Shortly after our first child was born, my husband left his staff job and went freelance. His more flexible schedule allowed him to spend a lot of daytime hours with our daughter, and he was often the only adult male amidst the throng of toddlers and their caregivers at the playground most mornings. He was also often the only caregiver on the receiving end of approving looks from the surrounding moms and nannies. It was lovely, but how was it justified to worship what a working dad does that a working mom does, without the same positive feedback? He was just parenting: watching our daughter, catching her on the slide, pushing her on the swing, buckling her into the stroller despite her protests. When I would do those same things, nobody took notice.
Being a “working dad” wasn’t really a thing before now. Dads worked, of course, but they weren’t expected to demonstrate any interest in or responsibility towards being someone’s parent. A generation ago, dads went to work and didn’t have to think about kids because their female partners were home taking care of that.
However, more mothers are in the workforce now, juggling kid stuff and job stuff, and trying to rise to the impossible standard of “having it all.” The upside is that society is expecting dads to be a lot more involved with day-to-day parenting, because there is no one to hand it off to anymore. The downside is that with their new “working dad” labels, they’re bogarting all the praise that working moms could be getting for doing the same damn things.
We have to stop believing the hype that dads with jobs are really going the distance to be hands-on parents as well, especially when their female counterparts are expected to do both and as part of their genetic programming as women. Being a working parent is a challenge, no matter if your kid calls you “Mom” or “Dad.” But let’s not undervalue my efforts as a working mom by directing all the praise to a working dad who, if anything, maybe doesn’t deserve much praise at all, seeing as how his body was never used as a vessel to grow and nurture an actual human being.
Appear Relatively Put-Together
My husband and I have worked in the same industry, at about the same professional level, since we’ve been married and I have spent way more on my work wardrobe than he has (and even after subtracting my shoes from the equation). Over the course of two pregnancies, my body expanded and contracted, yet I still have to pull off a professional look at the office. That meant having to purchase additional clothes that functioned more like “rentals” in the months leading up to my children’s births. It took a lot of work, both during and after, my pregnancies to look put-together, and I mostly relied on the sales rack of Old Navy’s maternity section to get by. No one cared about the mental, and financial, resources working moms like me employed to look like we belonged in a corporate setting.
But my husband received quite a few compliments for not showing up to work in shambles in the weeks after his children were born. Like tucking in a shirt after becoming a dad is a true sign or winning. That’s some double-standard nonsense right there.
Leave Early To Attend An After-School Event
For the first few years after I became a mom, I was sheepish about having to duck out of work a little early to pick up my child from daycare, or showing up at my kid’s dance class on Observation Day. Looking back on that behavior, I’m kind of shocked that I felt I had to hide my “double life” — worker-bee by day, parent by night. But I always felt judgment, as if those without children, or those with live-in help, noticed the hours I kept and secretly questioned if I couldn’t be replaced by someone whose butt wasn’t in her chair for 45 more minutes a day. It took me a while, but by the time my second child was almost a year old and I had been promoted twice in the three years since becoming a mother, I realized that I was possibly an even better employee for having children. The stigma of moms who are always leaving early is waning, as we are consistently proving that we can be just as, if not more, productive in fewer hours than the typical eight of a workday.
Meanwhile, everyone thinks it’s the sweetest thing when a dad leaves early to catch his kid in a play or something. Why is that?
Clean Something (Or Someone)
There is always something to clean, and that fact isn’t exclusive to parents. It’s just more the case for us and for working parents. With narrow slivers of time stuffed between parenting and job-related duties, it often feels that we spend all our free minutes wiping counters (and butts). I used to thank my husband for doing the dishes or vacuuming up spilled Cheerios. Then it dawned on me that he wasn’t going above and beyond the requirements for keeping our house in a (somewhat) livable state. There was nothing extraordinary about cleaning up after our kids, or cleaning our kids, while also managing to get to work on time and meet deadlines. Realizing that I was giving him “extra credit” for doing what I felt was part of the rudimentary survival protocol of being an adult human with children was doing me a disservice.
Normalizing his equal share of domestic duties by not praising him for tending to them helped me feel less put upon.
Make Their Own Lunch
For the last year or so, I’ve been making the kids’ lunches, and my husband makes our lunches. So yes, give him props for that, definitely. But don’t forget that I’m doing just as much work, if not more (since our kids eat different things). It is also beginning to feel like work to eat the same turkey on whole wheat sandwich every day, but I am truly grateful he’s making it so I don’t have to.
