Parenting, It’s a Man’s World too
6.17.10: Happy Father's Day
When you hear the word, “parent,” who do you think of first, Mom or Dad? I’ll bet you thought of Mom. That’s natural. It’s how we’re culturally programmed to think about parenting - as a girl thing. Take a look at any magazine rack’s parenting and pregnancy section and it’s almost all about Moms. Fathers get a page or two but Mom is the cover girl.
On a recent episode of Glee, Quinn, the pregnant teenager, belts out a stunning rendition of a James Brown classic. A bevy of pregnant backup singers accompany her with Lamaze-inspired harmonies (hee, hee, hee, hoo, hoo, hoo) as Quinn sings “This is a man's world, this is a man's world. But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” As riveting as this performance was (seriously, great), I couldn’t help thinking that the parenting/pregnancy world is a woman’s world. Mom gets the spotlight. Dad is a stagehand. In a perfect world and in the strongest families however, Mom and Dad are co-stars.
Pregnancy’s a big deal and obviously affects women far more than men. They deserve tons of attention, support and gratitude for producing and raising beautiful children. They don’t do it alone, though. Fathers are in on this deal too yet they get a fraction of the credit and support women do. They’re considered Mom’s wingman. Despite decades of feminism, women are still overwhelmingly the keeper of the keys to parenting. With successful families, though, there are two sets of keys.
Why do women say they want their husband to take an equal and active role in parenting and then sabotage them? Some are overtly controlling, bossy and critical. Others are subtler but the message is that the right way to handle the kids is her way.
Think about how often women get together with friends and the topic of conversation is “how lame is my husband/boyfriend.” You know…boy bashing. It’s a popular girl-bonding technique to complain about their parenting skills. It’s casual, seemingly harmless and rarely done with any real meanness and yet, it reinforces the concept that Mom’s way is best and Dad’s is second best. It’s not harmless. Instead, it reinforces cultural programming and expectations, undermines fatherhood and creates an atmosphere where Dads can’t be equal partners in parenting.
I overheard a couple of moms talking in the hall at school. One said to the other, “All I wanted was one evening out and he said he’d watch the kids for me. I told him what to make for dinner and left explicit directions for baths and bedtimes. But, he didn’t do anything I told him to. I mean, for God’s sake, he made grilled cheese sandwiches and when I got home, twenty minutes past their bedtime, he was still reading bedtime stories. So today, of course, they’re exhausted. I mean, seriously, all I wanted was one night out.”
This Mom got some sort of boost out of talking about her husband this way but I think she was making a big mistake; first in demanding he follow her rules and second by talking about him disrespectfully. If the tables were turned, how would she feel if he was that controlling and spoke disrespectfully about her to his buddies.
Let’s support fathers to make solid, independent parenting decisions. They’re fathers, not mother’s helper. They don’t “watch the kids for mom.” When he’s taking care of them, it’s his responsibility, not a favor. He has his children’s best interest at heart just like Mom does. He just has a different style. He’s Dad. He’s different. That’s what we like about them. Frankly, grilled cheese sandwiches and extra bedtime stories seems like a pretty good evening to me.
Mom’s, as you approach Father’s Day, the best gift you can give your husband or partner is your support, confidence and respect as he finds his own way of raising his/your children. Make a cohesive parenting plan that covers the really important issues, then stand back and give him space to be a good father. If there’s a huge difference in your styles, talk it out (get a counselor, if necessary) but do it out of kids’ earshot and in a supportive, non-critical way. Make a commitment that you won’t trash talk him to your girlfriends, family or especially your children. There’s a difference between asking for advice and support and ragging on him. It’s called respect.
And this Father’s Day – celebrate him the way you want him to celebrate you. Check out my Mother’s Day blog and switch pronouns. The basics? Give him presents and a fabulous day filled with fun, food and gratitude that he’s the man raising your kids.
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