Elon Musk says his partner ‘has a much bigger role than me’ in parenting newborn—and that’s a problem
Elon Musk says babies are super cool but he doesn't do much with his own.
[Editors note: While this article is about fathers in heterosexual relationships, we extrapolate that the positive impacts described are consistent among same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships. This is based on research that has shown that children have similar outcomes no matter the gender of the parents raising them. Unfortunately, at this time there is a lack of research on non-traditional family structures—but that is changing, and we support the continuation of efforts that support all families.
We also acknowledge that single parents work exceptionally hard to ensure that their children have the best outcomes and that the absence of a father or partner does not automatically preclude children from healthy and happy lives. We stand behind all families.]
We talk a lot at Motherly about how fathers are not helpers or babysitters, but equal partners who increasingly want to be seen as equal parents in the early weeks and mother of their children's lives. That's why dads need and deserve paternity leave, and that's why we need to address the comments Tesla CEO Elon Musk made in an interview published by the New York Times over the weekend.
When asked about how he makes time for his infant son, X AE A-Xii, who he shares with singer Grimes, Musk made a comment that completely erases how important a father's affection and caregiving is to infant development.
"Well, babies are just eating and pooping machines, you know?" Musk told The Times. "Right now there's not much I can do. Grimes has a much bigger role than me right now."
Even if Grimes is breastfeeding, there is still a lot Musk could be doing to bond with little X AE A-Xii right now.
When powerful men suggest that caregiving work can only be done by women, they are denying fathers and children a powerful bond and exacerbating unpaid work and the wage gap. Paternity leave is a powerful tool for families and for equality, and by implying that men can't do the work (in a heterosexual relationship) that gets done in those early weeks and months of a child's life (or by suggesting that it is beneath men) Musk is doing society a disservice.
Studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with dads has huge benefits for babies and that when dads do things like change diapers, feed or bathe their babies, the babies are more socially responsive than babies who only get that kind of touch from mama.
And to correct Musk, little X AE A-Xii is not just a pooping and eating machine. At his age (about 8 weeks old), babies can tell the difference between mom and dad, so X knows who is giving him attention and who isn't.
Musk, who is also dad to 16-year-old twins, Griffin and Xavier, and 14-year-old triplets, Kai, Saxon and Damian, who he shares with ex-wife Justine Musk, says there will be more of a role for him when his youngest son gets older.
"I think just doing what I've done with my other kids. If I have a trip for Tesla to China, for example, I'll bring the kids with me and we'll go see the Great Wall or we took the bullet train from Beijing to Xian and saw the Terracotta Warriors."
While that sounds cool and fun, when dads delay getting involved with their kids until they can walk and talk and appreciate art, they can perpetuate the model of mom as the default parent and exacerbate inequality in household responsibilities and unpaid care work and chores.
The division of chores and sleepless nights probably aren't a problem in the Musk household as Elon and Grimes have the ability to afford a housekeeping staff and overnight nannies, but Musk's statements need to be challenged because they reinforce ideas that are hurting less privileged families.
And it's not just Musk who has said stuff like this.
In 2019, former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke made a campaign-trail joke about how his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders, is raising his kids "sometimes with [his] help."
In 2005, President Donald Trump was asked if he was going to change diapers (the First Lady was pregnant with Barron at the time). "No, I don't do that," Trump said. "There's a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife, and you know, there's a lot of husbands that listen to that," he added.
But being a strong husband who cares for his family can look like changing diapers. Ask Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who took on that responsibility as his wife, Serena Williams, was recovering from a traumatic birth.
In his interview with the New York Times Musk also said, "I think babies are supercool and really people need to have more babies because, it sounds obvious, but if people don't have enough babies, humanity will disappear."
That's why mothers need support to raise those babies. From society, but also from employers and partners—two roles Musk has willingly taken on.