I used to follow a page on Facebook called “Life of Dad” that I really enjoyed. There were a variety of posts there, from candid snapshots dads sent in to questions about parenting and relationships. One particular post has been on my mind awhile, wherein a dad wrote in upset that, when he was out with his kids, women insinuated he was babysitting his own kids.
To my surprise, there were loads of comments from other fathers who concurred.
Yes, they said, other women acted like fathers who were out with their kids were grudgingly “babysitting” instead of gladly parenting the kids they loved. Frankly, I was shocked that so many fathers had the same experience. I could also definitely understand why they were annoyed, frustrated, and had snappy comebacks for the women who insinuated parenting his own children couldn’t possibly be a man’s responsibility.
I was also angry for them. I’m a big believer in sharing responsibility, in the idea that everyone is responsible for a society’s success. Part of the success of a community depends on every person doing their share and contributing as they are able. What bothered me when I read that women didn’t give men their fair credit for doing their part to nurture and support their children’s well being is that it is an insult to men who are doing the very important work of raising children.
Obviously, we all have heard the stories about dads who disappear, never call, never write, never visit, and never send any financial help. This post is not about them.
This post is about men who are parenting, whether coupled or not. This is about men who parent with their loving wives and husbands, their live-in partners, and their exes. This is about fathers whose partners died of complications after childbirth, or through other tragic accidents, dads doing it all alone because women disappeared, and dads who parent their adopted children.
Being a parent is a really tough and often thankless job. In our society, we are socialized from almost infancy to believe that a woman will be completely fulfilled solely from becoming a wife and mother, and that men are uncaring, cold people who couldn’t possibly care for a baby as well as a woman naturally would.
If you don’t believe me, just reflect on how we think about stay-at-home dads, single dads, or women who would rather—gasp—not have children at all. Stay-at-home dads are either heroes for giving up so much (while stay-at-home moms are just lazy and spoiled), or they are “not a man,” simply because they choose to nurture rather than “bring home the bacon.” Single dads are heroes, while single moms are deemed irresponsible and easy.
Men who don’t want children are allowed to say so, and never be bothered about it. Yet women who don’t want children are seen as some freak of nature. Men who don’t want children are never told, “Oh, you’ll change your mind someday,” yet women who don’t want children are constantly barraged with “what’s wrong with you” messaging.
I believe these double standards are rooted in rigid gender roles many people still buy into. And the idea that a father is a babysitter to his own children is just one part of those rigid gender roles. The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes fathers are incapable of caring for their children well.
How many times have we seen the “idiot dad” in the movies who doesn’t know anything about babies? How many times have we seen a portrayal of dads needing mom to tell him exactly what to do, instead of trusting himself to be able to take care of whatever the issue is? How many images have we seen of men “preparing” to change a diaper as if he were going off to war?
Let’s get real here, everybody.
Having different sexual organs does not make you either more or less capable of taking care of things that need to be done, regardless of if it’s at work or at home with family.
I propose we stop acting like dads are stupid and can’t learn to care for children well. It’s an insult to their intelligence.
It’s an insult to their humanity to pretend that men don’t have any emotions beyond “angry” or “happy.”
It’s an insult to their souls to believe men don’t have any desires beyond, “work,” “sex,” “beer,” and “food.”
I know a lot of women in the world wish their men at home would nurture their relationship with their children, and nurture their relationship with their women, too.
As a woman deeply wounded by my relationship with my uncaring father, I wished so badly all my life I could have a man in my life who cared about me, showed me his heart, and stuck by me, lightening my load so I wouldn’t have to be such a “strong woman” all the time.
But what I failed to realize for a long time, because I was so stuck on believing that those men didn’t exist, is that I had one beside me all along in my kids’ father.
Those men exist. And they are not born that way, they are made.
Of course, my partner and I are each affected by the toxic ideas we have absorbed around gender roles.
What it took for me to realize he was a competent, loving, caring father was to consciously decide to let him be that in his own unique way, to get off his back and stop expecting him to care for our children exactly like I would, to let him show his children his love, to get out of his way and let him be the awesome dad I know is there.
I’m still working on it, by the way, and we both continue learning how to make this parenting thing work for us.
If more women would stop putting fathers into the “idiot babysitter” box, I think it would help everyone—men and women alike—create the family life balance that seems to elude so many of us. Men might build more confidence in their parenting ability, and women might get that break they all seem to need, because parenting well would be everyone’s responsibility. And it would just be normal to see a man doing what every parent does—parenting.
Photo: Getty Images