January 22, 2022

Freakonomics » The Divergence of Fatherhood: Feast or Famine

Freakonomics
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Freakonomics » The Divergence of Fatherhood: Feast or Famine.

Indeed, most fathers (63%) say being a dad is harder today than it was a generation ago.

Many people point to the economy when it’s time to blame something for more childfree families. The Freakonomics folks offer some enlightening statistics about the challenges of fatherhood in our age. Is this a job you want today? Would you accept it if the demands were more like dad’s in the 1960s?

In 1965, married fathers with children younger than age 18 living in their household spent an average of 2.6 hours per week caring for those children. Fathers’ time spent caring for their children rose gradually over the next two decades — to 2.7 hours per week in 1975 and three hours per week in 1985. From 1985 to 2000, the amount of time married fathers spent with their children more than doubled — to 6.5 hours in 2000.

 

Only about one-in-four adults say fathers today are doing a better job as parents than their own fathers did. Roughly one-third (34%) say they are doing a worse job, and 40% say they are doing about the same job.

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Kids Suck?: Deadpan and Deadspin Daddies are FUNNY

This one is for the football fans and any parents or childfree readers that appreciate the role comedy can play in lightening a mood or dissolving taboos.

Louis C.K. says “Kids Suck”

and Deadspin.com‘s Drew Magary suggests “It’s Okay To Love Your TV More Than Your Children”

“Let’s just get this out of the way: Of course I love the television more than my own children. That TV cost a mere $700. I spend that much on diapers every fucking year. It has a functional mute button, which means I do not have to hear it if I don’t want to. The people who appear on the TV set are far more articulate than my 1-year-old, and thus more interesting to listen to (unless the people in question are Chris Berman and Steve Young). The TV takes up less space and doesn’t leave toys and bits of cake all over the goddamn place.”

They might be kidding or just pandering, but from my seat, it is clear that they make us laugh by shining a light on things that everyone thinks (sometimes?), but few are saying. That and just plain good story telling. And even if you aren’t laughing after reading and watching, maybe you’ll agree that these daddies are helping future parents and those who may one day choose not to breed by sharing their thoughts, experiences, honesty and hyperbole. We know having kids aint easy, and what better way to give us all permission to say so than through comedy? The only question is, are these things mommies can get away with saying. (If you know of any moms that are, please share them with us.)

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Permissive Parenting


Interview with LZ Granderson on taming your toddler from: www.cnn.com (share this clip)

LZ Granderson tackles a sensitive topic in “Permissive Parents: Curb your brats“, reminding parents that consistent, ongoing discipline is critical to good parenting. And to preventing your friends from hating your kids!

We’ve all experienced it, even the most kid empathetic amongst us. You’re waiting to see the dentist, and a three year old is spreading magazines all over the waiting room floor. Or you’ve just settled into your seat for an overnight flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the ten year old in front of you starts playing video games with the volume cranked, bouncing back and forth in his chair, gradually pounding your knees to oblivion. Every day we come across absentee parenting scenarios that frustrate, annoy, even anger us. But can you parent somebody else’s kids? The verdict’s still out on that one.

“The rest of the world should not have to be subjected to your bratty kids.”

I’ll second that! And yet we do. Every day. “Kids are not the center of the universe,” Granderson reminds us, and we shouldn’t allow their whims, urges and needs to dictate our social interactions. And yet so many parents do exactly that. And in the process they allow their kids to alienate others in their social circles.

So what should parents be doing differently when it comes to raising and disciplining kids? I won’t try to armchair quarterback the question, because I don’t have kids of my own. I’ll admit up front that the best ones to answer this question are parents, and ideally parents with well behaved kids. Nevertheless, I am an uncle four times over, and I told middle school and high school students for enough years to learn a few things.

I agree with Granderson that discipline must start early and never waver. It must be real and fair and reliable. And infractions aren’t mortal sins; they’re learning opportunities. But discipline’s an easy out. As Granderson acknowledges in this interview, discipline means different things for different families. And I don’t think that there’s much merit in arguing what universal yardstick could be applied to all families and all situations. It’s probably also worth admitting that I’m not a fan of physical punishment.

I submit to you that even more important than discipline is ongoing instruction. Teach your children what is appropriate again and again, and most will eventually grok the big picture. Create consistent, inalienable expectations and parameters. Kids need boundaries. They need to test them and even need to break them sometimes, but they need boundaries. I’ve literally had students tell me this. I’m not kidding! Exceptions are confusing to kids, and your “nice” exception today blurs expectations tomorrow. I also believe that parents often neglect to teach their kids that different domains/situations demand different behaviors. So many youngsters operate in only one mode. No good. Help your kid understand the difference between interacting with children and adults, informal situations like play dates and formal situations like school or church, home and school, etc. Vocabulary, voice, gesture, physical interaction differ in all of these contexts. Help your kid recognize and understand these often subtle differences, and the world (and my day) will be better. Thanks!

Happy Un-Father’s Day?

Happy Father's Day, virtualDavis and Gordon Davis

"Happy Father's Day, Dad!" (to George Gordon Davis, Sr. from George Gordon Davis, Jr.)

Today is a spectacular day. Bluebird skies overhead. Warm breezes off of Lake Champlain. Dry air. Perfect. Oh, and it’s Father’s Day.

I’ve just returned from Father’s Day brunch at the Essex Inn in Essex, New York. A delicious meal in newly remodeled digs with my father, my mother and my bride. An enjoyable way to celebrate my dad. As his eldest child I couldn’t help but remind him that I was if not instrumental at least a willing participant in his transition into the heralded halls of fatherdom. Early adopter? Angel investor? Something.

