I’m not going to be a total Negative Nelly here because (a) the picture is cute & (b) the truth is some men still struggle with their roles as fathers.
But so do some women.
Yet, can you imagine the backlash if the government posted an ad with a woman playing catch (or engaged in any stereotypically male gendered activity) with her son with the slogan “Take time to be a mom today”?!
Some of us would react by charging that’s what we do most days already! Some (most?) would cry that we are stretched so thin & do what we can when we can. Some would throw up their hands because life can be hard.
Still… As hard as I work as a mother I can use this sort of message every now & again. And seeing a non-gendered version of this ad would be welcome, especially as I wait for my train home after work & prepare to shift into family mode.
Because what is really important to my son is that I engage in his activities every so often. Not my idea of how we should spend our time together. And I know it doesn’t take much. Even just a few minutes, a few times a week to build or play actively together is really important to him. It’s also really hard for me, especially right after work.
As much as our society thinks women (specifically mothers) are nature’s caregivers, even we need a reminder now & then.
At least I do!
“Mom, let’s build Legos.” “Mom, let’s play Star Wars.” “Mom, let’s play soccer.” Etc.
I wish I could say it always sounds fun, but that shit is hard after commuting-working-commuting. It’s hard without a long commute or long hours, as MFA Dad can attest.
Which brings me to the more troubling gendered aspect of this ad.
I’ve been projecting my own positive spin on this up until now… To me the image tells me to take time to play with my child today.
But really, the words say to be a dad. Period. No one reminds women to be moms, even in the most basic sense.
Yet here we are in 2015, reminding dads to be dads.
I think the ad is aimed at a different demographic (this guy is a WWF fighter/actor/performer…) & unfortunately there are plenty of dads (& moms) who need to be prompted to be parents & to not harm their children by abusing, abandoning, neglecting, or otherwise shirking their parental duties.
But even in my own cohort (where dads tend to be more present in their children’s lives) I often encounter the idea that dads are foolish oafs & that mother knows best. The subtext to this thinking & the ad is that a father parenting is the exception rather than the rule.
Not only is it not true, it sets us back about 60 years. Language matters, folks, & we should know better.
I see posts about “daddy daycare” on Facebook. I hear comments about fathers “babysitting.” Moms joke that dad almost got it right but just doesn’t have that motherly je ne sais quoi.
Guess what? That thing some call “daycare” or “babysitting” is actually just parenting when performed by a father. Daycare professionals, nannies & babysitters are awesome, important people, but those terms refer to people who provide care to children for money. They do not refer to parents, who are legally obligated to care for their children & who we generally like to think have bonds closer than money or the law can create.
And dads are awesome at this whole parenting thing when given the opportunity. When we moms don’t denigrate their efforts. When we give them space to develop their skills. When we support them when they fear they’re messing it up.
Sure, one person in a co-parenting couple may do more of the hands-on parenting work over time, but that doesn’t change the fact that both co-parents parent. It’s not a full-time or a part-time thing. It’s not a creeper or a hobby. When mom or dad is at work, they’re still parenting. When mom or dad is engaged in childcare duties, it’s just parenting.
By designating dad as “the babysitter,” we undersell the role & reinforce gender stereotypes. We manipulate & limit expectations. And I believe this has real consequences for our families, our relationships & our communities.
When dads don’t have to be parents, moms continue to take on an unfair share of parenting duties. When dads are occasional babysitters, moms drop out of the workforce. When daddy daycare is all we expect, women (& men) are deprived of real choices regarding family life.
It sounds cute, but these descriptors of fatherhood stifle the conversations around more equal parenting & work-life balance. They end up shaping our realities whether we mean them to or not.
Not to mention the fact that all this gendered talk is particularly obnoxious to families with less conventional configurations. For families where mom is the primary breadwinner, for families with two dads, for single dads, this is cringe-worthy talk that keeps dads awkwardly on the sidelines at the playground or at parent-school associations.
When dads are just parents, they don’t need to be reminded to be dads (even if, just like moms, they might need to be reminded to engage in imaginative play every once in a while). And moms don’t need to make excuses for them or belittle them.
If we can change the conversation, we might just be able to change attitudes toward parenthood. This requires not judging our co-parenting partners (if we have them). And it requires changing the way we talk about parenting.