As I embark on this new and hopefully more frequent blog post, which will include regular freeway inspired musings, some political rants, a few bad jokes, a dose of silliness, and perhaps occasionally a lucid insight, one phrase absolutely must go down as my premiere thought. It is one that has been roiling around in my mind for a while now, and when I recently heard a sweet young female co-worker innocently utter it, it not only caught my attention but also stopped me in my tracks.
We were talking casually about a fellow co-worker, a man that works in her New York office, when the young woman remarked, “Oh, he’s out of the office every night at 6:15 so he can catch the train home. He’s a real family man.” When she said the last two words, “family man,” she looked over at me meaningfully and smiled, as though to make sure that I was aware of the deep love and sacrifice that went along with it.
“Umm, that’s great,” I muttered, thinking, “I’ve known that guy for 20 years and he doesn’t do anything special that any other parent does every damn day. Plus he gets paid twice what I do for the same job. And I’m a single mom, doing all the work he does at the office – and better than he does it – and all the work that his wife does at home as well!”
When I have occasionally heard the phrase in the past, it has usually implied that the man it was directed at had sacrificed a lot for the sake of his family, that he was a humble, decent, kind man, an amazing and loving father, maybe even a model citizen. The Perfect Father. All of these thoughts and sentiments are welcome and lovely, of course – a man/father who keeps his family as a priority, that is simply great, and there is no downside to the sentiment.
Yet I couldn’t help but think, he might merely have skipped after work drinks once or twice and then was immediately and permanently painted as a paternal saint, as I had seen frequently happen in my own office. Feisty of me, I know, but why, I wondered was there no female equivalent of the phrase “family man”?
Why is there no such phrase as Family Woman? Why did my co-workers not gush about how great I or other mothers are (especially we single mothers), about how we race around every damn day trying to be great at home and great at work – an often impossible task – rather than wonder under their breaths why we are often late (gotta get those pesky kids off to school, what a bother!), or why we dash out the office door at 6pm on the dot every evening so we can race home through traffic or on subways, often arriving home just in time to pay the babysitter more than we can afford before trying to cajole some information about their day from our now exhausted and totally over it children. Getting up before sunrise to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner is a daily occurrence for many of us, and I personally usually feel like I have had a full day before I ever get to my office and sit down at my desk. And weekends are what I call a domestic triathlon; cleaning house/laundry/dog/car, food and supply shopping, and catching up with homework and my child’s life in general.
Why is there no equivalent of “family man”, no phrase for family woman? I believe that it is because we women are expected to sacrifice absolutely everything if and when we become mothers. Putting our families first is the presumption for women, not the exception, whereas for men it still remains the opposite. Many men’s lives do not change that much when they become fathers; they often still go to work on time and keep the same hours, are still able to travel whenever and wherever they need to, and unlike what is often the norm for mothers, they are not necessarily going to be ragged for the next two decades trying to juggle home and work.
Personally, I have loved being a mother, something it took me years and some crazy adventures to achieve, the state of motherhood. It has been the most love filled, blissful, challenging, enlightening, sometimes frustrating, rewarding event of my life. I wouldn’t trade one single second. And yes, my lenses are definitely colored by having gone through a rough divorce and having shouldered all the responsibilities of parenthood single-handed, something my corporate bosses definitely do not care to consider in terms of my paycheck or work life balance.
Men leave their families all the time, be it through divorce or something else, and the event is not usually painted as anything out of the ordinary. But if just one woman does that – oh my god, can you imagine a woman leaving and heading out with another man and ditching the kids, leaving them with her ex? She’d be stoned, tarred and feathered, it’s an unforgivable sin! But men do it all the time, every day, all over the planet.
Yes, things have been changing during the last few years, with more and more men being actively involved in their children’s lives, and more and more men staying home to be with kids as their wives and partners go off to work, the latter I think having long been inevitable due to the fact that we women have forever had to be more flexible, mentally, physiologically, and professionally.
It has long been the case that, if one man/dad changed a diaper or had the audacity to stay home with his kids, they would make a sitcom about him. Full House, Castle, Who’s the Boss, to name a few. And of course, Family Man, Mr. Mom or Daddy Day Care. Oh, the hijinks of those silly, lovably inept daddies! Bungling the kids’ lunches, letting them go out in the dead of winter dressed in shorts and a tank top, trashing the house, serving inedible dinners! What lovable losers, those masculine goofballs. But a woman, a mother who did the same, would be judged unfit, unapologetically despicable, as though she had sinned against nature.
Of course, I do not mean to paint all parents with one brush stroke; are all women innately maternal or great mothers? No, of course not. And are all men automatically bunglers when it comes to fatherhood? Definitely no. But the phrase “family man” still implies all the old, limiting stereotypes, at least to me, and to hear a twenty something woman say it with such obvious warmth and fondness, well it sent my mind reeling and I couldn’t help but think “time for an update!”
So how about we come up with a female equivalent of the phrase? One that organically serves up the same built in respect and privileges when it refers to a woman, to all the 24/7, often thankless work that comes with motherhood, as the phrase currently does for a man. Hmm, how about the obvious choice, family woman? Not sure that really does it. It’s something worth pondering, and if you have any great ideas, by all means start testing them out on your co-workers, friends and family.