In the middle of a store, your toddler howls because you won't buy a toy. Strangers glare in silent — or not-so-silent — judgement. Every mom has experienced this public questioning of her parenting skills. But what about Dad?
Last year, University of Michigan researchers surveyed 475 mothers of young children. Six out of 10 said they had experienced parent-shaming — criticism or unsolicited advice about everything from discipline to the dinner menu.
What caught our attention about that survey: they didn't ask fathers.
Undoubtedly (and unfortunately), there are dads who do get parent-shamed. But even researchers link the phenomenon to women, which shows just how low the bar is set for fathers when it comes to child-rearing.
We don't criticize dads. In fact, their parenting efforts are often met with praise — because, frankly, we don't expect that much of them.
Every day, our culture transmits the message that Dad isn't as domestically competent as Mom. From the classic dolt Homer Simpson to the recent McDonalds ad featuring a dad ordering a "My-Wife's-Out-Of-Town-And-I'm-In-Over-My-Head meal," media loves the trope of the bumbling father. He diapers the baby with toilet paper and seriously injures himself while vacuuming the carpet.
A dad pushing a stroller in public is the subject of admiring glances, as if he was doing something exceptional.
A dad pushing a stroller in public is the subject of admiring glances, as if he was doing something exceptional. Mom with stroller doesn't get a second glance — it's normal. If a man in the park is struggling to get his squirming two-year-old's shoes on, nearby women will rush over to help. A mom in the same position — nothing. Everyone expects her to cope.
It's even coded in our language. When mom goes out, how many dads say they are "babysitting" the kids? It sounds like an outsider doing a job, rather than a parent fulfilling a role.
"It becomes a cycle where we assume men can't do these basic tasks, and because of that, they don't," says Emily Ladouceur, executive editor of the online magazine The Good Men Project.
Breaking that cycle, Ladouceur says, means normalizing the idea of Dad as an equal and competent co-parent.
Father's Day is a great opportunity to challenge the stereotype and raise our expectations of fathers, promote healthy masculinity and celebrate Dad's role as caregiver.
It starts with something as simple as the card you give. Mother's Day cards are usually jokes about housework, or sentimental reflections on care and nurturing. Dad cards are jokes about beer, barbecues and backyard hammocks. Instead, give a card that celebrates the scraped knees he bandages and the dishes he cleans every day.
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And then there are gifts. Father's Day and Mother's Day are some of the most gender-stereotyped holidays for gift-giving. Dad gets tools or ties (implying he's the one with the important jobs). Mom gets household appliances or gifts that emphasize family, like framed photos of the kids. Maybe dad would like those photos, too. If the house needs a new dishwasher, gift it to Dad, not just Mom.
"Toxic masculinity" is a hot topic these days. We'd like to see a positive shift in the discussion, talking more about healthy masculinity. That includes raising the bar for fatherhood.
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