Friday, February 10, 2012

Is a Dad Just a Baby-Sitter?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, dads are just baby-sitters.

When both parents are present in a household, the U.S. Census Bureau automatically assumes that the mother is the "designated parent." And when that "designated parent" is doing something radical, like working, the government wants to know what she is doing with her children.

According to the most recent data, dad takes care of the kids about 32 percent of the time. Yet, the Census bureau doesn't call this parenting, they call this a "child care arrangement."

The assumption is based on stereotypical and outdated gender norms, norms that assume children will have one female parent who mothers them and one male parent who will provide financially for them. The Census Bureau, by framing mothers as the "designated parent," normalizes these sexist assumptions about parental roles. As KJ Dell'Antonia, of the New York Times writes:
If, every morning, I go off to work and my husband stays home with a child, that’s a “child care arrangement” in the eyes of this governmental institution. If the reverse is true, it’s not.
The Census Bureau's classifications implicitly normalize assumptions that women are naturally suited for care giving by referring only to the father's time with his children as "work." If the mom is caring for the children, that is parenting. If the father is doing it, it is a child care arrangement; a job. It implies that women find it easier and more natural to take care of children than men do, or that men are doing women a favor by taking on an extra "job" and watching the children.

Setting up the survey this way makes it difficult to track changes about who is doing what in families at a time when parental roles are rapidly changing. And it should offend parents. Not just women, who are assumed to be the "designated parent" and whose care giving isn't considered work, but also men, whose parenting is considered to be nothing more than baby-sitting.


  1. I read this same article the other day and was shocked at how regressive the system is despite more and more families not molding into the working dad/stay-at-home mom dichotomy. Thanks for a great post!

  2. I know! It seems completely ridiculous! They better change it soon.

  3. I just came across your blog. and this boiled my blood. As a mother-to-be, with my first child, I didn't even know that the government did this...I am furious, this is ridiculous. I don't care if this article is a year probably is still the case right now. Trying to breath, but blood is boiling, going to take me a few hours to days to calm down from this to do anything productive about it.