By TMoM Team Member Anna Keller
I saw this IG post from Shawn Johnson (someone I love following, by the way!) the other day and was reminded how much I dislike messages like this one. It reflects that dads are in some way deficient when it comes to dealing with their kids. In the Instagram post, Shawn is making fun of the way her husband dresses their children.
I know this kind of teasing of dads is super common. So common you might not even really notice it at all, or you might think I’m being super uptight about this.
But hear me out.
The example given in Shawn’s video, about how dads dress their kids in crazy ways, is a comment moms make frequently, laughingly rolling their eyes at what a ridiculous getup he chose for his child. Then there’s the word “babysitting” used to refer to a father spending time with his own children. Or mothers who leave detailed notes for dads on nights they’re gone so they have all the step-by-step information about a child’s bedtime routine, for example.
In a situation where a family has two involved parents, this kind of undermining of a dad isn’t helping anyone. It’s not helping moms get more equal support from their partners. It’s not helping dads feel confident when it comes to parenting. And it’s not helping kids view their dads as totally capable parents, on the same footing as Mom.
Doing things differently, though, takes intention and it takes work. After all, most of us have been conditioned to think moms know best when it comes to parenting, that moms are/should always be the default parent, and that dads need some hand holding along the way. So, if we want things to look different in our families, we as moms have to actively choose to go against the grain a bit and truly partner with dads – even when that’s challenging.
I remember when my now-6-year-old daughter was born and I made the active choice to not comment on the way my husband, Kevin, did anything related to caring for Maggie. Admittedly, I felt a little twitchy watching him, say, change a diaper and noticing that he did it differently than I did. I felt like I had to figuratively sit on my hands to avoid correcting him.
But that pause – and that commitment to not criticizing his parenting approach – allowed me to gain some helpful perspective. Who says the way I change Maggie’s diaper is the right way, or a better way than Kevin’s approach? And, thinking ahead a bit, wouldn’t it be BETTER for Maggie to see things done in different ways by both of her involved parents? That would help her to learn flexibility as she grows.
Oh, AND – how would I feel if Kevin was always jumping in to tell me I was doing something wrong related to caring for our child? MAD is how I would feel. Super mad and annoyed, and certainly not especially willing to keep doing those things. If Kevin publicly made fun of how I dressed our kids for school or how I wasn’t able to fix their hair well, I would be embarrassed and angry. Even though that form of teasing is common for men to receive, it can’t feel GOOD, right?
I view building up dads to be as capable as moms when it comes to parenting as part of feminism – it’s leveling the playing field for all of us. Instead of talking about the “maternal instinct” so often, let’s remember ALL people are capable of a parental instinct. And know when that tends to be activated? When you spend TONS of time with a baby and learn their cues, needs, etc. That connection isn’t exclusive to mothers. It’s just that traditionally mothers spend more time with babies and gain that stronger connection as a result. Dads are perfectly capable of doing the same.
In fact, men’s testosterone levels go down when they’re around their kids. Just like women, they have hormonal responses to parenting.
And perhaps this is the most important reason I want us to collectively be more mindful of the way we talk about and treat dads… because our kids are watching.
I don’t know about you, but I want my daughter and son to see parents BOTH taking an active role in their lives AND supporting each other’s approaches (even when they differ) in the process. I want my children to see what’s possible for each of them when they one day (perhaps) become parents, too – and what they can expect from their partner.
So, the next time you’re tempted to make a knee-jerk joke about the dinner your husband fixed for your children, or find yourself wanting to correct the way he’s getting your child ready for soccer practice, consider pausing instead. Then, ask yourself what those comments might ACTUALLY be achieving. They’re small, usually, and I know most of us don’t mean for them to be demeaning or to sting. But they begin to add up, and we can do better. Involved dads deserve better, too.