which allows him more flexible time to be with his family, as opposed to staying in the private sector.

L & S’s example made me think about the best description of parenting that I’ve ever read. It comes from Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. And while I do not agree with his politics, Card nailed down the type of parent I would like to be. And funnily enough, it doesn’t have anything to do with gender.

“I saw what Andrew did in our family. I saw that he came in and listened and watched and understood who we were, each individual one of us. He tried to discover our need and then supply it. He took responsibility for other people and it didn’t seem to matter to him how much it cost him. And in the end, while he could never make the Ribeira family normal, he gave us peace and pride and identity. Stability. He married Mother and was kind to her. He loved us all. He was always there when we wanted him, and seemed unhurt by it when we didn’t. He was firm with us about expecting civilized behavior, but never indulged his whims at our expense. And I thought: This is so much more important than science. Or Politics, either. Or any particular profession or accomplishment, or thing you can make. I thought: If I could just make a good family, if I could just learn to be to other children, their whole lives, what Andrew was, coming so late into ours, then that would mean more in the long run, it would be a finer accomplishment than anything I could ever do with my mind or hands.”
“So, you’re a career father,” said Valentine.
“Who works at a brick factory to feed and clothe the family. Not a brickmaker who also has kids. [My wife] also feels the same way … She followed her own road to the same place. We do what we must to earn out place in the community, but we live for the hours at home. For each other. For the children.”

The structure in my parents’ marriage has been turned on its head. My father in now retired, and my mother continues to work full-time. And while my mother still does most of the grocery shopping, my father is now the mothering one, encouraging her to eat well and trying his hand at cooking and maintaining the house.

How have you structured parenting in your own family? Is it similar to how you yourself were raised, or have you made a deliberate effort to change? Are you satisfied with your parenting style? Is there something you wish you could change? If there are obstacles, what are they? How have you developed strategies around them?


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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14 Responses

  1. cchrissyy says:

    My parents worked it out much like yours, except that my mom was always depressed and is still at home, even with all her kids past college. I liked my dad plenty but he was never home until dinner was ready, so I just saw him at dinner and on weekends.

    I had kids totally assuming I’d stay at home. I honestly never weighed the alternatives or considered my needs or preferences. It was completely assumed.

    with #1, I was home and my husband was a student who was home almost as much as me, and we had an incredibly needy baby who needed 2 people on hand at all times day and night. So we started out very equally active and equally knowledgeable on parenting duties.

    Long story short, we have 3 kids now, I’m self-employed full time from home and my husband makes sure to get home by 4PM to be the primary parent for dinner/evening/bedtime. This has been true since his college graduation until now, and our kids are almost school age so my work-at-home-with-kids-underfoot lifestyle is presently transforming into a family-friendly working mom situation.

    I have a blog comment at FMH outlining our equal sharing of parenting and homemaking.

  2. cchrissyy says:

    also, this comment with musings about the many tasks of parenting that can be shared besides just counting the hands-on hours, and some worksheets to see who’s really doing what.

  3. Azucar says:

    Here’s something nobody told us (or that we failed to hear)

    Babies want their MAMAs.

    I never wanted to stay home, I always wanted a career. My husband never wanted a career, he would have preferred to stay at home. So, after our first was born, we tried it. My husband went back to school and I kept working full time.

    It SUCKED.

    Babies want their mamas. No matter what my husband did, our son wanted ME.

    We quickly realized that sometimes traditional roles are there because they work. I spent years thinking that it was social and cultural convention, that surely it didn’t matter who was where, that I was free to pursue my ambitions and all else would fall into place.

    Boy, did I have another thing coming.

    Nothing can replace the role of mother. I am more patient with our children, I am more nurturing and understanding. My husband found a career that he loves and enjoys providing for us. He’s a school teacher and does not make enough money to support us, so I also work. We’re fortunate that our kids are only with the nanny (my cousin) 3 hours a day. However, it’s still hard on everybody. My second son was even less tolerant of people who were not me than our first.

