I have written a lot about parental gatekeeping, and even used myself as an example of a gatekeeper that both deprives myself of the opportunity to have a partner in the endless job of parenting and deprives my wife of the opportunity to be the kind of mother she wants to be, and the kind of mother she wants our boys to see.
Donald Unger, a good friend to the NYC Dads Group and author of Men Can, continues this line of thinking in a recent piece for Genders Across Borders called “None of Us Can Have It All, It’s Too Much to Carry.” Unger, a keen observer of the relationship between parents, suggests that it is time for women to both allow and insist that their parenting partners have the opportunity to be equal parents by yielding ground at home. According to Unger:
“As women began to move into the professional sphere in the 1960s and 1970s, we began to reconfigure what American workplaces looked like and how they operated. That process is ongoing and imperfect and – for many women and men – often painful. Feminist theorists like Carol Gilligan argued that inclusion was not enough, that bringing women into domains that had previously been all-male meant something more than simply expanding the workspace, bringing in new people. It meant, as well, adjusting to, accommodating, incorporating and often benefiting from the ways in which women do things differently from men.
That’s what has to happen in the domestic sphere as well. Men aren’t going to act exactly as women do when it comes to cooking, cleaning and – perhaps especially – kids. And men who didn’t grow up being socialized as caregivers – biology isn’t the crux of the matter – are sometimes going to get things wrong, in some of the very same ways that women who aren’t socialized to be caregivers get things wrong. We learn how to be parents – all of us. It’s a tough and ever-changing job.”
Much has been written about the perils of having it all, but not enough is written about the impossibility of “being it all.” Neither men nor women can “be it all” at home and in the workplace, and the only way to even consider “having it all” is to negotiate a parenting partnership that is satisfying for both partners.