As a mother, I've admittedly grown tired of the conversation surrounding or describing fatherhood; so, I can't imagine how you fellas feel. We've become so accustomed to talking about fathers as secondary parents. We praise them for doing even things that are the most basic as far as what is required of parents, while simultaneously downplaying their importance in kids' lives, as well as the value of their love and involvement.
Thanks to a society plagued by sexism and misogyny that teaches men to suppress their feelings and avoid all emotions, men (and plenty of women) talk about fatherhood like it's a joke: Fathers are so funny in their failures when they try to "be like mom," and fathers are just so silly, trying to be parents when it's clearly not something they're "programmed" to be. It's disheartening, to say the least. It puts an unfair burden on women to do most of the parenting and handle most of the responsibility, while also telling men that their non-monetary parenting contributions simply do not matter as much, are not as required, and when they do occur (and when they're magically without tragic, endearing dad-flaw), they are worthy of a parade that moms never get for doing the same stuff all the time.
But the truth is, fathers are just as capable of being outstanding parents as mothers are. Fathers are just as devoted and involved, and more and more men are becoming stay-at-home fathers, so the cultural "norm" is changing in a way that other generations have never seen. Furthermore, the elaborate gold stars we give dads simply for being involved parents are not only offensive to moms, and not only perpetuating of problematic ideas about gender roles, but they are offensive to dads; they're ultimately saying, "Wow, you're doing something that is totally not what a "man" does — how cool for you!" Like, what guy wants to hear that? Let's just let all of that "good dad" stuff be considered "normal parenting" stuff, and do away with the celebrations whenever a dude-parent does some of it, and see how it works to everyone's benefit.
As our culture continues to change, so should the way we speak about fathers. With that in mind, here are 10 things we need to stop saying about dads:
They're Glorified Babysitters
All too often, when a mother is seen without her kid(s), she'll hear, "Oh, is dad babysitting?" Well, no. No, he's not babysitting because he's the dad. He's parenting.
When we tell fathers that being a father is more like babysitting than being a parent, we're diminishing their role in their children's lives, while simultaneously encouraging passive behavior. A babysitter is paid for their efforts, and are only responsible for a kid(s), for a few hours. That doesn't sound like parenting to me.
They Don't Have The "Parenting Gene"
First of all, what exactly is the "parenting gene"? Scientists have yet to find a genetic link to a person's urge or choice to become a parent. And while scientists believe genes could play a role in how a person parents, they've yet to find conclusive evidence that suggest that genes have a direct influence, instead attributing most parenting choices to how that parent was raised themselves. Environment (aka, our society and its culture) is a massive influence on our parenting choices: We either adhere to cultural norms, or consciously go against them.
In other words, the gender of an individual does not determine how involved or uninvolved a parent will be in their kid's life. There's nothing fundamentally flawed, wrong, or genetically predetermined in a father that makes them less likely to change a diaper, feed a baby, or any other task that comes along with parenthood. That is all entirely something we've taught or selves to expect (or rather, in some cases, not expect).
They Have To Learn How To Be A Parent; Moms Just "Know" How
The idea that a woman is always a mother without a baby (until she has a baby), but a man is just a man who has to learn how to be a parent, is laughable at best. I don't know about you, but I definitely had to learn how to be a mom. In fact, I'm still learning. While there are some maternal instincts at play, I'm still filled with doubt, making plenty of mistakes and relying on the knowledge and wisdom of others. My partner isn't any less knowledgable about parenthood than I am, and even if he was, it wouldn't be because of his gender.
They're Not As Emotional
I'm still shocked that this fallacious idea about men still exists. I mean, haven't you all seen the crying Jordan meme?! Men are just as capable of experiencing feelings as women, and I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed my partner become emotional, whether it was during the birth of our son, taking him to the hospital, the first time he walked, and numerous moments in between.
If you haven't seen your male partner cry or express emotions, it's not because he doesn't feel them. It's more likely because our society has convinced men that certain emotions make them weak (or maybe he, as a single individual, just isn't prone to showing emotions in an outwardly visible way, a characteristic that shouldn't be broadly applied to men as a whole). Many individuals who identify as male are conditioned to suppress their emotions for fear they will be judged. The feelings are there, they've just been taught not to express them.
They're Inept Mistake-Makers
Unfortunately, it seems that our culture loves making fun of fathers and their perceived/imagined/projected/created ineptitude about parenting. You'll hear someone say, "Oh my, looks like dad dressed the baby!" or see a picture of a disheveled house and a wayward kid, with a caption like, "This is what happens when dad is in charge." Can it be funny? Sure, I guess? Humor is subjective, and all that jazz. But it's all mostly just a backhanded way of saying that dads have no idea what they're doing ever, and they're pathetic in their attempts to parent. Not only does it downplay a father's role, it simultaneously shifts responsibility — not to mention, ability — solely on the mother. Plus, it's not like mothers never, ever make mistakes.
They Need To Be Trained
Dads are people, not dogs. Most, if not all, parents need training in one form or another: Moms-to-be go to birthing classes so they can prepare their minds and bodies for birth; Many women are counseled by a lactation consultant so they can learn how to successfully breastfeed; Parents are trained in how to properly secure a car seat, how to give a baby CPR, and how to take care of a rash... Everyone is learning, not just fathers.
Engaged Fathers Are Playing "Mr. Mom"
Engaged fathers are being engaged fathers, just like engaged mothers are being engaged mothers. Not only is the "Mr. Mom" title offensive, it reinforces outdated gender stereotypes where the woman is the primary parent and the man goes out into the world to make money and do manly, worldly things. Enough already.
They're Secondary Parents
Thanks to a misogynistic culture that has created a set of behaviors used to reinforce or define gender, men are still considered "less than" parents. If a child only has one involved parent, it's best that it's the mother (because they need their mother more than they need their father). But the truth is, according to CNN and Pew Reserach Center, "The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989, to 2 million in 2012. Single-father homes are also on the rise: 8% of homes are now headed by a single father, up from 1% in 1960."
Because of this cultural shift, a study conducted by the Scientists from Bar Ilan University in Israel shows that, "brains of dads who are highly engaged in their infants' lives are activated in the same way mothers' brains are during pregnancy."
Basically, if two people are equally engaged in their kid's life, there's no such thing as a "secondary parent."
They're Brave or "Amazing" If They're Involved
When we constantly praise fathers for doing what can only be described as normal parenting behavior, we're reinforcing the idea that being a parent is more of the mother's job than it is the father's. The dad is "just helping," and wow! How kind of him to lend a hand!
While it's healthy to thank your partner for tag-teaming parenthood with you, there's no need to constantly (or publicly) praise a dad for simply being a dad.
Their Love Is Secondary
Caring fathers do not love their kid less than a mother does, especially not just because they're a father. A father doesn't have some love-blocker hidden away in his DNA that forces him to disconnect with his kids. Someone's gender doesn't dictate how they love or how much love they have to give. If a father isn't involved or as caring, it's because he's making that choice (along with many other factors, because life is complicated and it's difficult to know exactly why people do what they do), not because he's genetically wired to care less.