Let dads parent, but stop praising him for doing it!

I posted the following blog post on Facebook not too long ago:

Why Are We Always Thanking Dads Just For Being Parents

In case you don’t want to read the whole thing, it was commentary on the fact that dad’s are viewed as superheroes for doing things like feeding their own kid or changing their diapers, where no one really bats an eye when they see mom doing it.  It was met by a few likes from some mommy friends, but one father found the author to be “salty” and thought that she should “get over herself.”  I imagine this is because she mentions in the first few paragraphs how she continuously thanks her husband for doing things like feeding and changing the baby, but he has few thanks to give back.  When I read this, I don’t see this as a complaint, but as an observation.  She even says that the reason he doesn’t thank her is “partly because on some deep level, he believes that I am simply fulfilling my role as a mother.”

Let me preface this essay by saying that I am writing this through the eyes of a married working mom.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom.  I know maternity leave was hard on me because I hated being home all the time doing nothing but parenting things.  I couldn’t be a SAHM simply for that reason.  And there are a whole bunch of other issues to address when talking about separated and single parents that I have no place addressing since I haven’t experienced it.  So, if you are one, I’d love to hear your input.

There was a time in this country when the norm for most families was that dad was the bread winner and mom stayed home to tend to the house and care for the kids.  Today, most families are a two income family, and I believe that a lot of the times, those incomes are similar (i.e. one parent isn’t making much more than the other parent.)  Even though our society has, for the most part, accepted this family dynamic as the norm, our expectations for mom and for dad haven’t seemed to change all that much.  It still seems that the expectation is the babies and kids are mom’s job, not dad’s.

Tell me you haven’t been to Target or the grocery store, have seen a man toting around his little one(s) and thought “Awww, that’s sweet.  What a good dad.”  (I’m guilty of seeing and thinking it this past weekend.)  Now, back in Target or the grocery store, you see a woman toting around the same kid(s).  Did you really think “Awww, that’s sweet.  What a good mom.”?  Chances are, you didn’t.  It’s ingrained in our head that when a dad parents, it’s commendable, but when a mom parents, nobody thinks twice.  Which is what the author of my original post was trying to convey.

Keep in mind, this is not coming from the view of an unappreciated mother.  I know I’m appreciated.  My husband doesn’t need to tell me so (although he does, especially when he can’t be around to help).  My baby doesn’t need to give me a thumbs up.  I do what I do because I have to.  It’s my job.  It’s also my husband’s job when he’s home and I appreciate him for everything he does.  He’s awesome.  In fact, he helped bathe baby last night, changed and dressed baby this morning, took him to daycare, and will pick him up this evening.  He’s not doing me a favor though.  He’s being a dad.  I tell him “thank you” when he does his part, much like I say “thank you” when he lets me eat some of his food when we go out to eat.  It’s not praise because I’m surprised he’s letting me try his food, he knows it’s his job to let me try his food, because I always want to try everything.  (I always offer for him to try my food, but he never takes because he basically only eats meat, cheese, sauce, and bread, which really should be the subject of another post.)  Point is, nobody is going above and beyond here and we’re treating men like they are.  There’s a difference between appreciation and praise.

Even dudes think it’s wrong.  From The Atlantic article “Dad’s Caring For Their Kids: It’s Parenting, Not Babysitting” one man states:

“‘I get undue adulation all of the time for simply being out with my kid,” said Adam Mansbach, author of the bestselling book Go the F**k to Sleep. “Just because my kid isn’t freezing to death, I’m a great father.” During the height of the book’s success, he was treated like an exemplary primary caretaker. In reality, he only experienced the frustratingly long bedtimes he wrote about 25 percent of the time. When he pointed this out, it was generally ignored.”

In a different blog article (“Involved Dads Don’t Deserve Any More Recognition Than Involved Moms“), Lyla Ciero talks about her husband’s observations when being fawned over by other females:

“A few weeks ago, with no prompting, Seth said something to me that meant more than I could have imagined. “It must feel really invalidating to you when people make such a fuss over me doing basic parenting that you do regularly without any positive feedback.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, “Exactly!”

Of course, we also talked about how offensive the comments people make are to him. The idea that he’s “another mother” suggests he is behaving completely outside of a male role. It suggests that fathers are, by definition, lesser parents, “helper-parents,” or “junior parents,” and that doing what a mother does necessarily rules out being a man. “

(I thought both articles were spot on and suggest reading both in their entirety.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…)

While some may think praising and thanking dad is a harmless gesture that might “make a guy feel good,” it really just does an overall injustice to men.  Let’s give men more credit!  We’re not giving them any when we act surprised when they’re a good parent.  If we keep praising them for doing the same jobs as mom, we’re only further condoning the view that dads are lesser parents.

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I think I’d feel weird and wonder what my boss thought I did all day if he thanked and praised me every time I did some mundane task like checked a calc or drew something in CADD.  “Wow, Melissa!  I can’t believe you drew and labeled that detail, and it’s done correctly!  Thank you!”  “Ummm, it’s my job.  And I’ve been doing it for years.”

