A recent article suggested that involved dads shouldn't get any more credit than involved moms. It suggests that perhaps all dads are doing is "parenting" - nothing more, nothing less. This week, The Parents YAP about Fabulous Fathers. Is there such a thing as a Super Dad?
I must admit I relate to this article, not so much because I’ve experienced the sexism described within, but because I consider my husband to be something of a “Superhero Dad.” He coaches soccer, changes diapers, volunteers in the classroom, chaperones field trips, does lunch duty, and ferries the children around on a bicycle built for two. He reads with them, takes them to Home Depot workshops, oversees homework, chronicles their lives in writing, creates family videos, and plans vacations. It almost sounds like I’m describing a stay-at-home Dad, but my husband has a full time job. Flexible schedule, absolutely, but a full time job nonetheless. The stay at home parent? That would be me.
My husband even has a healthy dose of “mother’s guilt,” worried that he is not maximizing his time with the kids. Perhaps you have seen him running up the endless hill of Prospect Street, pushing a double wide stroller containing 70 pounds of child. For me, one of the few advantages of running is time away from my children. My husband, however, celebrates it as an opportunity to combine exercise with parental bonding.
All of this is every bit as wonderful as it sounds, for me and my kids. Any drawback stems from my own insecurities; my husband can easily step into my shoes and perform “my” job, yet I can’t claim the same. He is every bit as invested in the parenting process as I am, but he also has a successful career and other rewarding interests outside the home. (Did I mention that he is a gifted pianist, a runner of marathons, and a talented photographer? I mean, come on.) Meanwhile, I seem to have allowed myself to drown in domesticity, keeping things chugging along on the home front. I like how my friend described this role: Daily Operations. Being home full time was my choice, one I don’t regret, but more of the day-to-day drudgery falls to me simply because of the number of hours I spend here. There’s not much glory in it, but someone needs to make sure the soccer shirt is clean and that dentist appointments are kept. On the whole, I’m quite content.
That is not to say that I am completely above petty jealousy. I still grit my teeth when I remember how lauded my husband was for the chili he made for a family get-together, on a rare occasion when he cooked for guests (excluding grilling, of course). I drew the line when he enthused about making a monster-themed cake for my son’s birthday party. I’ve already mentioned how much pride I take in my birthday cakes; I wasn’t going to let him take that away from me.
Once, when I was describing to a friend all the things my husband had done for the kids that day, she dryly remarked, “Did he breast feed the baby for you, too?” I suppose this could be construed as a sexist remark, as if breast-feeding was the only “motherly” feat he had left to accomplish. Coming from this friend, I know that it was only affectionate sarcasm, but it may also reflect a subtle attitude that there are different expectations for men and women. Rather than being a dig, though, I believe the comment was an acknowledgement of my husband’s skills, and hinted at my friend’s understanding of the potential for me to feel inadequate.
Feelings of jealousy or insecurity aside, I do know how fortunate and blessed I am. Perhaps to say that is to imply that “Superhero Dads” are an anomaly, but I don’t believe that to be true. This has nothing to do with sexism, and everything to do with the fact that my husband is one of a kind. I know that many dads are thoroughly invested in parenting, but I don’t know many who bring his level of tireless energy to the task. His level of involvement enables us to live the full lives we do, and has given me the support required to do things I wouldn’t otherwise attempt, like, say, raising four kids. Whether a mother has a full time career, a part time job, or stays at home, parenting is a tough job to tackle alone. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to.
Tasha Schlake Festel
My kids are lucky to have a very involved dad. He's a true partner in our parenting team. He cooks! He cleans! He does laundry! He plays! He also coaches lacrosse and soccer, corrects homework, serves as taxi driver, bandages skinned knees, reads Little House on the Prairie, and gives good-night kisses. He does everything that I do. And sometimes more.
But he's not a Super Dad. He's a modern dad.
Just as I hate the term "Super Mom," I object to the word "Super Dad." None of us are super. We're just doing our jobs the best that we can. The world has changed. Roles and responsibilities have changed. There are no set gender- or parenting roles anymore. The lines have not just been blurred: they've been obliterated. Moms and dads both work outside of the home. Moms and dads both work inside the home. This is the new reality.
Should dads get extra credit for doing their jobs? No. They're called parents. Should it be considered "babysitting" when a dad watches the kids? No. It's called parenting. Should dads get help when they look overwhelmed? Hells yeah. And so should moms. It's called support.
When my kids were little and my husband would spend the day - or an hour - alone with them, I bent over backwards trying to prepare everything for him. I'd pack the diaper bag, get snacks ready, make sure he had 17 changes of clothes for both of them, and throw in anything else I could think of that he might need in case the world came to an end. I was helping. I was setting him up for success. I was ensuring that he would do it again. Or so I thought. In reality, all I was doing was insulting him by implying that I didn't trust him to take care of the kids without me. He was fully capable of preparing himself for his time with the kids. And really, he knew what he needed far better than I did.
My husband is a fabulous father. My kids are lucky to have him. But I am quite sure that he does not elicit coos and offers of help and support while he's out in public. It's not that he exudes confidence and never gets flustered (although he is both confident and difficult to fluster), it's that he - by design - is not terribly approachable. Whether it's the shaved head, the black sunglasses, or the sexy almost-scowl he's often sporting, he doesn't subconsciously scream "come talk to me."
He's just a dad, out there doing his thing. And what he's doing is super, even if he's not a Super Dad.
