I wish the magazine Parenting would just go the full shot and rename itself Mothering; it’s never too late to be honest.

It’s a magazine by women, about women, and for women, with only a few obligatory Man Ghettos, a page or two on which fathers rear their dense and uncomprehending heads. I won’t bore you with comparative page counts or (follow the money!) an analysis of the advertising: more tampons than pickup trucks (and the latter at least can be gender neutral).

Recent advice on their website makes no bones about their attitude toward fathers.

In a Q&A on “Play Date Etiquette,” we get the following quandary and response:

The Sitch: You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal’s divorced dad will be home. You’re not okay with it. What to do?

The Solution: “Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Paone. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.


Let’s play substitution and see how this holds up.  How about:

“I’m sorry—me, not you—we’re not comfortable having our daughter supervised by Jews/Blacks/Asians/Latinos.”

No, no, no, no—I understand!  This is different.  The issue is functionalist.  It’s not personal, we just know that men are inept with kids.

So how about. . .

“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to withdraw from the carpool.  It wasn’t clear going in that women were permitted to drive the cars.  I’m not judging, you understand.  It’s just that these are fairly complicated machines and when women get all dithery, I just feel that’s too much of a danger to my daughter.”

So. . . yeah.  As a former stay at home dad (the acronym is SAHD; ‘nuff said), as an equally sharing parent with a sixteen-year-old daughter, I’m thin-skinned and persnickety.

But who is really hurt by this?  M-O-T-H-E-R-S.

It’s actually not much of a victory if women want to argue that only they can care for kids.

Because then. . .  only they can care for kids.  If they want to have families, their only option is to see how much of a working life they can shoehorn in around doing all the parenting.

Dads can just come home, put their feet up and have a beer.

What’s going on here is an oddly self-lacerating territorial scuffle.

In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when women were fighting their way into professional schools, workplaces, and other formerly male-dominated bastions, they were gaining ground.

Gaining feels good.

Yielding. . .  that’s more complicated.

But if women want a truly level playing field in the professional sphere, they have to yield some ground in the domestic sphere.

It’s unfair to berate men and say “we can’t trust you with kids, because you’re not part of the parenting circle,” while at the same time saying, “we can’t let you into the parenting circle, because we can’t trust you with kids.”

Know what I’m saying?

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DONALD N. S. UNGER teaches in the Program in Writing & Humanistic Studies at MIT. His book, Men Can: The Changing Image & Reality of Fatherhood in America, was published by Temple University Press in 2010. www.men-can.com

16 responses to “Parenting Magazine? Not Really”

  1. Jeffro says:

    Donald, you hit the nail on the head with Parenting magazine. I know you’re saying. About one week ago, I was looking for paying outlets to tell my journey in becoming/being a father. My first thought: Parenting magazine. Large readership. My wife even has a subscription. So I googled “Parenting magazine submissions.” This is what you see when you go to their Writer’s Guidelines page: “Parenting’s readers are moms whose kids range in age from newborn through age 12, as well as expectant moms. The magazine covers the psychological and practical aspects of raising a child, and the emotional issues that face mothers — from nurturing their own friendships to juggling the various parts of their lives.”

    Then why call yourself “Parenting” magazine? Like you say, why not “Mothering” magazine or just plainly, “This Magazine is For Mothers. Fathers Need Not Apply”?

    There is no yield in the domestic sphere. It’s like we, men, don’t exist unless we’re trying to get laid as their current feature states: “Men, read this before putting on the moves” in “A Dad’s Guide to Sex After Pregnancy and Childbirth” by Matt Vilano, who begins his article with “Face it, fellas, we dudes have needs.” Yes, so why, Parenting magazine don’t you try and throw us a bone, no pun intended, that’s a little more substantial and a little more in perspective than one stinking article and one that’s about how to “get our partners in the mood after pregnancy and childbirth”? It takes two to tango and two to raise a child. Expand your perspective or change your name.

  2. Dan Coxon says:

    I’ve found myself in exactly the same situation – a stay-at-home father-to-be and a writer, but with no feasible market for pieces on my experiences. It’s not as if there are no other stay-at-home dads out there, we’re just a silent minority, and something of an embarrassment to everyone else (apparently). The day someone brings out a true, bipartisan ‘Parenting’ magazine I’m there at the top of the subscription list. In the meantime, thank God for TNB.

  3. Man, this was a great post. I can’t even begin to tell you how disgusted I get when I read any parenting magazine lately. I get really tired of all the stereotypes that they all portray about fathers when they bother to try and include us at all. I realize that back in the day an active father was a rarity, but come on now. The times are changing! Why aren’t the “parenting” magazines?

  4. dwoz says:

    I recently read a horse magazine. (I have horses.)

    I found, reading the magazine cover-to-cover (don’t ask…Nutcracker dress rehearsal.) that it costs AT LEAST $100,000 per year per horse to PROPERLY care for them (if you follow all the advice in the magazine.)

    I was quite honestly afraid to read a SECOND horse magazine…the tally would only go higher.

    Of course, it doesn’t cost anywhere near $100,000 to maintain a horse in the manner to which it has become accustomed…only about half that.

    Parenting magazine is the exact same thing. But add on, that after reading ONE SINGLE ISSUE cover to cover, you cannot possibly raise a normal, healthy, adjusted child without a TEAM of adjunct caregivers with four-letter acronyms after their names (licensed this, certified that), following you around.

    When my wife was pregnant, I had to gather those magazines up and burn them any time I found them. Otherwise, she would find out about all the hundreds of things that were WRONG WITH HER IN-UTERO BABY.

    screw that nonsense.

