There was an article the other day on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog that really has people talking. It’s about how the U.S. Census Bureau(PDF) tracks how children are cared for in the home. Frankly, the way they count it is offensive to both moms and dads. You see, in a traditional, two parent household, the mom is always the designated parent. Anyone else watching the kids, including dad, is child care.
In other words, any care the mother does for the kids is taken for granted, while the father’s role is no better than paid help, or something extra he’s doing. You know, the old bit about dads “babysitting” their own kids. That’s a really poor measure for how children are cared for.
Certainly, more moms than dads are the primary caregivers of their children. However, dads have increased their role through the years, and that needs to be respected. That goes double when the dad is the primary caregiver instead of the mom. I know some stay at home dads who would probably be quite offended to be told that their work is just child care.
It makes far more sense to me to call all time that either parent is watching the kids parenting, not child care. Making an assumption that only one parent is really responsible for the kids is insulting to parents who work hard to raise their kids together.
Counting the statistics they way the Census does really skews the numbers something awful, as pointed out in the Geekdad blog. It sharply discounts the time at home parents of any sort spend caring for their kids. It’s just not a good use of the data.
Of course, changing the data a census collects as society changes is difficult. Assuming the mother was the primary caregiver and the father’s main job was to work outside the home was a reasonable assumption for a long time. Assuming that now, not so much. Finding a way to catch that change could yield some interesting results in how family care and work are split now. Just cut out the assumption that one parent is the caregiver whose time matters little and that the other treats child care as babysitting, and see what you get.