The article on “Involved Dads Don’t Deserve Anymore Recognition than Involved Moms” resonates in our household. As a mom, I’m the parent working now and my husband is the stay-at-home parent, frequent neighbor helper, and household chore keeper-upper as much as is possible these days. I emphasize “now” because it might change on down the line. Our kids are just now getting into full day school, so he’s really been the primary 7:00am-5:00pm person for the kids. I have mommy withdrawal during the week so on the weekends I spend as much as I can with the kids which means we end up doing a fair amount of full family activities with all of us.
I honestly haven’t negatively personalized the comments regarding how wonderful my husband is to play such a large role in childcare activities. I think it’s wonderful that our two girls have had a very solid male adult in their early childhood, and I think it’s equally nice that my husband has had this connection with the kids since I’m not convinced he ever saw himself as a stay-at-home dad. My husband and I decided that given our family situation 7 years ago—two kids born close together and one newly diagnosed with a chronic medical condition with lots of unknowns—and our work situations that it made most sense financially for me to continue working and for my husband to stay home with the kids. He’s experienced the good and bad of the stay-at-home as all readers have—the good: fun hikes with the kids, fun trips to the beach, fun times at playgrounds, and nice interactions with parents while supporting play activities with the kids and their friends—the bad: the whiney kids, sibling fights, overbooked kid schedules, and adult social isolation. (We may need a rebuttal column for the stay at home’s who might like to challenge my idyllic version of life on the ranch. J) I do miss the “good” and “bad” day activities dearly but I get my fair share of both of them in the mornings, evenings, and weekends. Nonetheless, I truly feel overall the kids are well-balanced in their parent involvement and I think it reflects well on them.
There are definite instances, though, when my husband’s and my feelings are rattled. The interface between our children and the health care providers is one of our most difficult and sensitive challenges. I am a health care provider and have dealt with the health care system for over 25 years. So I want to be involved with all health care related issues, as does my husband. That in itself is great—two parents 100% invested in the health of their kids—what could be bad about that? Well, when we take our kids to the doctors, if my husband and I are both in the room 90% of the doctor’s eye contact is with me and not my husband. This infuriates my husband since he is with the kids all day and has a good perspective on what is going on. Of course, I feel that I am well informed too since I am with the kids in the evening and weekends, and when my husband implies that he knows best or has more detail than me I get really hurt. We’ve figured out ways to overcome this conflict which involve me listening more to him and what is going on when he is with the kids and I’m not, us both talking and deciding together prior to the doctor entering the room what information needs to be brought forward, and us both connecting in the doctor’s office on the plan. (Sometimes we hear things and have completely opposite takes on the information so we repeat until both he and I are on the same page with the plan.)
Another challenge has been play date coordination. When the kids were first starting school, our kids wanted play dates with other kids. It was difficult, though, for my husband to integrate with the “mom circles” that were strong and already in existence. I’m not sure if this was a male caregiver role snag or if we just happened to become involved with some tight mom groups that probably started way back with babies and toddler play groups. Things are much better now and my husband juggles play dates, carpools, and kid pick-ups easily with the rest of the parents in the same boat.
The third sensitive area, from my perspective, is engagement in youth sports. My husband started volunteering as a soccer coach two years before I started volunteering as a coach. As I sat on the sidelines, I saw my kids connecting more and more with their father in the context of athletics. As a somewhat athletic child and young adult (where did it go in my middle age years??) and as a mother of two girls, I didn’t want the girls to connect solely with a male parent in relation to being physically active. So I hopped in the fray of soccer and basketball volunteerism and now my husband and I have to figure out how to exist together in the volunteer coach world, which is proving to take us down another path of advanced marriage!
There have been other challenges, and I’m quite sure my husband could easily fill up his own page on this topic. But he’s busy walking the dog and doesn’t have time to write!
When my kids were really little, and I was the tired-eyed mom in Target with a 4- and 2-year old in that extra-long shopping cart with the seats up front and the unhappy baby in his car seat inside the cart I would hear one of two things from other shoppers.
1. “Enjoy every minute! They grow up so fast!” (My feelings about this could easily be fodder for their own article.)
2. “Wow. You’ve really got your hands full.”
When dads venture out into the world to run errands, or take a kid to the park, to do the dreaded food shopping, they have a very different reception. They are told what great fathers they are. They are told that they are wonderful for “giving mom a break,” and they are told that their kids are so lucky to get to spend time with dad. Now, I’m not saying these sentiments aren’t true, they certainly are. My husband is a particularly awesome dad. However, I don’t know any mom who has ever been told by strangers that she is a great mother just because she has a kid with her at Market Basket. Why is my husband praised and I am seen as just barely keeping it together as I go through my day with the kids? Maybe thirty years ago, a dad doing household errands and caring for the kids would be seen as unusual enough to warrant special praise, but this is happening now.
Why are moms and dads treated so differently for doing the same thing? Every couple I know sees parenting as a shared responsibility, not one parent or the other’s job. I know a lot of stay at home dads. I don’t know anyone my age who consciously sees childcare as a woman’s responsibility. For most people, the task of taking care of the home and the kids simply falls on whichever parent can spend more time at home, regardless of gender.
That said, I think this kind of recognition gives even the most well-meaning dad a distorted perception of how hard full-time parenting of small children really is. Many, many times, when I was home with my kids, I wished I had kept my job just so I would have a break from constant childcare. My husband, who has always been awesome with our kids, has never had to spend an entire day where he never got to shower because he was constantly feeding someone, comforting someone, or wiping someone’s butt. He did all of those things often and without complaint, but he never had to do them day in, day out, day after day after day, like I did. I, however, never had strangers tell me that I was an amazing mom for doing those things all the time. He is a great dad. He tells me I’m a great mom. I (sometimes) think I am a great mom. And we both have our hands full.