    For the record, my mother and father are professors. My mother has worked at least part time since when we were small. I always thought dads AND moms worked, that both did work around the house; I was raised with housework equity. My husband was raised in a similar fashion, but without the housework equity.

    Now, if we had the opportunity, I would absolutely be a SAHM. If you told my teenage self that she would have laughed in your face. Now I understand how it was for my mom to leave us.

    Oh how reality has changed my assumptions.

  4. AnaCA says:

    Azucar, while I don’t doubt your experience, I’m not certain it’s universal.

    Some kids do prefer one parent over the other at different times in their lives. But it’s not always Mom. And if it is, it might not always be Mom.

    This has been a developmental marker for my boys – there have been stages where I’m preferred, but now I think they are growing to the point where they identify more with my husband. My daughter, the youngest, would take Daddy over me any day of the week (she’s almost 2).

  5. FoxyJ says:

    Neither of my kids have seemed to prefer Mom to Dad at any stage of the game. We’ve both been students for our entire marriage, so our schedules have been all over the place. I took about a year or so off school after having each of my kids (I have 2) so I was the primary parent–that was mainly just to facilitate breastfeeding and such. Plus I think it easier to have one parent at home full-time with an infant. Right now I’m starting a PhD program in a few weeks and my husband has found a job where he can work at home about 30 hours a week. It’s hard to juggle both our schedules and I hate the fact that in 7 years neither of us has had a “real job”. The poverty and the lack of health insurance are annoying after a while. But I’m glad that my husband is committed to being there for our kids. He’s always been a very equal parent with me and totally willing to parent. He could go get a very nicely paying full-time job with benefits, but for right now he decided to work part-time with a flexible job so that I can more fully concentrate on my program. In a few years the plan is for him to transition to full-time after our kids get bigger and as I get into employment as a professor rather than grad school.

    My dad worked a lot and also spent months at a time deployed overseas, and my husband grew up without a father in the home, so our parenting style is definitely a deliberate effort to overcome that. I admit that sometimes I kind of wish I could just be in charge and not have to compromise/work things out with the other parent, like my mom mostly did, but I’m glad my husband is involved and parents our kids.

  6. Caroline says:

    I agree AnaCA. Babies wanting moms isn’t a universal. At least not in my home. E prefers dad hands down.

    I’ve been really happy with the way mike and I have structured our marriage. I have been working part time – teaching from 11:30 until 4:30 every weekday. Some days Mike would come home, other days I would get sitters and it worked for everyone. I’m really lucky in that Mike teaches at a university and has a very flexible schedule.

    This upcoming year I’ll be going back to grad school, and we’ll do something similar, though I won’t be taking off every single weekday. I do worry about making this fair for Mike. He’s got a full time job, and he spends most of his free time taking care of E. I want to make sure the amount of free time we have is equitable.

  7. Jessawhy says:

    Caroline struck a note with me when she said,
    “I want to make sure the amount of free time we have is equitable.”
    I feel spoiled. I go to the gym in the morning, my baby naps, and Turtle watches a movie. Then it’s lunch and naps for all of us. I have so much free time and my husband has hardly any.
    (and for the record, they all prefer dad by at least a year old, sometimes earlier)
    I do think there are ways we can make this work distribution more equal, and a lot of that starts with me.
    I’ve been thinking of ways to get into grad school, or get a part time job. I’m just so uncertain of what I want to do at this stage of the game.
    3 small children is a lot of work. (even though I make it sound rather laid back sometimes.)

  8. cchrissyy says:

    yeah, that “favoring mom” thing just depends. I have two kids who pretty evenly call for either parent, but my kindergartner has *always* preferred dad. The only person he prefers to dad is grandpa (the hard-worker mentioned in my first comment who is now a VERY plugged-in grandparent), but except for breastfeeding, all his life he’s called to dad before me.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Dora, your experience sounds similar to mine (and my husband’s). I never thought I would follow the path of my parents.

