Changing Parental Roles

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I pen this month’s Hot Topic between the celebrations of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day. This year I honour particularly the first-time parents of my new grandson. This column is a reflection of what I am observing in their lives as parents and how I believe they represent a shift in roles that heralds good news.

My daughter and son-in-law represent a demographic of young West Coast urban professionals who planned their lives well. They learned deferment of gratification from their Boomer parents, perhaps, or maybe from long years of paying off their student loans. They educated or in some way ‘found’ themselves and each other during their early twenties. As a generation they were goal oriented, but insistent on having a good time along the way. Among my children’s friends I meet couple after couple who took years to cement their relationship before having children. Their lives are intentional and happy. Their children are planned, valued and surrounded with love.

I notice the good will and fun among these young couples, but mostly I am struck by the happiness of their children. Rarely do I hear whining, squabbling, or crying. More likely I will come upon groups of kids reading to one another or playing co-operatively.

Particularly striking is that the children demonstrate no parental preference—when they need care, any attention will do. Dads and Moms are equally involved. Fatherhood seems no longer distinct from motherhood.

Though I am viewing but a subset of a class, I believe their numbers are representative of a burgeoning population. I see them on TV pilots such as What About Brian. I note daddies with strollers and no mommies in sight. Dads are comfortable with their kids, and the kids reflect this. If fatherhood is no longer distinct from motherhood, what does it mean about parenthood in general? Is it gender bound? What accounts for this shift?

One factor is the relative economic ease of these couples. They have mortgages, cars and RRSPs. Their futures seem assured. Surely with manageable stress levels, they have greater reserves of energy and patience to devote to their families. Certainly, too, wanted children enjoy more relaxed parents than those forced into parenting. Most enjoy good health, strong support systems, and cordial family relations.

But there’s more. These are men and women with decidedly liberal attitudes. They embody and reflect Canadian values of tolerance and inclusion. Most boast gays and lesbians, and people from various ethnicities in their circles. For the kids this means exposure to a variety of foods, customs, and languages.

When my grandchild was born, his parents had a year of parental leave. His mother took the first six months because of the demanding nursing schedule. Now he stays home with his father. They view this as the most natural arrangement in the world. They are correct, yet it is heretical. My mother could not imagine such a thing. I doubt my father ever changed a diaper, though I know he loved me dearly.

Men are no longer missing the joys of parenting, which benefits the whole family, especially the daughters and sons who absorb and reflect this high regard and happiness. The ripple effect is enormous. As we say ‘yes’ to inclusion, freedom, and kindness on a personal, political, and national level, we promote the position that we will honour our children as we would have them honour us. Well Done. Happy Mothers’ Day. Happy Father’s Day.