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Is There a Daddy Equivalent to the Mommy Wars?

06/19/2013 05:03 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2013

On the heels of Father's Day, social media commentators are asking if men can have it all. How can men manage the work-life balance? Why don't men take advantage of paternity leave policies?

There seems to be a Daddy Wars mindset emerging, as this sharp New Republic piece points out. It may only be on the periphery and in certain circles, but it is an important one nonetheless.

Asking if men -- for whom societal structures have been working pretty favorably forever -- can "have it all" strikes a nerve with some women. Rightfully so. Perhaps it is because women are what's missing from this budding Daddy Wars conversation.

Here's why women must also be at the center of that dialogue: Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to men being as committed to parenting as they are to their work. When this stigma disintegrates, it may take the pressure off of mothers feeling like they have to do it all. And that is a win for everyone.

There are many fathers who are balancing work, family and household responsibilities to fantastic effect. I heartily applaud them. But let's also remember that these dads are "superheroes" and "Mr. Moms," exceeding expectations. When mothers do it, they are considered ordinary.

A recent University of Toronto study showed that gender stereotypes permeate more than parenting roles. They affect how we're treated at work, too. The results show that "middle-class men who take on non-traditional caregiving roles are treated worse at work than men who stick closer to traditional gender norms in the family." According to the findings, women without children and mothers with non-traditional caregiving arrangements are treated the worst of all.

To see these gender stereotypes dissipate, we need meaningful change that will bring equity for everyone. One way to realize that change? Get more women at the decision-making tables in companies and Congress.

The United States lags behind much of the world when it comes to paid leave laws, ranking among Papua New Guinea and Liberia. There is no federally mandated paid leave in the U.S., though the average paid paternity leave in 2012 was seven weeks for mothers and three for fathers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a tiny 11 percent of private-industry workers have access to paid family leave.

Women elected officials are often the leaders on forging change to family leave, paid sick days and other family-focused policies. In Congress, for example, Representative Carolyn Maloney filed legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and Representative Jan Schakowsky is pushing a bill to extend leave to part-time employees. Plus, voters give women candidates the advantage on being in touch with real life -- knowing the price of food, what it takes to make ends meet and prioritizing issues like healthcare.

There is a tangible tension between the patriarchal family and today's societal structure and how expensive it is to raise a family. Even in 2013, when two-income households are the norm, only 16 percent of adults believe a mother working outside the home is ideal. So, while the Mommy Wars, Daddy Wars, or the parenting topic du jour are complex, they boil down to this: Workplace policies need to reflect reality.

From the kitchen table to the decision-making table, women's voices help set the tone for these debates. Let's listen to them.

Much like the halls of Congress -- where women Senators are working alongside their male counterparts in record number -- so can the Daddy Wars benefit from having women on their side.

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