Nurturing Resilience: A Reflection on the Exhausting Journey of Motherhood and the Milestones We've Achieved This Week
"Changing Diapers and Shifting Norms: A Millennial Reflection on the Evolving Role of Dads in Parenting"
In an era dominated by Instagram parenting videos set to saccharine music, one recurring theme stands out: millennial dads breaking the mold of traditional fatherhood. Say what you will about this generation, but as the nostalgic echoes of 1970s feminists remind us, today's dads are decidedly more hands-on.
The viral videos might seem cheesy and self-congratulatory, featuring fathers lovingly engaging with their children, but they signify something profound. For a generation often criticized for entitlement, these videos offer a gentle, sentimental rebuttal—an assertion that parenting, especially in the realm of childcare, is being approached differently.
The statistics echo this shift. Millennial dads, in stark contrast to their predecessors, are rewriting the script. They invest three times more time in their children, a departure from the distant fathers of yesteryears. The transformation is striking, considering that in 1982, nearly half of dads admitted to never changing a diaper—a figure plummeting to a mere 3% by 2000. Refusing parental responsibilities is not just frowned upon; it's met with scorn, not only from women but also from other men.
The term "involved fathers" may still linger, but it's no longer an exception; it's the expectation. In our mothers' generation, the idea of men actively participating in childcare was a rarity. The norm dictated that child-rearing was solely a woman's domain. The term "babysitting" applied exclusively to women, a notion that would now be met with collective eye-rolls.
Watching archival footage from 1973, one is reminded of the retrograde attitudes towards women and work prevalent in our mothers' lifetimes. The question, "Is a woman's place in the home?" prompts predictably unreconstructed responses. Some believe in restricting women based on biology, while others argue against women's liberation, fearing they might become too domineering with financial independence. The prevailing sentiment: a man should be the primary breadwinner.
Reflecting on these attitudes and the progress made in just one generation, it becomes evident that we've come a long, long way. Millennial dads are not just changing diapers; they are challenging stereotypes, rewriting norms, and redefining what it means to be a father in the 21st century.
"From Struggle to Strength: Reflections on Women in Revolt! at Tate Britain"
This week, I immersed myself in the powerful narratives of the "Women in Revolt!" exhibition at Tate Britain, a poignant exploration of feminist art and activism spanning the years 1970 to 1990. The introductory notes struck a chord, reminding us that during this period, women were still relegated to "second-class citizen" status, devoid of maternity rights and defense against sex discrimination. The absence of rape crisis units, domestic violence shelters, and legal autonomy for married women underscored a stark reality. Shockingly, until 1991, the law permitted husbands to exert their will over their wives, regardless of consent.
Navigating through the exhibition, emotions welled up unexpectedly. Maureen Scott's poignant painting, "Mother and Child at Breaking Point" (1970), set the tone, encapsulating the strain many women undoubtedly experienced. The journey through UK feminist history unfolded, depicting the relentless struggle for female liberation amid pervasive male oppression, particularly in the realms of work and childcare.
A display chronicling the daily lives of female workers in a Bermondsey metal-box factory, crafted by Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt, and Mary Kelly, offered a sobering glimpse into their world—a cascade of menial tasks, childcare responsibilities, and meal preparation for husbands, all before embarking on a factory shift. The Hackney Flashers' work, "Who's Holding the Baby?" laid bare the grim state of late 1970s and early 80s childcare, exposing the isolation many mothers endured. This artwork became a clarion call for shared care and improved childcare provisions, featuring a newspaper front page recounting the tragic story of a young mother who, in desperation, leapt from a tower block with her two-year-old son.
Despite the bleakness inherent in some of the exhibited works, a prevailing sense of inspiration and hope lingered. Women facing daunting circumstances had channeled their anger into art and activism, often while shouldering the lion's share of childcare responsibilities. Gratitude welled within me for the feminist trailblazers, from the visionary women of Greenham advocating for a nuclear- and war-free world to the tireless campaigners who championed anti-racism, LGBT+ rights, and disability rights—individuals whose dedication has indelibly shaped our present-day society.
"The Unseen Struggles of Parenthood: Beyond the Cheesy Instagram Reels"
In the aftermath of my visit to the Women in Revolt! exhibition, I find myself grappling with a disconcerting question: how much has truly changed, especially for mothers? While commendable strides have been taken in the realm of equal rights, and men are undeniably shouldering more childcare responsibilities, a disquieting reality persists. The exorbitant cost of housing necessitates dual incomes, placing a significant burden on working mothers who still find themselves disproportionately burdened with domestic labor. The pandemic has only intensified this strain, pushing many to the brink.
In navigating the Republic of Parenthood, the terrain is far from the sunny uplands depicted in cheesy Instagram reels. The narrative of equality often falls short when confronted with the economic realities that drive both parents into the workforce. The burden of household chores, symbolized humorously yet accurately by the absence of a spoof featuring a man scrubbing toilets and tackling other menial domestic tasks, remains largely unchanged.
Yet, amid these challenges, a glimmer of hope emerges from the unfiltered and relatable comedy produced by millennials. Whether in the form of reels, podcasts, or standup routines, the raw honesty about the daily chaos of parenthood offers solace. These narratives, born out of shared experiences, may one day find their place on the walls of galleries, serving as a testament to the resilience and humor that permeate the journey of parenthood.
On a personal note, witnessing my son's journey from cautiously taking his first steps at 17 months to now confidently and steadily walking fills me with immense pride. However, this joy is juxtaposed with the perennial challenge of weather, particularly evident during the cold, dark days of November. The glaring absence of parent-friendly cafes with playrooms becomes apparent, leaving parents yearning for more spaces designed to cater to the unique needs of toddlers.
In the intricate dance of parenthood, the struggle endures, but it is through acknowledging these challenges and finding humor in the chaos that a path forward emerges. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a Guardian columnist, adeptly captures the nuanced realities of contemporary parenthood, offering a candid reflection on both the triumphs and tribulations that shape this complex journey.
In conclusion, the exploration of motherhood and parenthood, prompted by the thought-provoking Women in Revolt! exhibition and the subsequent reflections on contemporary challenges, unveils a multifaceted landscape. While societal progress is evident, particularly in the realm of equal rights and evolving gender roles, a deeper scrutiny reveals persistent disparities, notably in the unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities.
The dichotomy between the idyllic portrayals of parenthood on social media and the unfiltered, comedic narratives emerging from the millennial generation underscores the need for a more nuanced conversation. Behind the scenes, parents navigate a complex web of economic pressures, dual-income necessities, and the unrelenting demands of household chores. The humor derived from these shared struggles not only serves as a coping mechanism but also carries the potential to reshape societal perceptions and expectations surrounding parenthood.
As we grapple with these realities, it becomes evident that the journey of parenthood is a continual negotiation between triumphs and tribulations. The hope lies in the ability to confront these challenges with resilience, foster open dialogues that transcend societal norms, and work towards a more equitable and supportive framework for parents. The personal pride in witnessing a child's milestones, juxtaposed with the perennial challenges like weather limitations and a lack of parent-friendly spaces, serves as a poignant reminder that parenthood is a dynamic and ever-evolving journey.
In the insightful reflections of Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, we find a call for greater acknowledgment of the unseen struggles and a plea for more inclusive spaces that cater to the unique needs of parents and children. As we navigate the uncharted territories of the Republic of Parenthood, embracing both the highs and lows, we are prompted to envision a future where shared responsibilities, economic equity, and supportive environments redefine the landscape of parenting.