If anything in our society has truly become equal opportunity in the '90's, it has to be parenthood. We are slowly being introduced to a new family order where our functions as parents are not dictated by maternal or paternal inclinations but rather by a sharing of all duties. The jobs and responsibilities of child rearing in the 90's are no longer delineated by gender but by availability and proximity.
Diaper changes are decided by the "Who smelled it first" dictum, and not by the "My father never did this so why should I?" defense of years gone by. Even the laws of nature are being challenged and changed. It is well known that the ears of the adult male are genetically not sensitive enough to hear the cries of a newborn baby in the middle of the night; the females' highly developed elbow to the stomach has made nighttime wakings by the newborn a team event rather than the sole responsibility of the frazzled new mother. Amazingly, the "My mother never did this to my father" defense will not help here either.
The term "baby sitter," which may stereotypically be applied to a teen-age girl or a matronly middle-aged woman, is no longer used in conjunction with the father caring for the children while the mother is away. For those unaware of the new logic, it is impossible for a father to baby-sit his own children since he is now the co-care giver. This being said, fathers should not delude themselves into thinking they are equal partners in all aspects of care-giving.
We have all been reminded countless times that we are too immature to be entrusted with making any of the big child-rearing decisions on our own. The prominence of women in the workplace has caused both men and women to re-evaluate traditional family roles. For example, when they both return home after a day of work, who gets to sit down in the easy chair with the newspaper, and who must start dinner and feed, bathe and put the children to bed?
These issues are usually resolved today with a sharing of duties with one parent attending to the meal while the other handles baths and bedtime, usually leaving the paid baby sitter reading in the easy chair. Even disciplining the children has changed to a more evenhanded approach. Mothers rarely threaten children with the old "Wait until your father gets home" anymore. Punishment is meted out by the "Who saw it first?" rule, taking a tremendous load off the modern father's back. One of the possible pitfalls of this system of this discipline is that we might be confusing a whole generation of children. Youngsters who thought that maybe Mom could act as an intermediary with Dad now find themselves not knowing who will be the stricter one.
I think the most difficult changes of all for both men and women in the "New Family Order" is shedding the stereotypes of the past. Men need to learn that in this new order, old-style machismo just won't cut it. Any man can act tough when dealing with other men, but it takes a man's man to stand in a supermarket line, inches from the candy display with four children in tow and walk out of the store without buying one piece of candy. A real man today is one who can take the same responsibility for his children that their mother does: preparing their meals, nurturing them and caring for all their needs.