To balance all of the bad news coming out of the Middle East today, I was catching up on a little light gossip from People when I saw that headline. So Ben Affleck doesn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad, huh? Not really news-worthy but okay, I’ll bite. So I read the article and this quote jumped out at me:
“’I am not very present in the rest of my life. My wife’s very patient. She does everything,’ he shares. ‘If I have time, I try to spend time with the kids, even if just to be a physical presence, the bath, whatever.’
In case you didn’t catch it, let me emphasize a phrase: IF I HAVE TIME.
Wow. So I reached out to my fellow bloggers and asked them, only half-jokingly, “Do we respect Ben Affleck’s honesty here or do we hate him a little?” In less than an hour, our conversation reached 20 comments. Some of us felt that the article was talking about the balance (or lack thereof) of responsibilities between two parents. There was some back-and-forth about whether Affleck’s attitude seemed right on point for men, that men feel a stronger urge to provide for their families financially than to be there for them emotionally. Other bloggers respected the guy’s honesty but were still appalled that this is the way he feels. Fellow blogger Carrie wrote, “I don’t hate him, but I feel sorry for him and anyone who doesn’t find more joy in their children than they do in themselves or their work. It must be lonely being so self-centered.” That comment got lots of Likes!
Blogger Elise wrote:
I’m fine with it if his wife is fine with it. There are tons of children who are raised to be happy, healthy adults with one parent. In some ways, this is a notch better than that. We don’t know the conversations they had before choosing to have children. He could very well have been upfront with his wife that his focus is and will always be on work but he’d gladly agree to have children if she knows that she’d be the sole caregiver. Do I think he’s missing out? Absolutely. Do I think his kids are missing out? Maybe not.
I agree with Elise, so my apologies to Mr. Affleck, perhaps. Here’s my take on the write-up in People, for what it’s worth: I don’t blame the guy for not wanting to be a stay-at-home dad. Not every dad would want to do this. Hell, not every MAMA wants to do this, or the CT Working Moms wouldn’t exist. Nothing wrong with that. I have always defended against the argument that if you don’t want to stay home with them full-time, you shouldn’t have kids.
What I can’t defend, however, is either one of the parents not being willing to spend some time with their kids. Based solely on People’s spin, I don’t think Affleck is not able to spend time with his kids, he just doesn’t want to. You shouldn’t have kids if you don’t want to invest time in them. Spending time with them doesn’t mean that you have to stop working or give up your own life or identity. What it does mean is that you have to ENGAGE. Lack of engagement can mean flying off to work on a movie set or, as our own Kris-Ann pointed out, being physically present by taking your kids to the park but being emotionally disengaged by texting the whole time.
At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t really care less what Affleck chooses to do or not do in his personal life. He could be nothing like the man portrayed in the People write-up. Of course I have a morbid curiosity in celebrities, but beyond that, meh. The larger issue that this brings up for me, though, is about our expectations of men. Whew, not sure I want to open up this can of worms, but here I go. I’m going to guess that no one is surprised by Affleck’s attitude. It may sound pretty common. Of course not all men feel this way and I don’t mean to imply that they do. The question is, for those who do, are we okay with that? Is this another example of, “Boys will be boys?” By assuming that, “Men will be men” and not being surprised when they don’t engage with their families, are we just letting it slide? Being apologists for that behavior? Are we willing to continue on our merry ways with lowered expectations of those fathers?
And to open up yet another can of worms while I’m on a roll here, shouldn’t we also talk about the media’s role in inflaming the gender wars? So far, the comments on the People article seem to be taking a pretty negative view of Affleck, though there are many who point out, quite correctly, that quotes can be taken out of context and a person’s true intent can be skewed in a short article in a gossip rag. In all fairness to Affleck, I went back and clicked through the People article to the original, where he was being interviewed by Details for the upcoming movie that he directed. His two answers about parenting are spaced far apart and the context of the icky one at the beginning of this post is that he’s talking about being completely focused on the movie while he’s shooting. Hmm, that quote doesn’t feel quite as icky now.
Based on one quote in one article in People Magazine online, my fellow bloggers and I got ourselves worked up into a self-righteous tizzy. I’ll admit that I started it and was the ringleader. Maybe the reality is that People Magazine looked at that Details interview and said, “Hmm, what would resonate with our readers and make us money? Let’s stir up some controversy here where they maybe isn’t any.” And guess what, gals? We fell for it.
So I’m not backing down on my overall belief that there is work to be done on gender roles in parenting, but also, there’s equally important work to be done on downplaying the influence of media hype. You gotta love it when a post starts in one direction and then winds up off the other side of the map. I guess in politics I’d be called a flip-flopper.