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Equal Recognition for Equal Work

Why don't working dads get the credit they deserve?

"We just don't know how you manage it all," a colleague tells me. I'm checking my mail in the university's English office. I have a stack of ungraded papers in my arms and a toddler sitting on my feet. My two older boys are racing up and down the hallway. "You're home schooling," my colleague says, "you have three boys, and you teach!"

I hear this a lot. From folks at church, from other home-schooling moms, even from my local librarian. "You have another book coming out?" he asks, when I show up for storytime. "Yes," I say, "and this fall I'm finishing my Ph.D." "Superwoman!" he says.

If I had a live-in nanny, no one would call me Superwoman. But I have something better: a husband. Peter keeps the same schedule I do—half the day parenting and housekeeping, half the day working. But no one calls him Superman.

Peter cleans closets, does the grocery shopping, holds down a job, and cares for his three sons for at least 30 hours during the week. So do I. Each of us spends slightly less than 40 hours per week on our careers. Our professional output is respectable, if not spectacular.

Yet onlookers react differently to my husband's career and to mine. The work I produce in those 30-plus "job hours" is regarded as evidence of my Superwoman status. How many mothers without a live-in nanny can manage three small children plus a demanding career? Not many. And I couldn't either, if Peter didn't put in a second shift at home.

But the work Peter produces during his work-week doesn't match the output of other husbands who don't do a second shift. Outsiders see my professional accomplishments, add what they know about my family responsibilities, and shake their heads in wonder. Outsiders view Peter's professional accomplishments, measure them against the output of a man who works a 65-hour week, and decide he doesn't have a "real" career. His second shift is invisible.

And it stays invisible. Peter once asked me to stop telling my friends, at parties, about all the things he does around the house. "All the guys look at me with this resentment on their faces," he said, "because their wives start comparing what I do with what they do. It makes me the odd man out."

Does this put extra stress on our marriage? Yes, in a way. I'm constantly affirmed; Peter's constantly challenged. I'm continually told how competent, talented, extraordinary I am. Peter hears only silence. I'm fulfilling my kingdom mandate—I'm working and raising my family. So is Peter. But while both parts of my mandate are clearly visible, half of Peter's seems to have suffered from some sort of cultural blackout.

And Peter works hard. Any parent of preschoolers will tell you that the office, the school, even the factory floor is a snap compared to entertaining three preschoolers without resorting to the Magic School Bus. Peter's child-care shifts are filled with games, books and cookie-making. Picking up toys, I discovered a map of the world drawn on the boys' basketball, with Virginia marked with a star.

"That's where we live," my five-year-old said. "Daddy drew it to show me." He grabbed the ball and took it to bed with him.

When the boys are in their teens and twenties and thirties, still connected to their dad and his values, Peter's reward will become apparent. Meanwhile, though, that 30 hours per week of baby-watching, teaching spelling, changing diapers, playing Monster in the Middle and fixing peanut-butter sandwiches simply slides from view.

Every once in a while, I'd like to hear Peter affirmed by the voices that really matter to men. I'd like a relative to tell him, "You must be Superman." I want some guy at a party to shake his head and say, "Boy, all that time with the kids really takes a lot of commitment. I respect that." I wish that a teaching colleague would meet me in the hall and say, "You must have a lot of help at home." I wish I weren't the only one affirming my husband's busy and successful career. It's time to launch a husbands-at-home campaign demanding equal recognition for equal work.

Susan Wise Bauer teaches English at the College of William and Mary and is the author of Though the Darkness Hide Thee (Multnomah).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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