OPINION: Pandemic or not, parents still debate who does more

Jaycina Almond (right), founder of the Tender Foundation, gives an instruction to volunteers who will deliver items to mothers in-need (from left) Kashish Ali, Alyzza Ukani and Chinelo Obiamalu at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Jaycina Almond (right), founder of the Tender Foundation, gives an instruction to volunteers who will deliver items to mothers in-need (from left) Kashish Ali, Alyzza Ukani and Chinelo Obiamalu at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Do men face the same ‘glass ceiling’ at home that women do at work?

A few months ago, I wrote a story about the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on working women in metro Atlanta.

Women have suffered more job losses than men, and most of the women in the story are also moms who described the challenges of child care during the pandemic.

Explore Pandemic puts limits on working women

After the story ran, I got a few responses from readers.

Women were pleased to see their voices represented. One man said he was happy he wasn’t a woman.

Mark Shumate, a 56-year-old, twice-divorced single father of four in Roswell, disagreed with the data and the viewpoints of the mothers in the story.

“In my extensive experience, female parents often diminish, ignore or criticize the work (of) male parents. Perhaps this article is just another example,” Shumate wrote.

He said he felt as if stories like mine are a manifestation of “maternal gatekeeping” and support “systemic gender bias that raising children really is women’s work. At most they send the message to our sons and daughters what their roles really are,” he wrote.

That’s a lot to unpack, but first things first.

This is the first time you’re hearing from me as lifestyle columnist. I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve written about topics including crime, education, entertainment and the environment.

I grew up in the Midwest, and when I arrived at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution more than 15 years ago, I came with the desire to develop the same connection to community, people and culture that I had experienced in my hometown.

For me, this column represents that same spirit. It is a place to talk about all of the things that impact the quality of life in Atlanta, not from the viewpoint of a public figure, but from the perspective of everyday people like you and me, trying to live our lives, raise our kids (if you have them) and maybe find a way to make a difference in the world that feels meaningful.

I had my own challenges as a single parent during the pandemic juggling work with virtual learning, including the time my tween daughter texted me asking for help with a tech issue because her dad, who works in a tech-related field, was on the phone.

A sign says it all to passing motorists at Murphey Candler Elementary School at 6775 S Goddard Road in Lithonia, DeKalb County on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.  JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
A sign says it all to passing motorists at Murphey Candler Elementary School at 6775 S Goddard Road in Lithonia, DeKalb County on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

My first impulse was to rail against everything Shumate was saying. Instead, I called him to talk more about his concerns.

To be clear, both men and women have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic, but data from the federal government confirms as of February 2021, the female labor force was 3.1% smaller than a year earlier while the male labor force was 2.2% smaller, according to a Gallup Poll analysis. The gap means almost 500,000 more women than men are absent from the labor force since the start of the pandemic.

So yes, the COVID-related gender employment gap is real, but how prevalent is maternal gatekeeping and are we sending the wrong message to our kids by talking about how much work women do at home?

“I prefer the term parental gatekeeping,” said Shelley Senterfitt, a family lawyer turned psychotherapist in Atlanta, describing behavior in which one parent excludes or minimizes the role of the other parent.

Divorced dads tend to think gatekeeping is more prevalent than it is, she said. It is actually more likely to occur among married partners since divorced parents usually have a parenting plan in place to prevent that sort of conduct.

But Shumate said he’s also experienced a form of gatekeeping from total strangers, like the time he wanted to serve as “class mom” at his daughter’s school only to learn the position had been filled before he even knew it was available. He lobbied to change the position to the more inclusive “class parent” and landed the renamed role the following year.

He said he has been momsplained more times than he cares to count, like the time he volunteered to bring quesadillas to the class party only to be given additional instructions from the organizing mom.

“Sometimes it is well meaning … but sometimes it is not. I am a triple-board-certified physician. I can bring quesadillas to the party,” said Shumate. “The glass ceiling that women experience in the workplace is the exact same glass ceiling that men experience in the home.”

Wait a minute, did he just mansplain momsplaining to me?

Part of the problem is that parents in general are doing so much more than they did 20 years ago — managing their children’s overscheduled lives while at the same time juggling tasks at a more demanding workplace. Then along comes a global pandemic to help stir up those long-standing resentments about gender roles at home.

ExplorePrevious coverage: Georgia job benefits tested as parents face another pandemic challenge

One way to bring more equity in parenting is to stop viewing every family through the lens of a traditional family structure, said Avital Cohen of Peachtree Pediatric Psychology. “What we really should be doing is assessing someone’s resources and resilience and figuring out what they need from there,” she said.

We also need to establish workplace policies that recognize the demands of parenting and allow men and women to opt in, Senterfitt said.

Shumate said like every other parent, he was slammed during the pandemic. He wants more dads to speak up and not fear repercussions of asserting their roles as parents.

So maybe it’s time we give mansplaining and momsplaining a rest and start talking about the value we all bring to parenting.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com

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