Why Men Become Sexist After Birth of Their First Baby

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“New fathers appear to shrink women’s identities as workers, shifting to a more traditional view of women as caring mothers and housekeepers,” social scientist Janeen Baxter reveals in new research that finds having a child really does change gender roles. (Photo: DreamPictures/Pam Ostrow/Blend Images/Corbis).

It’s said that when you become a mother, you stop being the picture and start being the frame. But according to new research, moms actually become the framework of the family, supporting her kids and partner at home — at least according to the men in their lives. 

STORY: How Dads Think of Themselves as Parents

When Australian social scientist Janeen Baxter studied 1,800 new parents as part of her work with the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Queensland, she found that after men became fathers for the first time, they “became more consistently traditional in their views on gender roles,” especially with respect to motherhood, division of housework and caregiving. 

STORYHow Starting a Family Can Improve a Dad’s Career

“New fathers appear to shrink women’s identities as workers … [to] caring mothers and housekeepers,” explains Baxter, director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families, on the blog Child and Family

For the study, Baxter asked men and women to rate the strength of their agreement about various statements regarding parenthood before the birth of their child and then again after they’d welcomed the child. “Women showed a 4 percent increase in how supportive they were of the idea that ‘a working mother can establish just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work for pay,’” according to The Independent, which reports that on the flip side, men in Baxter’s study “became on average 0.1 percent less supportive of that idea.” 

When it comes to the question of divvying housework and childcare post-baby, the researcher writes in Child and Family, “New fathers … were less likely than before to agree that men and women in dual-earner couples should share housework and childcare equally.” (Baxter did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.)

Why the change? It seem likely, she writes, “that the way we organize work, parental leave arrangements, public services for children, schools, and social networks create structural barriers to involved fatherhood and also encourage the traditional social construction of women’s mothering role.” Male or female, Baxter adds, “You have to be very confident and persistent against overwhelming odds not to conform amid such powerful messaging.” 

And there are ways to fight these forces. Licensed marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer tells Yahoo Parenting there are three steps couples can take to avoid falling into what he calls “detrimental patterns of gender stereotypes.” The first is simply being cognizant of what’s happening. “Parents need to be aware of the facts surrounding the delegating of parental duties,” he explains. “Studies have shown that the more fathers participate in parenting duties, the happier, smarter, and more socially competent their children are.” 

Then there’s “the talk.” “Parents really need to discuss how their parenting roles will be delegated before their child is born,” he explains. “These conversations need to focus on particular tasks rather than general, broad sweeping pronouncements like, ‘I agree to participate in parenting,’” he explains, insisting that mothers and fathers need to get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out who will change diapers, take out garbage, cook meals, and do grocery shopping. 

The final step is follow-through. “Do what you agree to do,” he advises. If you don’t, he cautions, “Frustration quickly morphs into anger and resentment — and these negative emotions are draining. Parenting — especially parenting an infant — is exhausting enough. Don’t waste your precious energy on feelings that can be avoided.” 

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