Let’s start telling all of our children they can be anything they want to be, including stay at home parents.
I was recently at yet another women’s leadership conference, surrounded by women and men who were passionate and inspired about advancing women in leadership. A speaker started her talk, like many others I have heard: “I was so fortunate to have been raised by parents who told me that I could be anything I wanted.”
This caused me to think… what about our sons? Are we raising our sons to believe that they can be anything they want to be? Are we telling them, the way that we tell our daughters, that we hope they will have a choice in the future to have a career, a family, or both?
Stay at home (moms and) dads
Let’s face it, keeping a family on the rails is hard work. It’s challenging to work a job that you love, giving all that you have, and also be able to manage carpool, book reports, five fruits and veggies a day, permission slips, laundry, and donate-canned-goods-to-participate-in-pajama-day, without something falling through the cracks.
The vast majority of executives I know – male or female – either do not have children living at home, or have a part time or stay-at-home spouse. I have had the privilege to know a handful of killer single parents in that position, as well as some that both work high pressured jobs, but many simply do not choose to outsource that aspect of their household. Because although we encourage those in senior-level jobs to “lead by example” and demand flexibility, sometimes calling off work to nurse a sick child is simply not ideal to explain to the board who have just flown in from the four corners of the planet. While my husband and I are constantly pushing ourselves to Lean In, the dual-income set-up is not for every family in every stage and situation. And the flexibility of his work effectively puts us in the “part time spouse” camp.
Unlike men who matter-of-factly say “my wife stays home,” women typically have a fairly lengthy explanation that goes something like this: “wegottothepointthatwelookedatourcareersanditjustmade senseforoneofustotakeastepbackandhewasntashappyinhisjobandihadabettercareertrajectoryanditwasbecomingdifficultforustokeepthingsgoingwiththekidsschedulesandtheiragesandthedemandsof…”
The women are never unapologetic about the fact that their husbands stay home.
Back to the conference
I pointed out this phenomenon, and then turned to some of the other women at my table… “Do you have conversations with your sons about how they can be anything they want to be… including a stay-at-home dad?” Blank stares, then furrowed brows, then gaped mouths, and one woman who looked like she was about to cry. “No. I can’t believe this.” “I never thought of that!” “That’s a hard one. I need to be honest, I am just not there yet.” I have to admit, I’m not sure I am either.
Stay at home parents are a vital part of our family’s system. Thanks to them, classrooms are beautiful and field trips chaperoned. Envelopes are stuffed, cookies are baked, and I happily hand over my money to them so they can assemble a spectacular themed teacher gift basket. Their gifts of creativity and organization would be envied by many in my company. I need other parents to be there for my kids as much as their own (and by the way, in case I never said so, thank you). And I want my daughters to see just as many dads coming in to the school and church to hang up decorations as moms.
Which brings me to the Facebook posts…
This piece started with a potentially divisive observation. Allow me to explain. I believe in celebrating the celebration-worthy: major personal and professional milestones; world- or local-record breaking; certificate and achievement-attaining; uncommon joy and generosity.
However, when we celebrate the mundane, we send a message that there is no difference between being common and being extraordinary. So, to my dear mom friends, please, stop treating dads who are doing the bare minimum as heroes:
- My amazing husband burped the baby! And changed a diaper in the same day!
- My DH watched the kids for 3 hours so I could go to the wine bar with my girlfriends!
- Thanks honey, you saved my life by packing the kids lunch!
I don’t believe I have ever seen your husband Instagram, “Thanks to my amazing wife who unloaded the dishwasher without me asking!”
Rather than celebrating acts that demonstrate the mediocrity of fatherhood, let’s give credit where it is due.
- Thanks dear husband, for shuttling our six kids to horseback riding lessons, soccer practice, and orchestra, while making 14 homemade teacher gifts and creating the summer camp spreadsheet, in between stopping by my mom’s house to color her hair and clear her drains, feeding breakfast at the shelter, and vacuuming both of our cars while I was on my business trip.
Your sons know what you expect of your husband. They learn what’s considered heroic and what’s considered table stakes. Let’s make the work of being the primary caregiver just as meaningful and inspired as being an entrepreneur, a firefighter, or Supreme Court Justice. And as equally desirable for boys as for girls.
Because how can our daughters break through the glass ceiling, when we are teaching our sons to prop it up?
Disclaimer: To all my mom friends, working inside or outside the home, I sure do love you. Even though this article might cause you to doubt that.
Photo credit: Flickr/Dee McIntosh