The comment “We should praise the good dads because there aren’t many of them” has been thrown out as an argument.  Firstly, this commentary is really mostly for the already involved dads.  However, my thoughts are that if we raise the expectations of dads as the societal norm, then dads will simply step up.  As a new mom, I’ve discovered that I kind of hate “moms”.  (Please notice the quotes.)  Maybe it’s always been like this, but I guess I never realized parenting is a “thing.”  Through social media and through moms I actually know, I’ve discovered that moms love to judge and mom-shame.

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Yeah, it’s a thing.  And a horrible thing.  Formula vs. breastmilk.  Screen time vs. none.  Organic vs. fast food.  Working moms vs. stay at home moms.  It’s all a battle and everyone has a side.  But the thing is, only moms get judged, not normally the dad.  Dad’s feeding the kid??  Who cares what he’s feeding her, he’s feeding her!!  People don’t tend to judge dads, which is good and bad.  Good because nobody that’s raising a child in the best interest of that family should be judged or shamed.  Bad though because it simply implies that dads don’t normally parent, and when they do, who cares what they do (see Adam Mansbach’s quote above).  And because this notion exists, men will fit themselves into that notion.  And it’s evident when we have phrases like “dad’s ‘babysitting’ the kids” or “he’s a ‘hand-on’ dad.”

However, to change these views, not only should we stop praising dads for simply being parents, moms have to let dads parent.  I think one of the reasons dads are seen as the “lesser parent” are because moms make them so.  A lot of times dad might not do things the way mom wants them done, so she doesn’t let him do it.  I believe this needs to stop too.  Aside from breastfeeding, there isn’t anything mom can do that dad can’t.  TODAY conducted a survey in 2012 (http://www.today.com/parents/dad-survey-fathers-just-want-little-r-e-s-p-826007) and it seems that dads want recognition simply because mom’s expectations can be too high.

Of course, dads may have resentment of their own, especially when their child-care efforts are rebuffed because they don’t do things “right” – i.e., mom’s way. Griffin said mothers should focus on fathers’ good-faith effort – even, or especially, when dads do things differently.

“Show appreciation for your spouse, look for the positives,” Griffin said. “Moms and dads do things differently, and kids need both sides. As long as the kid isn’t actually in danger, give him the space to do it his way.”

And just because it’s done differently, doesn’t make it special.

I think moms sometimes feel entitled because they are mom.  Because they carried a fetus for 9 months and eventually birthed it.  Because of this underlying notion that they alone run the household, working away from home or not.  Because people celebrate mom for being mom.  And it’s funny how our words and thoughts often don’t match.

“While politicians publicly applaud the “most important job in the world” during elections, a working mother tending to restless children while attempting to shop for groceries at the same time is unlikely to garner a second glance.” (“Dad’s Caring For Their Kids: It’s Parenting, Not Babysitting”)

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Mom’s need all the support in those first few months after having a baby.  It’s a new responsibility for both parents, but mom also has to deal with having her body ripped apart and hormones and breastfeeding, if she chooses to breastfeed.  Add in possible PPD and of course mom needs support.  But when it comes to parenting, all parents need support I think.  Stay-at-home and work-at home moms AND dads.  Working parents.  Parents and care takers of babies, toddlers, tweens, and teens.  It’s hard work for everyone and I don’t think any one parent should get singled out.  The more diversity in a group effort, the better the outcome, amiright??

I’m also not against mom groups.  The same dad who thought the woman was being “salty” also brought up a website I had never heard of called www.everydaymom.com.  He used it as an example of how moms get more recognition than dad just for being mom.  I looked through it briefly, and while it seems to be geared more towards general parenting things (parenting tips, coupons, recipes, etc.), I’m not opposed to groups or blogs just for mom.  Or groups just for dad for that matter.  In fact, I did a quick search and found some dad support groups and forums, as well as dad meet up groups all over the country (http://www.fathersforum.com/ , http://dads.meetup.com/).  Parenting blogs/sites/groups are good, but so are ones specified for mom or dad.  I enjoy the general sci-fi nerdery of the Facebook page “Being a Geek” but sometimes I just want to see Doctor Who stuff, so I also follow “Doctor Who and the T.A.R.D.I.S.”  Moms and dads are still mom and dad and have different wants and needs and may need help with different things and that’s OK.  If “Everydaymom” offends you, make an Everydaydad website!  Problem solved!

All the good parents do deserve some credit though.  How do you do that without a negative impact?  I think Ms. Ciero said it well:

“How do we give men who are full, involved parents positive validation without making them feel like they’re doing something extra special, instead of normal? Here are some suggestions: “You’re everything a dad should be! You’re doing great! You exemplify what fatherhood is all about!”

And while we’re at it, let’s give those moms out there as much positive validation. How many of us moms would love to have a stranger come up and say “Looks like you’re on duty today,” with the implication that we, too, deserve a break.”

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