There are a few things most people learn about me within days of meeting me: I'm flamboyant AF, I'm really into Game of Thrones, and I love compliments. So I say this as someone who sincerely appreciates words of affirmation: there's a limit, even for self-identified approval junkies who enjoy receiving an above-average amount of praise for particularly mundane accomplishments. A group that understands this better than most? Dedicated dads, because you're actually insulting dads when you constantly compliment them.
I've suggested this before and I fear some people have gotten the wrong idea (because, yes, I read the social media comments on my articles, you guys). Allow me to clarify: it's not that I think dads should not receive enormous credit for the hard work they do in raising their children. They absolutely should! (So should moms, by the way.) At the same time, why are we tripping over ourselves to extol these guys for things that, frankly, we should expect from them? You know, like we expect from moms. I don't praise my children every time they say "please" or "thank you," because their good manners are just how I expect them to behave as civil human beings. Dads are supposed to do dad things — that's what makes them dads in the first place.
As a society, we need to stop being impressed and surprised when a father's contributions to the wellbeing of their children extend beyond signing the birth certificate. Not because dedicated dads don't deserve admiration for these things, but because they deserve to be recognized as capable, engaged, thoughtful men who are the standard we expect; not the exception we put up on a pedestal. (This, in turn, will encourage all those men who aren't rising to the occasion to hop to it.) Plus, it's pretty damn insulting to continue to praise these men as if doing the minimum is above their normal capabilities. They can handle parenthood, you guys. Trust me.
Again, being complimented feels great, when you're being complimented for something worthy of a compliment. Now, of course, compliment worthiness can vary person to person, and sometimes it's nice to be praised for the basic stuff as a sort of catch-all to say, "Hey, you do a lot of thankless, if menial things that must be tiring, but you're keeping it all together very nicely. Good for you!" As a mom, I know hearing stuff like that every now and again is encouraging and sweet. However, I feel like being complimented for the routine, trivial stuff all the time would have the opposite effect. Like, "OK, this is the third time you've complimented my ability to pick up my child when they're crying. Um, do you think I need your positive reinforcement to continue doing this? Or do you think that this basic stuff is the height of my capabilities?"
Dads get this a lot. Just as with moms, they should get the occasional, "Even the little things you do are great!" but when it's a never-ending celebration of mindless mediocrity, it gives one the impression that they are viewed as a mindless, mediocre parent.
It Tacitly Implies That Guys Aren't Usually Good At This Sort Of Thing
When a dad/male parent is getting all these accolades while a mom/female parent's contributions (big and small) go unremarked upon or even unnoticed, I don't think it's a huge stretch to say that dads are getting compliments because no one expects anything of them. That's insulting on a few levels.
For one, dads can (rightfully) be insulted by such a low bar and the suggestion that they are constitutionally incapable of doing everything and anything a mom can do. For another, I think it's totally reasonable that a dad with a female partner can be insulted on her behalf, since she does the same exact things but receives none of the same recognition. So constant compliments can be both personally demoralizing and philosophically irksome.
It Indicates An Air Of Novelty That Is Unwarranted
I am told by conscientious dads I know that a lot of time, when they tend to their children, the compliments they receive have an implicit, "Good for you for stepping up to the plate," aspect to them.
"Especially," says a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous, "When I change a diaper. It's like 'Everyone stop and take a picture: daddy is changing a diaper. Isn't that so wonderful?' I change diapers all the time. I've lost track of all the sh*t-filled diapers I've changed in two years. This isn't new. I don't need a parade."
No one needs a parade for changing a diaper, except for the people who change a baby's first meconium diaper. They deserve a parade and a cake and for someone to come counsel them because those things are terrifying, but that's neither here nor there.
It Lessens The Impact Of Actual, Praise-Worthy Feats Of Parenting
I feel like there are some days, rare days, when everything falls beautifully into place thanks to dedicated hard work and concerted effort. Days when parents just kind of sit back and gaze at their well-behaved kids, their clean house, their most recent career accomplishment, and the remarkable four course dinner they're prepared for a house full of guests and think, "Damn. I am awesome."
Again, these days are rare for most of us; at least based on the informal consensus of my fellow parents. I feel like most days we're barely hanging on. Like, if everyone comes out of a day with all their limbs we're like, "This was excellent." But some days, moms and dads alike catch glimmers of our own greatness. In those moments, recognition is the icing on the cake. However, when a dad is already being enthusiastically congratulated for his ability to give his child a graham cracker, the real compliments lose a bit of their punch. Like, "Do you really think this is so awesome? Because last week you were fawning all over me for knowing when my daughter's birthday was."
Furthermore (this is mostly anecdotal, but it has been confirmed but a few dads I've talked to on the subject while writing this article), sometimes when a dad does something truly awesome, unless it is mechanically oriented (like building a super-cool play house or something), people just assume he relied upon a woman's help. Seriously, that's basically the epitome of the sad trombone noise, right? You work so hard to do something amazing and people have been so focused on extolling your simple skills that the overlook the fact that you're actually a superhero.
They Don't Actually Need Your Approval
Look, they get that you're trying to be nice and they appreciate the gesture. Certainly your thoughtful and occasional kudos are welcome — dadding is hard and knowing your work is being recognized can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. But, frankly, the condescending, presumptive, over-the-top worship is really just serving to highlight a lot of the downsides of being a dad: that people expect so little of them, will inherently see their efforts as "cute," and think they need constant guidance and encouragement in raising their own children.
Seriously, this is a dad we're talking about here. He knows what the hell he's doing, thank you very much. It's time we all give these guys a little more credit, by giving them less credit.