Heather Gray thinks moms and dads need to talk to each other. Listening is nice, too.
In May, when my site Fresh Start Parenting was in its infancy, I wrote a well-intentioned post encouraging dads to “lean in” to their parenting roles and to play a part in the parenting discussions. I wanted dads to be involved in any parenting discussion I held and wanted them to feel welcome. I’d just been inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book called Lean In and made an overzealous attempt to link her conversation to the issues currently facing dads.
In hindsight, that entry kind of sucked. I indirectly reinforced one of the biggest myths in the parenting discussions today—the idea that dads have to be pushed into the conversations because they wouldn’t want to be there otherwise.
While that is certainly true for some dads, I am not sure they are my target audience. I would rather reach, support, and encourage the dads who are already trying to join the conversation but are having a hard time getting a seat at the table.
If you read today’s blogs or parenting magazines, they are largely directed at mothers and are mostly written by mothers. Until recently, the “Parenting” section of the Huffington Post was even located in a sub-section of the women’s column. In an unfriendly climate like this, it can be hard for a dad to get a word in edge-wise.
In ways large and small, we as a society minimize the role of dads in parenting. Many courts do it in divorce settlements by limiting visitation to Wednesdays and every other weekend for dads. We see this in popular culture, social media, and anywhere we look, if we are willing to be uncomfortable for the time that it takes to do so.
Moms have to contribute to the parenting equality conversation. If dads are the only ones doing the talking in a conversation where women dominate, they’ll never be heard. If moms start spreading the message by including dads and talking about issues facing dads, the playing field almost immediately becomes more level than it was yesterday.
If moms see something, they should say something. When dismissive comments are being made about dads and their importance to kids and families, that ignorance should be confronted rather than shared as witty Facebook commentary.
Likewise, we’re not doing dads any favors when we highlight their parenting as ”newsworthy.” Last week I saw a YouTube video of a dad singing a lullaby to his baby. The caption was something like “awesome dad.” Really? Would a mom get an “awesome mom” caption if caught on video singing a lullaby? We cannot capture dads parenting as the exception or something out of the ordinary. When we do, we contribute to the ignorance that causes parenting inequality.
Ask a dad what he thinks. Have a kid question? Stuck about something? Consider how things could change if you called a dad and asked him what he thought before calling another mother. Whenever possible, use your behavior to challenge perceptions. Asking a dad for advice does exactly that.
Stop using phrases like “Man Up.” It is disrespectful and shuts down any worthwhile conversation before it even begins. Looking for a partner and teammate in parenting? Be a partner. Be a team player. Ask nicely. Give feedback as you would want to hear it. Resent the idea of having to ask? How does it feel when your tasks and chores are just assumed? Parenting equality means talking about tasks and dividing them up. Conversation. Dialogue. Respect.
Be prepared to lose control. Men and women do things differently. Dads are going to have different ways of accomplishing things. There are different ways to get to the same destination. If you are clear on shared values and intentions, learn to let go. Trust dads to make good choices and trust them to consult with you when things go awry.
Remember when you were the new kid on the playground. See a dad out with his kid? Invite them to join you in whatever activity you might be doing with your own child. Make introductions. No one wants to jump into a situation where they might be or feel unwelcome. Include dads in activities rather than assuming they would rather opt out or be by themselves.
Support dads in their efforts to be seen, heard, and respected. Follow, like, and share blogs written by dads. Read their blogs. Find them on Facebook. Join their conversations. Get to know them, what they think, and their ideas. They have some good ones.
This post first appeared on Fresh Start Parenting