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Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?

(14 Posts)
ThatStewie Tue 23-Aug-16 10:55:48

This is a really interesting study on how we define risk in child rearing - from letting children play outside by themselves to being left alone in a car for 15 minutes. The study looks at moral outrage and risk and found that high risk situations where a child may be hurt equalled high levels of moral outrage but also that moral outrage impacted on how people assessed risk. Effectively, gender and poverty increase the moral outrage people exhibit. The whole article is definitely worth reading but this section jumped out at me:

Q: In most of your studies, participants are evaluating a mother who leaves her child unattended. But in one study you instead consider fathers, and you find an interesting difference. For mothers, leaving a child unattended to go to work is about as bad as doing so to relax or to volunteer. But for fathers, leaving a child to go to work is comparable to leaving a child alone unintentionally — the case that was judged least morally bad and least dangerous. What do you think might explain this difference for mothers versus fathers?

A: Ashley: Yes, it's a small difference (statistically speaking) but an intriguing one. I think people still (unfortunately) believe, explicitly or implicitly, that when a father leaves home to do paid work, he is taking care of his child by doing that. Whereas when a mother does the same thing, she is seen as abandoning her child to pursue her own interests. The mother's paid work is seen as morally objectionable and thus as endangering the child, whereas the father's paid work is not. Having said that, we didn't explore this gender effect in any depth; we would want to replicate the finding at least once or twice before putting a lot of emphasis on it.

JacquettaWoodville Tue 23-Aug-16 12:24:45


powershowerforanhour Tue 23-Aug-16 12:25:22

That's a really good study. It will be interesting to see if they can replicate their results. Also interesting that mothers were more critical (as well as criticised) than fathers about taking perceived risks. I bet that's because women are so drilled and guilted into doing what is perceived as the right thing, that when they're faced with judging somebody else they think, "Well I would feel guilty doing the same, so she must be doing a bad thing"

VestalVirgin Tue 23-Aug-16 13:12:23

Women just don't expect much from men, so if a father just manages to keep his children alive, he's already a hero. Other women are judged much more severely.

I am not surprised.

The paid work thing is also not surprising. Men and patriarchy's handmaidens have always denied women's need to earn money. For example by unashamedly paying men more, claiming that the men (even single men ...) would have to feed a family. (Even though single women are much more likely to have children dependent on them than single men).

ISaySteadyOn Wed 24-Aug-16 07:24:57

Fascinating read. I remember when I was growing up and my mum went on errands in the car, I'd bring a book with me so I could stay in the car and read instead. Easier for both of us but now she'd prob be arrested.

SanityClause Wed 24-Aug-16 08:25:53

It is an interesting study.

It's weird that I would say that attitudes in the UK more closely mirror those in the US, rather than our closer European neighbours.

For example, German children walk to school alone from the youngest ages (4 or 5). But in the UK, there is not a general acceptance that children should walk to school alone until they are about 11.

The moral judgement between mens' and women's' work is interesting, but not what the study was about. It would be interesting to see studies done on that, and what acceptable parenting looks like when mothers do it, as opposed to when fathers do it.

SanityClause Wed 24-Aug-16 08:27:48

*Men's and women's. blush

Shoxfordian Thu 25-Aug-16 14:54:46

V interesting

I remember reading about a woman who let her 9year old son use the subway to get himself home in New York and she was called America's worst mother (a bit of an exaggeration...!)

This is her website:-

"Our boy knows how to read a map, he speaks the language and we’re New Yorkers. We’re on the subway all the time.That’s how it came to be that one sunny Sunday, after lunch at McDonald’s, I took him to Bloomingdales — and left him in the handbag department.I didn’t leave him unprepared, of course! I gave him a map, a MetroCard, quarters for the phone and $20 for emergencies. Bloomingdale’s sits on top of a subway station on our local line, and it’s always crowded with shoppers. I believed he’d be safe. I believed he could figure out his way. And if he needed to ask someone for directions — which it turns out he did — I even believed the person would not think, “Gee, I was about to go home with my nice, new Bloomingdale’s shirt. But now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”
Long story short: He got home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence."

I do think she makes some good points about raising more independent capable children

Atenco Sun 28-Aug-16 05:48:23

I would have been arrested, as would my mother and grandmother.

KateInKorea Sun 28-Aug-16 06:19:37

I was part of a conversation on this subject recently looking at "intense" sports: both dangerous and very time intense (eg ultra running). All the women said a woman would be judged much more harshly if she came a cropper via that sport compared to a man. All the refused to see it even when it was explained to them. It was so depressing.

KateInKorea Sun 28-Aug-16 06:20:05

All the men.

Bitofacow Sun 28-Aug-16 10:49:42

My DP was treated as a conquering hero by many because he changed nappies aaarrrhhh.

Hands up if you have been told "you are really lucky" because the father of your children does some housework or childcare. Men and women are indeed judged differently.

America's worst mother - i read it and think "good for her" and then i ask myself if the child involved had been a girl would it make me say that?

Shoxfordian Wed 31-Aug-16 15:57:30

Bitofacow; I agree with you re: men treated as heroes. Almost as annoying as the men who say they are "babysitting" when they're looking after their own children!

Do you think you'd worry more about a girl being alone in public? Do you think it's riskier? Interested to hear

Overrunwithlego Wed 31-Aug-16 16:07:13

There was a thread on here a while ago about a mum who left her 6 month old asleep in the cot whilst she nipped 50m down the road to the post office. There was outrage, despite it clearly being statistically safer to leave the child than take it with her. There were some classic statements - what if the mother got run over (well thank god the baby wasn't with her!) which clearly demonstrated how bad humans are at risk assessment. Even when people accepted leaving the baby was lower risk, they still wouldn't do it because "they couldn't live with themselves" if something did happen. To me it seemed we in general would rather put our kids at more risk but in a situation where the judgement if something wrong would be less.

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