A few days ago someone I saw someone complaining about how her mother-in-law was heaping praise on her husband for a simple ‘father task’ like bathing the baby, while she solo parents the rest of the week with no praise whatsoever.
It also puts me in mind of how we regularly disparage dads with the seemingly-lighthearted banter about ‘daddy daycare’ and how useless they are when it comes to changing a nappy.
By marginalising men’s contribution to parenting with silly jokes and unchallenged claims of ‘babysitting’ we do fathers a disservice. As we do also by over praising the simple stuff – like they’re undertaking rocket science rather than reading their child a bedtime story. And in implying gratitude for them ‘pitching in’, it further entrenches the stereotype that women are the natural carers, while men are just a bit pointless after the sperm donation so any engagement with fatherhood is an added bonus to be congratulated for fear they’ll otherwise skulk off unacknowledged. And that’s rubbish. We may well find ourselves in that role more often than men – due to external social factors such as gender pay gap, social expectations, single parenthood, social equality issues etc – but most men genuinely want and expect to be equal partners in this lark we call parenting. And you know what – they’re equally good at it: sometimes in different ways, and sometimes they are rubbish at remembering all the clobber we need to haul out the house for a simple trip to the park (but once they’ve experienced the steep learning curve of finding yourself stranded at the supermarket with a nappy explosion, no wipes and no spare trousers, they would never forget to pack said items again!) – but nonetheless about as equally good and as equally crap as mothers are.
There are of course plenty of men who are able to stay home to look after the children while a mother goes back to work, or single dads, or gay couples. And you know what, I’m sure the majority of their solo parenting goes unnoticed, upraised and unrewarded too … but I bet they do get a lot more unsolicited praise than a woman would in the same circumstance.
And it’s annoying! It’s annoying when I’m told I’m lucky I have such a good husband and father to my children. I mean he is – he’s an extremely good husband (you know flawed in the usual way but generally makes a good fist of it), and a fabulous father to our kids. He’s considerably better at a lot of parenting stuff that I suck at – endless capacity to play silly games and make up songs. He’s less good at other things – making a packed lunch that isn’t cheese-based. Overall our kids lives are enriched by having him as a father. Because he’s a decent human being. This should be the standard, not something worthy of great praise at the drop of a hat.
Yes there are plenty of people who don’t have this – who have terrible partners who are absent or just generally rubbish or below par fathers.
And yes I am lucky because I thankfully made a good choice about who I decided to spend the rest of my life with and about who I wanted to have children with. And believe me there have been some seriously bad choices I could have made in the past! There are also some not terrible choices I could have made with men who were also very decent human beings, just not the right decent human being for me to spend my life with. I’m lucky I chose one whose foibles I can probably tolerate for the duration. Some people aren’t so lucky or don’t have those choices.
But am I lucky because he cleans the kitchen and puts a load of washing in the machine? Am I lucky because he puts one of the kids to bed every night and reads them a story or gives them a bath (I’m lucky he’s present and home in time to do this yes, but lucky that he takes his job as a father seriously and actually splits the parenting when he’s around and able to …?).
In my job as a lifestyle family photographer, I see countless examples of fathers who are absolutely taking their responsibilities seriously. I get to see families as they truly are. They don’t turn up to a studio in their Sunday-best outfits for some fixed grins and poses just for the camera. I see them running about in the back garden enjoying time together as a family, making and eating lunch together, putting together elaborate lego constructions. I see first-time dads fretting over their newborn’s tears and fetching their exhausted partner a cup of coffee that won’t get drunk between feeds. I see dads totally in the thick of parenthood. And they’re all amazing and doing the best they can. It’s a real privilege to be part of it for a short time and capture those memories in beautiful images they will treasure for years to come when the kids are all grown up.
And they all deserve praise – but no more than mothers do for the day-to-day drudgery of picking toys off the stairs and putting a plaster on a scraped knee or making sure there is food in the fridge to make dinner. If we’re going to praise dads for every tiny thing they do towards being a good parent – then praise mums too! Saying I’m ‘lucky’ or over-praising dads for the small stuff, implies that the standard is set much lower than this for fathers.
We were both equal partners in deciding to have children, so we should remain equal partners in parenting them. So don’t praise my husband for doing his job as a dad – praise me for making such a good choice of life partner and him for choosing such an awesome wife and mother to his children!!!