Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Are Non-Custodial Fathers Just Glorified Babysitters?

Are brothers who don’t reside with their children, or those who keep their brood on a scheduled, occasional or part-time basis, just a notch above being glorified babysitters? This line of inquiry may apply to once-married fathers who now share joint custody with their ex-wives through the intervention of the courts. It may also capture fathers who have been christened with the epithetical title “Baby Daddy” for fathering children with a woman – or women – he’s never wedded.

Now, those who read my writings with any regularity know that I hold little back when it comes to the trend of “Baby Mommas” plaguing black communities and becoming normalized in our culture. I am admittedly critical of sisters who make ill-advised, if not flat-out stupid, decisions that make them end up as maligned statistics with modern day Scarlet A’s on their person. I am especially candid with my considerations when they do so more than once and even increasingly questioning when it occurs with more than one man.

However, like mothers of all varieties – married, divorced or single; employed or unemployed; corner office or blue collar – Baby Mommas generally assume the primary care, concern and advocating of their children. Mothers are apt to be involved in the major decision-making and daily minutiae of their children’s lives. They witness the good and bad times; they wash off the muck and grime of despair and disappointments; they see the fruits of their efforts when their children succeed and do well. Most mothers are in the trenches 24/7.

So are many married fathers. In fact, in these times, as gender lines are blurring and men assume domestic duties once relegated as “women’s work,” married fathers often find themselves multi-tasking, double-checking and shuffling along like mothers do all the time. They leave work to take children to doctor’s appointments. They plan their weekends around the commitments of their children or the plans they have in store for them. They plan relatively well-balanced meals for them, help them clean their rooms, give them baths and lay out their clothes to do it all over again the next day. Studies show that in recent years, men have doubled the amount of time they spend doing housework, which may include child-minding responsibilities. (Still, women, on average, perform 1.8 hours of domestic work for every hour a man spends.)

Married fathers are under pressures distinct from and more continuous than those of their unmarried brethren who are non-custodial parents. Some statistical data reflects small differences that, over time, add up and suggest some things. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, married fathers who work full-time (and whose wives also work full-time) spend 0.8 hours per day engaged in providing childcare to their children. Fathers, like mothers, are more inclined to provide care to their children when they’re aged six years or younger.

The Married Parents’ Use of Time Summary also says:

On an average day, married fathers who had children under 18 and were not employed spent 2.3 hours doing household activities, about 1.1 hours more than did fathers who were employed full time.

In households with children under 18 where both spouses were employed full time, mothers spent an average of 2.1 hours per day doing household activities, while fathers spent about 1.4 hours.

So, in comparison to married fathers, what do non-custodial, unmarried fathers spend their time doing? I’m really not entirely sure, but I will share two major personal observations.

1. They do what they want to do. Most unmarried, non-custodial fathers I know have not had their dreams, goals or aspirations quelled or clipped by parenthood or the incessant pressures (and pleasures) of child-rearing. Perhaps because they are so unhinged, they are able to pursue all manner of ambitions since the daily demands and pressures endemic to living within the same home with one’s children full-time largely escape them. Many such men who I know like this have gone on to write books, establish companies and maintain a busy and visible social calendar in ways that married fathers cannot (and certainly less so without the support of a non-working spouse).

2. They brag and boast about doing what is expected. I’ve noticed that many unmarried, non-custodial fathers sure have a lot of pride in their children, so much so that they will not pass up a chance at giving themselves a pat on the back for doing what married fathers do every day, around the clock. They “take care of their kids,” “spend time with their kids,” and “love their kids,” and will make sure you know it.

When I think of the rigors and rigmarole my husband and I engage in each day with our Little Ladies, I tend to believe there can be no equivalent for unmarried, non-custodial fathers. The efforts and work he puts in each day cannot be compared to weekend visits, occasional outings or the nightly phone calls that may be the routine of unmarried fathers. In fact, such a comparison would be an insult.

In these times when our people’s standards are so low, perhaps we should continue encouraging brothers who have decided not to be cowardly absentee fathers and are involved with their children on some regular basis. But let’s not give men too much credit for doing the minimum, when others are doing the maximum each day and getting limited shine for it, while bucking the statistics.

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