If ever there was a fatherhood study men should post on the fridge door this is it. It examines roles played by fathers versus those of mothers in a household.
In a nutshell, the results suggest couples get along better when the man doesn't get his hands too dirty with the wet work necessary for complete parenting. The suggestion is: when men involve themselves too much in roles traditionally held by women - i.e. cooking and diaper changing - it creates friction within the marriage. The reason given is that, in such instances, women feel their motherhood is being challenged, and they are being rendered increasingly powerless by a husband who bathes the children versus one who sticks to tossing a Frisbee with the kids in the driveway. The ultimate message to families is: Men should be more Daddy and less Father, and abandon the mechanics of parenting to women. We should just play on the carpet and be happy.
Granted, I've reduced the verdict of a published academic paper to a single paragraph , but I am, after all, a blogger and not a PhD candidate. This fact, however, will not prevent my declaration: this whole parenting thing is grossly misunderstood, as much by the parents themselves as by the academics. The emphasis is placed, once again, on examining the differences between fathers and mothers, and men and women, when the real focus should be human beings as individuals.
But when the father participated more in caregiving, like preparing meals for the child or giving baths, the couples were more likely to display less supportive and more undermining co-parenting behavior toward eachother.
I don't watch a lot of football, but the NFL presents an excellent metaphor to illustrate how this study misses the point: the encroachment rule. Wikipedia defines encroachment as "to advance beyond proper limits". In the National Football League when the defense steps over the scrimmage line before the offense puts the ball in play they are called for an encroachment penalty. The offending team loses five yards on the play; they have essentially been told to "step off!"
Nobody appreciates encroachment; a parent no more so than a 350-pound offensive lineman.
Someone can only be undermined and encroached upon if they have already played a principle role in the activity they are being taken over from. The fact is: the majority of caregivers are still women, and the majority of unpaid labour put towards maintaining a child's health and cleanliness (cooking, cleaning, bathing, homework, etc.) is still being done by women. These are jobs that are made easier by the establishment of order and routine. Children respond better to routine; parental stress is reduced through planning, especially when dealing with the multi-tasking involved with raising kids. To have anyone disrupt a habitual pattern can lead to frustration and a sense of wasted time and of being undermined.
In our house, I do most of the cooking. I'm infamous for getting persnickety when anyone encroaches on my space in the kitchen, even under the auspice of well-meaning. Only I know how long food has been in the oven, only I know where I put the marinade in the fridge, only I know what is left to be done; please, go outside and have a drink. My wife knows gardening; sure, she's kinder than I am in the kitchen, but I get the impression that by the time she identifies for me how the weeds are different from the carrot blooms, she could have pulled them herself; my ignorance takes away from her gardening pleasure.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this study, it is we should stop over-thinking and being too possessive, and start ensuring stronger communication within our marriages. If you feel undermined when your spouse bathes the kids, there are three choices: do it yourself, show them how you would like it to be done (and hope they see it your way), or revel in the abdication of responsibility and treat yourself to a drink on the porch. My wife and I differ in the way we bathe the kids, we once had a brief discussion about it; neither of us changed our method, and neither of us care much. Why? At bedtime what counts is the kids are clean.
When you absolutely must defend your position on the field, just yell "ENCROACHMENT!", and force your spouse to back off by five yards. It's a great way to let them know they've stepped over the line.