  5. New Orleans Lady says:

    I’m a stay at home mom and I don’t like Parenting magazine, either.
    It’s full of too much BS so don’t sweat it, men.
    You’re great fathers and you don’t need Parenting magazine to help you feel validated in what you do. You are taking an active roll in your children’s lives and that’s all the validation you need. Fuck them.

    Cheers, Dads!

  6. Jendi says:

    This article makes a very good point. I used to proofread for Family Fun magazine and I would always change the word “mothers” to “parents” when gender wasn’t important to the task at hand, e.g. planning a family vacation or attending a PTA meeting. (Of course they never took my suggestions. They know their ad base.) It does have the effect of adding a double shift to women’s lives. We are expected to be the family “project manager” as well as everything else.

    That said, I wonder what the Play Date Etiquette questioner was actually worried about. You’re assuming she was thinking men are incompetent at child care. Maybe it was a sexual safety issue instead – anxiety about an unfamiliar man being alone in the house with two young girls (of what age?). Still not such a fair generalization, but one that is rooted in real dangers, whereas men’s incompetence is just a sitcom myth.

    • Don Unger says:

      It’s a good point; can’t tell whether this is about competence or about threat. The irony, of course, is that whether the threat is sexual or violent, the greatest danger is. . . at home. And the most dangerous people are. . . family and friends.

      Parents have a (not entirely unreasonable) desire to feel like we can control *something* and our stereotypes and prejudices help us channel anxiety: my kid will be safe as long as THEY don’t get her. I very much like Lenore Skenazy’s writing on “Free-Range Kids” http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ and the philosophy that undergirds it: we are often hurting our kids (often short circuiting their development) when we cocoon them away from danger, real or (more often) imagined.

      • Sara says:

        As soon as I read the question, my mind jumped to the same concern Jendi mentioned above. Your response was most enlightening, as I wouldn’t have even considered it to be an issue of competence. Thank you for exposing a prejudice I have been blind to. On second look, it’s interesting that they need to point out that only the DIVORCED dad would be home, as if his being single somehow increases the threat that he might behave inappropriately toward “your” hypothetical daughter. Yet clearly, that same father HAS been judged competent, by either the other girl’s mother, or perhaps the court, to be left alone with (at least his own) children. And really, “YOU’ve ( the mother) accepted,” without knowing which parent’s home this sleepover would take place in? Or are we to assume this imaginary divorced couple live together? We must assume the girls are too young to have arranged this themselves, as it doesn’t say “Your whatever-age daughter begs to go . . .” Furthermore, I’ve assumed the daughter’s “pal” is female as well, but maybe even that should be questioned. I have to admit, I currently would be very wary of sending my daughter to someone else’s home with only a male on duty. Partly, that is due to her young age, but now, I am left wondering if my feelings are not largely a reaction to this type of prejudicial fear-mongering?

        • Don Unger says:

          My daughter is now sixteen. When she was three and a half, she took swimming lessons as part of daycare at the JCC. I was one of the volunteer parents who sometimes came to help the swimming instructor. I scared some of the kids and they wouldn’t let me help them. My daughter, after observing this a few times, gave me wise counsel: “Maybe you should shave when you come to help with swimming lessons,” she told me. “Maybe then some of the kids wouldn’t be scared of you.”

          In my perception shaving = going to work. Not going to work? You don’t shave. But of course the toddler had it exactly right: you need to take account of how other people perceive you. Obviously, I think prejudice against men as parents is wrong. But I also accept that we can’t just fume that we are being mistreated or discriminated against; we have to take affirmative steps both symbolic and substantive to address and allay people’s concern.

  7. Dana says:

    I’m all for Free-Range kids! (Full disclosure: Nonparent speaking) My mom was extremely over-protective for the times (late 60’s – 70’s) and our rural situation, but she’d probably be considered neglectful by most parents today. (Be home by dark!) I see so many who are over-scheduled and molly coddled and I don’t think that bodes well for them personally, or for society as a whole.


  8. Paula Younger says:

    Great article, and unfortunately true. My husband has repeatedly been upset with multiple parenting type of magazines and baby books (and even doctor’s attitudes) about the father’s role. The language and attitude should be more inclusive, not only because of fathers increased involvement, but also because of same sex parents. It’s also dangerous and damaging for women to feel like they have to take care of everything (and blamed for everything), and nothing good can come from infantilizing men. Children need both of their parents to be active in their lives, and if it falls on one parent, the other one will be resentful. Fathers are incredibly important and should be encouraged to have just as strong of a role in a child’s life. Even at music and gymnastic classes I’ve seen the fathers not treated as well. It’s as if people don’t know how to interact with them. And it’s absolutely ridiculous for someone not to want their child to stay the night with only the father present, unless it’s an irresponsible parent.
    Thanks for your great article!

  9. Neeru says:

    I agree with your thoughts on “Parenting” vs “Mothering”. However, for this particular issue, I would not plan a sleepover for my daughter, or son, without knowing the parent/caregiver in charge. I can’t imagine not figuring that out before hand! And if plans for a sleepover were made, I assume they would be made with the parent who will be at home with the children. I would feel extremely uncomfortable if a switch was made without my knowledge. Also, if I know one parent, but not the other, I would be uncomfortable leaving my child with the parent that I do not know. We have friends with two Dad families and some with two Mom families. For me the issue would not be Dad or Mom home, but not being familiar with the adult.

  10. Neeru says:

    Oh, and I have to add, regarding the terrible advice from “Parenting” magazine – what? Turn it into a “late-over”? If you are concerned about what might go on at the house, what in the world is going to stop something from happening at 7 pm instead of 10 pm?! It may be a bit more complicated, but changing plans to a “late-over” is just silly. If the concerns are legitimate (I’m not saying whether they are or not) any time with the suspicious adult and no other adults around is a bad idea!

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