Make The Kid’s Lunch
There is nothing remarkable about adult males who hold down jobs spreading some almond butter on bread and remembering to send their kid off to school with it. Unless the crusts are cut off, and he’s arranged the decoratively trimmed halves on a tableau of skinless grapes carved in the shape of woodland creatures. Then, by all means, sing his praises from the rooftops.
Display Their Kid’s Artwork At The Office
I’m guilty of being more charmed by kid drawings in my male colleagues’ offices than in those of my female co-workers. This is some serious gender bias I know I need to work on. It’s like I’m programmed to expect cuteness taped to women’s walls, but not guys’. I have a ton of my kids’ drawings on my cubicle walls. My husband has one sign our daughter made him: “Dad’s Office.” Even she has picked up on this weird sexism that working dads are not expected to display delightfully messy, whimsical works of art. I’m trying to be less impressed by my male co-workers’ office decor now that I realized how sexist my reactions to it have been.
Style Their Kid’s Hair
No one is born knowing how to do brush hair. We all have to learn some time. So stop making such a big deal that dads have learned this at all. Taking care of their kids’ hair should be no more impressive than taking care of their kids' fingernails or teeth. It comes with the territory of raising humans. Or pets.
Chaperone A Class Trip
I sign up to go on one trip per kid each year. I take time off to do it, because I want to. Once a year isn’t enough for my kids though. There is no shortage of pestering me to sign up for more chaperoning gigs. For some odd reason, my husband is spared their pleas. I really wish the working parent guilt was more even distributed between us.
Check In With Their Partners
Something I’ve noticed around my office is that the working moms are always glancing at our phones. We are most likely first on the contact list for our kids’ schools, so during the hours of eight and three, I make sure I am in full body contact with my phone, should it buzz with the school’s number. Then, after-school, I have to make sure I can be reached by our babysitter. In addition to my full-time job, I am unpaid communications hub. At least, that’s what it feels like. So of course I check in with my partner, as part of the constantly shifting connective tissue of our family’s schedule. All of this uses brain power. And I don’t expect any kudos for just making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, and armed with the right snacks/homework/musical instrument. It comes with the territory of parenthood and there are no built-in “parenting breaks” (at least not where I work) that recognize that those of us with kids, and jobs, need to exert mental effort to take care of our lives outside the office. My check-ins with my husband are completely platonic. I’m letting him know I can be home to relieve the sitter on that night. Or to ask if he can pick up yogurt on his way home.
My husband checks in to confirm how much to pay the sitter on nights he gets home from work first.
If the “nagging wife” is the stereotype we’d love to permanently abolish, why does the “thoughtful husband” — demonstrating the same level of attentiveness — get a glorified moniker, and a pass?
Knowing when the kids have gym class. Or a math test. Or soccer practice. Or anything other than sitting in a classroom with a teacher and doing math and stuff. Parents like us need to know the kids’ school schedules, so we can remind our children when to wear sneakers or bring their flute to school. I get zero credit for posting our kids’ schedules on the kitchen wall, which, after a week, I don’t even need because I’ve just memorized everything. But I go away for a week for work, and my husband is a hero for staying on top of the school calendar, and this is after he’s asked me to download him on these details.
I have to admire him, though; he is able to put things out of his mind until they are absolutely necessary. I probably could benefit from adopting that strategy instead of laying bed all night with my mind racing, trying to plug all the variables into the days in the coming week. I really need to embrace the “live in the moment” idea more. This planning ahead crap is stressful and thankless.
Do Their Job Well
As stressful as it gets having to answer to a whole life outside the office during the workday, I actually love having a job. Motherhood doesn’t solely define me, and I’ve been cultivating my career way before I even thought about having kids. I don’t see children as an excuse to relax my grip on my professional ambitions. Sure, there are times when I have to give more of myself to my family than to my job. I have advanced more slowly than my husband since having kids, and that is grossly unfair. I shouldn’t be punished for going on maternity leave, in terms of losing momentum, but until work culture comes around to the idea of providing more flexibility with work schedules, new moms can’t help but feel like they have to make up for lost time when they return from leave. We can’t afford not to do our jobs well once we have kids.
But new dads don’t seem to be taking much of the paternity leave now being offered them, so they are not losing as much face-time in the office as their new mom colleagues, and thus, aren’t having to cram as much as those of us who return after 12 weeks and need to “catch up.” Not only do employers need to encourage dads to take more time off, when offered, but they should work on creating a more welcoming environment for all returning new parents.