Is There Truth to the Media Representation of SAHDs?
So often we hear about research studies proving this-and-that, but it’s not so much about the study as it is about how the results are conveyed by media. Take, for instance, a recent report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), which explored the world of stay-at-home dads or SAHDs. Among the four major takeaways from the report, its creators and subsequent coverage seemed to focus most on how stay-at-home dads spend two hours less per week on childcare than their working wives.
Those are fighting words. Every spouse deserves a fair work load, yet at the same time, the idea that parenting is a 50/50 split is a fallacy. It’s not a spouse’s role to keep score when it comes to responsibilities. No matter whether both work or one stays at home – all contribute to a family.
Underemphasized in the coverage, however, was the fact that dads spent 28 hours per week on housework, versus 23 hours for working moms. Or, that dads were most likely to stay at home with sick kids and transport them to and from activities.
Also overlooked was the fact that no definition of an at-home mom was provided.
Here in America, that definition is surprisingly different. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an at-home mother is defined as a wife who reports being out of the labor force for a year, while the husband reports being in the labor force all year. It also includes mothers who are unable to find work, disabled, or enrolled in school.
At-home dads are defined as dads who do not work outside the home, or fathers who live apart from their children. Essentially, researchers rule out dads who work part-time, but not moms. For instance, if a male physician decides to go part-time to shoulder the workload of his family time, he is considered under-employed. Whereas if a female physician with the same credentials decides to go part-time for the same reasons, she is simply referred to as a working part-time.
The AIFS also provides other studies on “hands-on dads having more satisfying relationships with children” and “fathers who use violence,” both of which are admirable topics of exploration. But there does not appear to be any counterpart studies for moms. Is it because we assume moms are more hands-on, and that mothers don’t use violence? There seems to be a bias at play, and dads aren’t getting a fair shake.
And as for this particular SAHDs report, where is the counterpart AIFS survey for SAHMs?
There isn’t one.
All of these are examples of how inconsistent and biased the research process can be when studying dads – or that numbers can be swayed when suiting one’s agenda (if there is one).
After all, the report was short on having mentioned the benefits of dad serving as the primary caregiver to his spouse, kids, community, and economy. Perhaps it affords mom the opportunity to advance her career ambitions or boosts dad’s stature in the school or community as a positive role model, or that kids felt safe and honored by his presence.
But perhaps the largest injustice was how the report’s lead author – Dr. Jennifer Baxter – went on say: “… the average stay-at-home dad is still far from being ‘Mr. Mum.’”
Excuse me, but Dad is not Mom. He's not a replacement for Mom. He’s Dad. And he’s no less of a parent simply because of his gender, or because he works inside the home or out of it – or because he doesn’t get paid at all. And why must we continue to term SAHDs “Mr. Mom” if we’d never dare call a working mom “Mrs. Dad”?
Making matters worse is the number of websites who took the imbalanced housework stat and ran hard with it, underpinning the common stereotype that husbands must be lazy.
I realize the many websites “reporting” on this study aren’t true media sites, and that the Internet has blurred some of the rules of journalism, but anyone covering this topic still has a certain amount of duty and accountability. After what I saw, those sites clearly feel none of it.
Both the AIFS press release and subsequent coverage continue to perpetuate the myth that dad is the negligent, undependable, and indolent spouse.
It’s the media’s job to write unbiased stories, yet the coverage of this AIFS report looks like another agenda-filled account that merely widens the parental divide and creates unnecessary conflict between moms and dads. Perhaps next time, AIFS can survey moms and dads in a way that appreciates each other for what they bring to the parenting table.
Surely, it’s the media’s job to report the news, not create it. Right?
Buried at the bottom of the study’s accompanying press release was a quote that provides the most important nugget of truth:
“Despite dividing their time differently, parents in these families were the most likely to agree that children do just as well if the mother earns the money and the father takes care of the home and children.”
And that is the real message of this report.
Do you know many SAHDs?