    When we were first married, we divided up the household work by who liked to do what and took turns with school. When kids came (6 years later), we went straight to traditionally-defined gender roles.

    My husband works a ton! And, I take care of all house-related and most child-related issues. It’s a bummer. I started to work so I could get a little time away from the kids.

    We were just talking today about how we could get things back to him being able to be home more. It’s really tough to figure out how to do that.

  10. Azúcar says:

    I don’t mean to suggest that mothers are always preferred, but in our family, my husband is the second choice. I fully expect that when my kids are older they will be more daddy-centered.

    I want to stress the mother-preferred experience because if it happens to you and you are not prepared for that possibility, it’s going to be harder on you than you might think.

    We thought we would be interchangeable and that did not turn out to be the case. It would have saved us years of heartache, and trying to reorder our lives, if we’d only known.

    So, don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

  11. Jim Donaldson says:

    I think the key is that labor should be divided so it is equitable, not necessarily equal. I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t not want to half of the plumbing repairs or have me do half of the sewing. So long as we are equally busy and equally contributing, life is good. It is the disproportion that causes trouble, not necessarily the assignment.

    At our house, mom was essential for some things, for others, it had to be dad. And it sometimes cycled around. Both is no doubt ideal for that very reason.

  12. gladtobeamom says:

    When I was young my mother had to go back to work and being number 7 of eight my older brothers and sisters were the baby sitters. My father would leave to work at 6 in the morning and get home at 10:30 to 11. and that was most days of the week. He got most sundays off so we went to church and hung out and ate popcorn. I loved spending time with my father so when he was home I hung out with him. He always had lots to do. He did the garden and fix all the cars even the neighbors and fixed the house. So I would just hang out and asked him questions he never seemed to mind. When I got older I would go to work with him a couple of days in the summer and hang out. My mom would be home by 9 and was usually of on the weekends. She did all the shopping usually on the way home and we were responsible for the house and the laundry etc. Which we usually did very last minute before she came home. We even maid dinner most nights of the week. I learned a lot from this but I know it was hard on my mom. Sometimes she would be so frustrated when the house got really bad or when there wasnt enough money even when she was working. Both of my parents worked all the time. When she was home she canned and did a lot of other homemaking things. They were always helping someone in the neighborhood or ward. Rolls definatly change. Now that their are no kids home and the both work they each help out with everything except for roofing because my mom is afraid of heights. I remember my father coming home and finding her tearing out the living room wall and moving it.

    We ran wild as children we were never bad but there are things we dont tell our parents. They are lucky we didnt burn the house down. I always wanted to stay home though for verious reasons I have worked on and off throughout our marriage. We have had several business that I pretty much took care of most of because I was home. My husband is our breadwinner. there was a time when he worked a lot but over the years he decided it wasnt worth it because the children grow so fast so he did push so much and took a job where he can be home more. I primarily cook, clean and take care of kids but he pitches in whenever he can. He even took our infant with him to all his church meetings. The other men would ask him if I made him or couldnt believe it etc.. Soon they were doing the same. He is willing to take them when ever I need him to. Especially when I need a break. We both do the yard work because we love to work outside. We have a weekness for nurserys. working on our home is a different issue. I have learned to drywall and do all sorts of things to fix it up. We learned how to do plumming together so it is 50/50. Things are not always equal. Sometimes I am still working while he is watching tv and other times I do something while he finishes something else. for me it is his willingness to help do anything. He doesn’t see anything as womens work etc. Somethings have fallen to me and others to him. It is usually because one of us is better then the other but we work it out and try to keep a balance in our home.

  13. Dora says:


    Recommend this loved this article by CM Durham from the Pink issue of Dialogue. It seems to current and relevant, I had a hard time believing it was written almost four decades ago.

  14. Dina Wray says:

    Great post here. Lots expertise, I look ahead to reading more within you.

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