A Panel on Men and Childcare: It’s not Exactly like the Movie Daddy Daycare

Even wonder why so few men enter the child care profession, especially as caretakers for very young children?  In Germany, the government is spending (a lot of) money to recruit men into the profession.  In that country men are in high demand because many parents don’t want their children looked after exclusively by women and about one third of mothers and fathers prefer day care facilities that have male staff. In the U.S., the situation is somewhat different; male childcare workers often have to explain themselves and why they do their job.

In the following piece, a guest blogger Lata Murti, contemplates a situation in her child’s daycare center involving a male childcare worker.  We invited sociologists Christine Williams, Barbara Risman, and Andrew Cognard-Black to comment and discuss some of the issues surrounding men who work in the childcare profession.

  1. Saty Satya-Murti said:

    Lata’s post and the 3 commentaries are quite stimulating. As did Andrew I, too, love to take care of infants, toddlers, children and youngsters -every aspect of their care from poop, puke, irreverence, defiance, dependence and finally individuation.
    This joy was not part of my Asian male orthodox upbringing with its relentless emphasis on scholarship and aggressive professional achievement. Both age and the discovery over 3 decades of the joys of parenting and grand parenting have subordinated these priorities. And now, the expected maleness has involuted with comfort. I readily and willingly welcome the imperative for nurturing the young and vulnerable. Perhaps Andrew also went through this transition — I am guessing here.
    In my non-sociologist mind it is perhaps a sign of cultural maturity when a nation or society focuses on the need for care of the young rather than the configuration (male, female, sexual orientations) of the care deliverers.
    By the way, in spinal cord disorders and in some other situations an erection occurs in a reflex manner with no volition or accompanying emotion. (Please pardon this add-on; this is the neurologist and neuroscientist in me that speaks here.)

  2. Lata, I appreciate your perspective and advocacy for men and male childcare workers or, indeed, male teachers. Your points are all valid and well-taken in the context of one man’s loss. I am moved and thoughtful after reading your post.

    Here are things on my mind, in no order relative to my thinking them–and I’m going to go way out there because you touched upon some deep threads of discourse, I believe:

    1. I was about to say up there loss of profession and passion, and it struck me that perhaps men are not so allowed to feel passion… except for one woman *all* the time forever and ever — “do I look pretty?” candy, flowers, chocolates declare your love kind of passion. There are people, men and women and even boys and girls, who are passionate about being around and working with young children. Of all of them, a man’s passion is dangerous. [Perhaps it is this issue that gets layered onto young black boys, their potential passion (historic leftover from propaganda about white women being raped by black men?) a potential threat to passersby.] Regardless of race, except for passion about money, cars, sports — things of the material plane — or God, what are men allowed to be passionate about? How can you be passionate about your own children even, if you are supposed to be working all day every day to keep the living status high? This is perhaps why we glorify stay at home dads and involved fathers; they are supposed to be detached and here they are *sacrificing* their values and life so they can do this task of (at least) making sure the children don’t die or kill themselves. (If that happens, job done; all else is above and beyond.) “So why is this young man Adam so passionate about being around my child? Must be some kind of perv….” You see the layers of class, race, gender and sexuality all rolled up in one perfect storm, yes?

    2. “Declaring men unfit to provide such care is not only about sexism against men, however. It’s also about sexism against women.”
    I agree with you that the sexism goes both ways on this one. I would add, however that the “ism” lies not only in that women bear the responsibility for care — of the children, of the men, of the community, the culture, the world (this is the ancient Goddess, still in her glory, which is ok if you are a woman who sees herself that way and could seriously chafe if you want to be something or *have* to be something else. The assumption is that men lack a nurturing nature. I find that false, and Christina would agree it seems. As men are not allowed passionate love, so is tender love a surprise or a gift when it comes from men and expected to arise out of women innately. (How dare a woman not want children, not love every minute of being a mother, or work so hard to balance her own needs with or better yet *above* those of others!) Nurturing the nurturer was an “Aha” moment I had a few weeks back. Somehow, being cutting and sarcastic and witty is more valuable, being violent and crass and damaging is titillating news to share, and being compassionate, generous and kind is something only naive people believe humans (Man-kind) truly are. My epiphany was that by nurturing the nurturer (within and without) the changes people say they wish to see would happen. To me this means everything starting from pregnancy and birth and how women and babies are treated and cared for (or not) through men being encouraged to nurture the nurturing aspects of themselves. Think of what one mother can do with her energy, strength, power and passion if she has her needs met and supported by others? How many people benefit from one mother with met needs? As women and mothers are encouraged to find more of that balance and “equality” (in the form of Equally-Shared Parenting, maybe) We will find that equality need not look the same on both “sides” so much as feel that we are existing and living together, not above and below or here and there.

    3. This is perhaps my rowdiest thought, but it occurs to me that we completely over-sexualize children (while denying them their own sexual freedom simultaneously). They have v necks and heels and go-go boots and hands on their hips and boyfriends and marriages and lipstick and princess/queen/diva and everything inside the box of sexual woman…at five years of age…to the point where adolescent girls and young adult women are walking around half naked in places where men are supposed to be to learn and teach. Having any sort of sexual reaction to that is associated with having a violent sexual reaction to women’s bodies. Adam here, with his passion for children, is associated with violent sexual acts possibly because both men and children are hyper-sexualized.

    I know I’ve gone on here. And I have some other thoughts as well that are not yet fully formed. I am thinking Adam must feel full of pain, confusion, anger and deep sadness from his loss. I hope he has the support he needs to move through his grief and find a way to give his gift to those willing to accept it with care, consideration and compassion.

    Thanks for the inspiration to think through some important ideas. Mind if I share on my FB page? (http://www.facebook.com/alivingfamily) Or on the blog? (http://alivingfamily.com/)

    Sorry for the one-handed typing typos…

  3. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and comments, Sheila. Please share away!

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