It’s easy enough to scoff at Hallmark holidays, but there’s not much value in the effort. As far as I’m concerned any excuse to celebrate, any opportunity to express gratitude, and any chance to commemorate goodness is worthwhile. Life is just better when we celebrate! And Father’s day is no exception. A reminder to let the fellow know that I still love him after almost forty years, that I genuinely appreciate the sacrifices and the efforts he undertook (and undertakes) for me, that I’m sincerely pleased to have a more congenial rapport with him in recent years, that I look forward to a whole lot of living and learning and laughing together in the years ahead.

And yet, I said goodbye to my parents after brunch without sharing these thoughts. My bride and I gave him a handsome pair of cufflinks with a card that was funny/flip/poignant but totally sidestepped mentioning anything I’ve just banged out on my keyboard. Why? Chalk it up to filial psychology. Or distraction. Chalk it up to anything you like, the point is simply that even with Father’s Day on the calendar and even with a leisurely (and delicious) brunch together to celebrate Father’s Day, I dropped the ball entirely. So far…

You see what I’m getting at? Hallmark holidays are marketing miracles. But they also afford us welcome reminders to celebrate and thank and commemorate people who make our lives worth the cost of admission. To say things we’d otherwise overlook. Which is why I’m going to ask my father to read this post shortly. I’d like to make sure he gets the memo, even if it’s delivered digitally instead of over eggs Benedict and roast beef.

Dad, thank you. Thanks for marrying mom. Thanks for choosing to have children. Thanks for swapping your childfree life, your childfree marriage for decades of aggravation, anxiety, astronomical expense and frequent insubordination. Thanks for leaving New York City to raise your family in the North Country. Thanks for working your @$$ off to cloth us, to feed us, to house us, to educate us, to ship us off on far-flung adventures. Thanks for encouraging me to leave home at fourteen to attend Deerfield and later Georgetown. Thanks for underwriting both. Thanks for the letter after college telling me to unwind, to take an adventure, to go learn how to surf and an airplane ticket to anywhere that might help me tackle all three. Thanks for respecting my graduate studies at St. John’s, for helping me juggle graduate school debt, drive a safe car, sort through big people challenges and mistakes. Thanks for encouraging my teaching, my writing, my increasingly peripatetic lifestyle. Thanks for free legal advice over years, and thanks too for learning when to relinquish the lawyer dynamic. Thanks for loving, supporting and encouraging my bride and for never pressuring me to marry her during the four years it took me to take the proverbial leap. Thanks for accepting (and hopefully understanding) our decision not to have children. Full stop. What?

I hope that you know our childfree family is not a judgment of our own parents’ parenting. We both consider ourselves unusually fortunate in this regard. But I do understand that our choice not to have children can be confusing, even saddening or disappointing to our parents. I apologize for the confusion, the sadness, the disappointment. And I am grateful that you have not tried to change our minds, that you’ve respected our decision. In short, this Father’s Day I’d like to thank you for supporting my decision not to be a father!

Which brings me back to the title of this post, “Happy Un-Father’s Day”. With the exception of today, every other day of the year must be Un-Father’s Day, right? Looking to The Unbirthday Song from Alice in Wonderland for logic or at least inspiration, I’ve decided that there are three hundred and sixty four Un-Father’s Days each year. Now that’s reason to celebrate! (Though it’s not the only reason to remain childfree…)

Why I left my children

Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr
Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr

“My problem was not with my children,” author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto explains, “but with how we think about motherhood.” Her poignant, smartly crafted essay, Why I left my children, is part of Salon.com‘s Real Families series. Her unflinching candor is especially powerful coming from the perspective of a woman, a mother, a wife. It’s an unfamiliar perspective, one that is easily and habitually vilified as she hastens to acknowledge. The redemptive arc of her essay softens the jagged edge of realizing — as a married mother of a three and a five year old — that she hadn’t wanted to be a mother in the first place.

I had no idea what to do with these bouncing balls of energy. Even feeding them, finding them a bathroom, was a challenge. It raised a little issue for me that I have neglected to mention: I never wanted to be a mother. I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over.

She loses her marriage but regains her children and discovers her motherhood. It’s a tidy conclusion with a happily ever after vibe, but the essay concludes without returning to the mother-phobia hiccup. I suspect that I’ll need to read her novel, Why She Left Us, to learn more. Her fear that motherhood would/could exhaust her, swallow her up and erase her sense of self strike me as relevant and important (even critical) concerns.

I’m not a mother. Nor will I ever be a mother. I’m a happily married childfree husband. I’m a dog owner, storyteller, adventurer and unabashed flâneur. I’m a DINK. And yet Rizzuto’s perception that parenting has the potential to swallow up the self feels familiar, like it was conjured up out of my own twenty-something anxiety cauldron. A decade and change later, the ingredients are still there. How do I know? Because friends — parents, mothers, fathers — confirm and reaffirm the woes of parenting. They are exhausted. Swallowed up. Lost.

I know, that’s only part of the equation. “Having children is the best decision we ever made,” they always hasten to add. But it tends to come as an apologetic parenthetical after a laundry list of laments, regrets and frustrations. I don’t mean to diminish the splendors of parenting. They doubtless trump the petty concerns I’ve mentioned, and yet I’m not convinced. Frankly, I don’t want to be convinced. I’m okay with exhaustion, but swallowed up? No thanks!