I’m a father.
And while that may seem like an obvious statement, the title of “father” means many things to many people. When one hears the word “Father,” certain images spring to mind – and many of those images are not positive. In fact, most of these images are ingrained into us at an early age. The traditional view of the Father is often that of the bumbling parent who cannot possibly survive parenthood without the help of his wife. This scene has been played out in countless sitcoms and television commercials. The father has his place when it comes to parenting and that place is firmly behind the mother.
And I have a problem with that.
Over the four years that I have been a parent blogger I have noticed a theme in countless blog posts and, more recently, several Twitter streams where wives/mothers complain about the ineptitude of their husbands when it comes to parenting their children. I have seen twitter conversations that basically say, “I don’t tell my husband what to do at his job so he shouldn’t come here and tell me how to be a parent.” How dare the father have a say in how his children are raised.
I have also had several women comment on this blog over the years telling me how they wish their husband was more like me. I assume they mean someone who can put on a diaper, read a bed time story, play with the kids, cook a meal and get the kids dressed in the morning or at night. Or perhaps they mean someone who connects to their children’s emotional needs and nurtures a bond between parent and child that is equal to their own. And when I see those comments I feel sad. But I also wonder if those mothers really mean what they say.
And here’s where I’m going to piss off some people who read this and I will acknowledge right off the bat that what I’m about to say is a huge generalization but I’m going to say it anyway. And here it is…
I often wonder if women really want their husbands to be equal partners in parenting. I wonder this because our society puts a lot of pressure on women to be the nurturer, the caregiver, the one who kisses owies and wipes noses and cooks dinner and cleans the house and earns six figures and looks fabulous doing it. And as soon as a man steps up and says I want to do those things too, I want to be a nurturer and a caregiver and have a real relationship with my child to the point that my child will come to me when they are scared or need something rather than my wife, then I think it’s possible that women could and do feel threatened by that. By allowing men to be more involved in parenting (and it has to start from infancy), then women are basically giving up part of what society expects them to be. This is an incredibly difficult decision for women to be in. They want to be everything to everyone. And in the end, nobody wins.
Nobody wins. Not the mother, not the father and most importantly not the children.
I am lucky. I have a wife who has accepted from the very beginning that I would be just as involved in parenting our children as she is. Aside from two very important details (pregnancy and breastfeeding), I have been equally involved with my kids. We take turns giving baths, we take turns feeding the kids (I do breakfast, she does dinner), we are both involved in the bedtime routine. If the children get sick we take turns taking time off from work and if a child needs to be comforted or nurtured in any way, we take turns doing that too.
The beauty of this parenting relationship is that we both get to be parents. We both get to experience the joys of snuggles and kisses and laughter and smiles and we both get to experience those powerful moments that build character through discipline and/or hugs.
And we both do things differently. Boy, do we do things differently. But I think that is the greatest aspect of our parenting relationship. My wife’s way of doing things is entirely different from the way I do things. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok. It’s what makes our kids so well rounded. They get to see different styles. They are comfortable with Mommy’s way of doing things and Daddy’s way of doing things and I believe that it helps them be more adaptable in their everyday lives. I am thankful for how we have parented our children and I’m thankful for my wife because she has been incredibly generous in allowing me to share in the parenting responsibilities when it would have been very easy for her to stake her claim to the role of parenting our children. After all, our society expects it of her.
Now I also know that there are men out there that just don’t get it. I realize that men also have to overcome long-standing stereotypes about fatherhood being the emotionally detached breadwinner. Or that changing diapers or dressing your children is somehow the woman’s job. I get that and I do acknowledge that more men need to step up to the plate. But at the same time I can’t help but wonder if women, often subconsciously, send out messages to their partners that in effect tell them that they are not an equal in this parenting gig.
So how do we take the next step? It’s already begun, of course. I’m too lazy to look it up but I recently read somewhere that men are now spending significantly more time with their families than men did a generation ago. This is good but we’re nowhere close to being equal in parenting. A lot more has to happen before we men can bust through the glass ceiling of parenthood and be accepted as equals in the parenting world. For starters, early on, before the child is even born, roles have to be discussed. Expectations have to be laid out. I was clear to my wife that I wanted to be involved in parenting our children from the very beginning. To her credit, she heard me and gladly surrendered some of those expectations that society puts on her. Of course, having twins certainly helped because we very much needed each other in those early days. But we also talked about how we wanted to parent before the twins arrived and it set the tone for the first four years in an incredibly positive way.
So, someday I do hope that people won’t be surprised to find out that I dressed my daughter in the incredibly cute outfit she’s wearing or that I cook breakfast every morning or that I give my kids baths at night or that I did my daughter’s hair that day. I also hope that someday I won’t get praised for doing this simply because I’m a man. This isn’t revolutionary work. Women have been doing it for generations and they never got a medal for making sure their children were fed. Someday, expectations for fathers will be so high that simply bringing home a paycheck won’t be enough anymore. And I won’t be just a father anymore.
I’ll be a parent.