That man was me. A few days after my son was born in 2008, I joined a Baby Center birth group because I wanted to connect with other moms and dads in similar situations. The website said it was a great place to meet other “parents,” and as a rookie dad struggling with the turbulence of life with a newborn, I was seeking a welcoming place to commiserate and a sounding board for all things baby.
Instead I felt like I parachuted behind enemy lines.
During those first two weeks I was accused of many things. Some moms asked me outright why a man would possibly want to join a parenting network. They told me I should concentrate on getting a job (I worked full-time) instead of stepping on their mommy turf.
Perhaps the funniest accusation (or the most pathetic depending on your point of view) came from a mother who was 1) worried about me pleasuring myself to pictures of the other moms on the site, and 2) intruding on conversation threads pertaining to feminine hygiene issues. Because I’d be really apt to click on threads titled “Anyone have mucousy discharge?” or “Post-delivery hemorrhoids.”
I was outraged and let everyone know it. Eventually I earned their trust and respect, but that initial backlash and inherent distrust set the stage for a string of incidents which proved parenting is still very much thought of as a woman’s job.
Nearly all of the parenting books are for moms. The baby meet-up groups are almost always labeled “Mommy & Me.” Hell, I’ve been a dad blogger for three years and I STILL get pitches from companies that begin “Dear Mom.”
Most involved dads (and certainly many stay-at-home dads) are used to the dirty looks we get at the playground. We’ve all encountered Ron Mattocks’ reprehensible Escalade driving Soccer Mom who invariably insults us with comments such as “Oh, I see dad is babysitting today huh?” Newsflash lady: when a dad is taking care of his kid that’s called parenting. Would you tell a mom she’s “babysitting?” No, you wouldn’t. So just can it.
Truthfully I can deal with the ignorance of strangers, both in real life and on the Internet. It’s obnoxious but tolerable. But it hits closer to home and stings much more when family members pull this crap.
One of my wife’s relatives was visiting a while back and we started talking about Will and parenting in general. My wife, MJ, was bragging on me a bit and telling her family how great I was with Will and how in tune I am with his noises and his needs. Then her relative dropped a bombshell:
Well that’s nice, but women have mother’s intuition and moms always know what’s best.
This, of course, is complete bullshit. It is also the misguided mindset at the core of the problem for dads striving to be more involved. Not to mention it’s hard to listen to some women call for men to take more active roles in their kids lives, while simultaneously meeting said fathers with disdain or telling us we’re doing it wrong.
We may do things different from you, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong.
I do not believe women have a biological or inherent leg up on men when it comes to parenting. While it’s true a majority of women end up having a monopoly on the baby due to breastfeeding and maternity leave (not to mention the despicable lack of paternity leave for dads), it’s still possible for dads to be just as in tune with their kids. And let’s face it: first-time parents—regardless of gender—are mostly making it up as they go along anyways. I think moms just fake their confidence a little better.
So dads, stay involved. Ignore the dirty looks and condescending attitudes. And moms, we love and appreciate you. But you don’t know everything.