My children are definitely indicative of the new generation known as the Millennials. I have two sons and two daughters so I get a pretty balanced perspective as I observe them navigate their way into adulthood. Their ideas on education, politics, careers, family, friends, marriage and parenthood have their own unique qualities distinct from my own generation, the Generations X’ers. I believe the Millennials have socially evolved one more rung up the ladder and are a cut above what my generation hoped to achieve.
For one thing, they truly are equally minded when it comes to sharing responsibilities amongst genders. My generation as a goal to un-condition ourselves from the examples set by our Baby Boomer generation parents who talked the talk of gender equality but usually led comfortable lives in gender specific roles. The only difficulty my Millennial children seem to have in living out their dream of complete gender equality within their own households is that workplace expectations have not evolved along with this generation. My daughter may be able to get maternity leave to stay home with her newborn for two weeks, but my son cannot get paternity leave to do the same. It’s things like that that make me realize society still has a long way to go, but first, the citizens have to wake up the powers that be. Not just wake them up, but shake them up.
Finding gender disparities so troubling to my Millennial children, I dig into the subject to find out more. A sociologist from the University of California, Sarah Thebaud, helped conduct a study whose research and findings were published in the American Sociological Review. She determined that, although the majority of Millennials have a natural desire to equally share caregiving responsibilities, they simply do not have the work options to do so.
Family-friendly work policies are usually designed to cater to women, but not men. In the past, women have typically been the caregivers. Because of this, businesses responded by disproportionately developing guidelines simply expecting women to be the caregivers always. At the same time, if a man attempts to utilize these policies, perhaps as a single father or as an equal caregiver, it seems these fathers are stigmatized and suffer within the workplace.
What makes me sad as a mother is what all of this leads to. After investing over twenty years in raising my children to be fair minded and non-sexist or judgmental or feel obligated by their gender to fulfill a role that is not their dream and seeing this parental goal realized in the conscious and socially aware adults they have become, I face the real possibility that the slowness of the workplace to keep up with such social evolution could destroy all of my parental efforts. According to the study, when egalitarian minded Millennials discovered they did not have the option within the workplace to practice equal parenting, they simply fell back into the traditional gender specific roles of the past.
This seems incredibly disappointing. However disappointing this may be to me, it must be an even greater frustration to the Millennial men and women who believe that both parents should contribute equally as earners and caregivers and yet are faced with work place policies that tell them to crawl back to their caves and rethink this idea. Rather than burn their energy with a workplace struggle, many simply change their minds. The study reported a quick conversion to the belief that traditional mother/father roles were better. Even out of the twenty-four percent male Millennials who stuck to their guns and said they believe care of the children should be shared equally, only eight percent actually did it.
It seems that when conflicts arise between work and caring for the children, women are more likely to juggle their schedules to accommodate the needs of the children and fathers continue working as usual. Often this is because of workplace policies that allow more flexibility for Moms. Companies expect that mothers will leave early to pick up kids from school. Companies expect that from time to time kids will get sick and moms will leave early to take them home and may miss a few days of work altogether. Companies are usually not so sympathetic to a man who would ask for time off for these matters.
What further enables these choices to be supported is the simple fact of economics. Despite all the legislation to attempt to level the playing field as well as the paying field between men and women, men are still the greater earners. So, if someone is going to take unpaid leave from work to tend to the needs of the children, it is usually the lowest paid parent. That is usually the mother. The workplace seems to be the last obstacle to cultural evolution.
Although women have been hammering away at workplace inequities for years, I believe that because the men of the Millennial generation have now jointly experienced this problem, society will now experience real change. Despite the disappointment and frustration of this situation, this mother of Millennials remains hopeful. The Millennials should be the generation to bring about the tranformation for the next generation to actually live out and enjoy.