Any time my family and I hang out with my grandmother, a career homemaker from 1961 to present, she always smiles warmly as my husband rolls around on the floor with our children or helps them reach something on a high shelf and inevitably says, "What an incredible father." She's not wrong: the Mr. is an involved, thoughtful, awesome dad as well as a considerate, proactive co-parent. However, half the things that earn him the praise of my grandmother are things that I do just as often as a mother, with not so much as a darn peep of recognition. I'm (sadly) not surprised, because, well, people worship dads for things that moms do every day.
My husband identifies as a feminist and, as such, makes a conscious effort to work with me in fighting these kinds of biases and gender stereotypes by sharing parenting responsibilities, equally and daily and since always. And while some may say that is just amazing of him, I feel like it's more common sense than conscious effort. If you're parenting with a partner, doesn't it make sense to take a collaborative approach to child-rearing? If you're partners in every other aspect of life, why wouldn't you be partners in parenting and share the responsibilities, equally? And, honestly, it's not just women who get sold short when the collective "we" insist on praising fathers for undertaking even the most basic of parenting tasks. It's also incredibly condescending for those fathers, who are equal partners in their co-parenting lives, who are made to feel patronized for doing something that (I mean, come one) isn't that difficult. When we continue to praise dads for the basics, we're setting an incredibly low bar for dudes who should probably step up their game, not only to help their partners but to get the most out of fatherhood.
Here are some pretty basic tasks that do not require a national holiday to commemorate when performed by a father, because the parade has to end sometime, guys.
Everyone to a dad: "Oh, look at you! What a good dad! What special memories you're creating with your child! Society needs more people like you, good sir!"
Everyone to a mom doing the same: "Did you see how she looked down to check her cell phone briefly before continuing to push her sweet baby on the swing? That poor kid. Does she not realize that they're only little once?! She really needs to be more focused on what's really important!"
Because while moms are scrutinized for both their and their child's behavior while out in public, a father is saluted as an intrepid soul attempting the equivalent of a scaling of Mount Everest. (Of course, the other side of that is that a father out with his child could be mistaken for an abductor.)
Don't get it twisted: anyone who changes a poopy diaper is at least a little heroic, but it's a necessary heroism that doesn't need fanfare. As American patriot Hercules Mulligan once said,* "We in the shit now, somebody's gotta shovel it." Someone has to handle the diapers, and the idea that dad is a miracle worker for doing it on occasion (or at all) indicates that he, somehow, is exempt from this very required task.
*in Hamilton, not in real life
I don't get this, because it's not hard. I'm not even talking about feeding a child a well-balanced, nutritious, organic diet or anything (which, by the bye, many a mom will be judged hard for not doing). I mean just, like, giving a kid sustenance so he or she doesn't perish. I've seen a person compliment a dad after he gave his child crackers. After the child said he was hungry. Are you serious, people?!
This is (arguably) the saddest unnecessary praise of them all. Do we expect so little of father/child relationships that the slightest little bit of affection is deemed noteworthy? Do we really buy into that ridiculous idea that men are incapable of expressing emotion, so whenever they do they're constantly saluted for it? I mean, that's depressing for everyone involved.
Isn't this just what people do with children? What else can you do with them? They're not particularly adept at discussing politics or helping with woodworking products or fantasy football or whatever stereotypical task society has collectively decided men are into. I'll start gushing when I see a dad and his 3 kids play Pachelbel's Canon in D as a string quartet. A dad and his 3 kids playing tag? Super cute, as any scene of parents playing with their children would be, but nothing noteworthy.
Dad shows up to pre-school drop off with a little girl wearing mismatched shoes, a tutu, and a paint-smeared t-shirt? "Awwwwwwwww! So adorable! I guess daddy dressed you this morning?" Mom does the same? "We need to have an intervention for her after the PTA meeting: she's obviously on drugs."
Dudes who do this get damn parades. Women who do this get told we're tired and just need to, "sleep when the baby sleeps." I mean, I can't. I just can't.
"Well, women know how to do hair. Men have to learn!" I'm sorry, but were you born knowing how to do hair? I certainly wasn't. Even (kind of) learning how to do my own hair in no way prepared me to do someone else's hair, let alone a small, wiggling, shrieking toddler's hair.
Stop. Just stop. You're embarrassing all of us.
It's not like he's doing anyone else a favor by completing these tasks. Maintaining a not-so-filthy home and preparing foods for human consumption, don't have anything to do with gender and everything to do with being an adult. But, somehow, society considers these things to be a "woman's work," so when men undertake it they're doing everyone in the house a real solid.
No matter your gender, being a single parent is hard AF. But, whereas single fathers are recognized for the incredible and difficult lives they lead, single mothers are vilified for their choices and/or circumstances.
Since becoming parents almost five years ago, both my husband and I have done stints as a stay-at-home parent: first him, then (and currently) me. When I told people he stayed home with our son, their reactions were invariably, "Oh you're so lucky. That must make you so happy. What a great guy." Sure, that's mostly true: we had the privilege of making that choice and he is a great guy. However, when I decided to become a stay-at-home mom after the birth of our second child, people's reactions were more like, "Oh you're so lucky. That must make you so happy. Oh how great that your husband is letting you do that." And, again, yes, we were fortunate to be able to make choices about how we wanted to run our house and raise our family. But somehow, I was always the lucky one because the sacrifices and work I was doing, on either end of the spectrum, were seen as duty, whereas my husband's work and sacrifices were seen as benevolent generosity.