It is the new “nails on a chalkboard” for the active parent dad. The comments. The assumptions. Neil Cohen shares the ones he’s heard that a mom never gets said to her.
The other day I was at Starbucks getting Amy her morning latte. It was Monday. Start of a long week. And of course, Alex woke us up at 5am because he saw a ghost in his room and was scared, and needed some water, and his tooth hurt, and he needed to watch eagles grabbing snakes on YouTube (I highly recommend this by the way) and so on.
The barista, a young-ish woman, and I have the following exchange:
Her: “How’s it going?”
Me: “Ok. I’m just taking a quick 5 minute break from the kids.”
Her: “Good that you’re getting a break. Moms never get a break.”
Me: “Well, I’m a stay-at-home dad….”
Truth is I do get breaks, a lot more than my wife does, but that’s completely beside the point. What she said was a ridiculous generalization about the roles that men and women play, or more specifically that moms have to “do it all” and dads get to sit around and watch the game. For some it’s true and I feel bad for those women (and men), but it’s the blanket generalization that bothered me. When I re-told the barista story to Amy, her response was “I wonder who she’s mad at.” Exactly.
This got me thinking about something I truly love — words. And how people use them. I think it’s magic when someone can put hundreds, even thousands, of words together to make a point. People have been inspired to go to war, make peace, love and triumph all through words. Words can also lead to tragedy, fear and atrocity. When we’re young we learn that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names can never hurt me” or that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” thus de-valuing the impact of words. I get the point, but that doesn’t make it correct. Just watch a CNN or Fox newscast for five minutes and you’ll learn the power and importance of words. Take, for example, the two recent mass killings in Charleston and Chattanooga and the use or lack of use of the word “terrorism.” The white American male quickly became a mentally-ill “shooter” and the Muslim male with the Muslim-sounding name became a domestic “terrorist.” What we called them matters and my personal opinion is that we may just be getting it wrong…. The parents of the Chattanooga killer have been using words like “severe depression” and “substance abuse” to drive (I have no idea of their actual intent) the messaging away from the word terrorist. It matters.
And of course, whether or not to use the word “terrorist” is way more important than the things I hear as a stay-at-home dad, but it still matters because it shows how much we all really need to change about how we view each other. A person’s assumptions and belief system can be completely unearthed just through a few ill-conceived words. “Moms never get a break” doesn’t do any good for the mom who thinks she’s martyring herself or doesn’t deserve time to herself, nor is the belief that men don’t have to spend time — a lot of time — with the kids.
So before I jump into some words I often hear, let me say one other thing. While I keep track of the things said to me as a dad, this is by no means a complaint. First, I’m a white male who took full advantage (mostly unconsciously) of being male while working in Corporate America. And when I’m “wronged” by someone, I do tend to think about all the professional women I know who have to deal with these types of jaded, ignorant remarks from men on a daily basis at work, and while getting paid less than I would. Or the moms who constantly get asked about whether they are breastfeeding, or if they had a natural birth or whether they use Pinterest. So, in some way, I always laugh to myself that this evens things out. For the record, it doesn’t even out, because from almost everyone I tell — especially women — that I’m a stay-at-home dad, I almost always get a “that’s cool. Good for you.” I doubt my stay-at-home mom brethren get the same treatment. But I could be wrong.
Caveats out of the way, here are some things that no one ever says to a mom. In fact, I have no idea if moms hear these things or not, but I just can’t imagine that they hear it as often or with the same intent:
1) “What do you do? Where do you work? Late for work? Heading into work now?” WORK WORK WORK WORK — Ok seriously, I know it’s small talk but I’m amazed at how often this happens. At least once a day if not more. And the intent is clear — I’m a man and I’m supposed to be working. Do they ask a mom lugging two kids around the same thing? I never do, but always want to ask them what gave it away that I’m on my way to work — was it the baseball hat, 3-day beard, ripped jeans, and the same Star Wars t-shirt I wore yesterday?
2) “Boy, you sure have your hands full.” This is the one that bothers me because I hear it whether my two boys are behaving or not. It’s just assumed that I can’t handle them. I don’t know, I have a 5-year old and 21-month old so yes, my hands are full. I don’t think I’m the best parent in the world when it comes to controlling my kids, but I’m sure as hell not the worst. And frankly, when we’re at the park or someplace similar I do let my kids run around because, you know, they’re kids, and you know, I trust the 5-year old. But at a restaurant, they sit just like they’re supposed to (minus an iPhone throw every now and again).
3) “Excuse me sir, do you belong on school grounds?” I have to ask, do moms hear this one? If so, really? Here’s what went down. I had to drop off Alex for an evaluation on the campus of our local elementary school where Alex will go to kindergarten. I checked in at the main office and was told to head back to our meeting. No one told me I had to sign myself in and give myself a badge. After I dropped him off I had an hour to kill and decided to run errands. As I’m walking back to my car through campus, I was stopped by a teacher who asked me why I was on campus. I told her my story and she told me next time to get a badge etc. etc. I thanked her for being on top of things and told her I appreciated her stopping people (I should have said “men”) who are alone on campus, because I want my kid to be safe too. We parted ways and about 30 seconds later — I guess sensing that I was taken aback (only because she was more aggressive than necessary, wasn’t like I was holding a blindfolded kid under my arms), she came back and introduced herself to me. “By the way, I’m Susie, nice to meet you.” The funny thing is, I actually was happy that she stopped me, but…does she stop every adult walking on school grounds? Probably not.
4) “Is mom just running late?” Nope, she’s at work, and I’m going to run this gauntlet myself. I got this one from the nurse at the pediatrician’s office. More than once. And in fairness to her, I honestly doubt they see a lot of dads but that doesn’t excuse it. The proper way to phrase this question without assumption is “are we waiting for anyone else?” because in all honesty, why should she assume my significant other is a woman. Anyway. The main assumption here is that mom must be on the way because there’s no way a dad alone can handle a doctor’s appointment. In fact, I can. So can many other men. It’s not really that hard, explain symptoms, ask questions, and listen to answers. Comfort kid. If you’re a dad and you can’t do this, well then congrats for being the reason the stereotype exists.
5) “Oh, this is a special day. Did daddy take off from work today to spend time with you?” My answer was “actually, daddy spends a lot of time with his kids.” The woman who said this to my perplexed son was just making small talk. I get that. The assumption is that because dads are at work all the time, it’s a big deal when they spend time with their children. It is indeed special when I spend time with my kids. I guess every day is special.
So, they can keep the assumptions. You know what they say about those. They are right about one thing though, I do have my hands full. I have them full of the kids I willfully grab and pick up in them. When I have my hands full like that, you will see us, and hear us, giggling the whole way.
Originally published on Man on Third
Top Photo: Flickr/Sean Urbanek