Monday, May 25, 2009

Subtle Messages of Lower Expectations for Fathers

My family was at the zoo a couple weeks ago. It was a balmy Houston day and I was wearing our newborn in a moby wrap, my wife and I taking turns pulling the wagon with the older two daughters in it. We were watching some kind of smaller monkey as it carried its newborn baby on its stomach. I felt strangely primal watching it, admiring how natural it was to wear the baby instead of push it along in a stroller. We were finishing up a pleasant visit with the orangutans when I woman remarked to my wife, "Now that's an attractive husband!" Hehe, haha, we moved on. But the same thing kept happening. And it always happens when the whole family is out and I wear the baby, which is about half the time; people constantly make remarks about how awesome I am for wearing my youngest daughter. And for whatever reason, it's always moms and it's always presented as if I am somehow desirable because I yeild to carrying my baby.

And the half when my wife wears her? No guys hit on her, no women give her high-five, the baby receives her customary compliments, but my wife doesn't get the ego boost that I do.
It is a bit of an ego boost, too. I was never accostomed to walking about getting compliments or being called attractive.

Juging from my experience, it is expected that a woman should take care of a baby and it is above the call of duty for a husband to help out. That is also reflected in the incongruency of baby changing stations in bathrooms--about half of the time, there will be a baby changing table in the women's room but not in the men's.

The woman grows the baby and births the baby, I get that. And my wife nurses our babies, too. But since when does it become her charge to take care of every aspect of babyhood? I'm bigger and stronger, why wouldn't it make more sense for me to wear the baby than my wife?

What bothers me most is this: These women who gush over an involved father could easily have chosen that quality in a mate. If they find it so attractive that a husband should take care of a baby, why didn't they find that kind of guy attractive in the first place? I'm asking because I want to know.

It comes down to this: parenting (and marriage in general) is not a 50/50 thing; it's a 100/100 thing. Both parents need to give everything they have. It's not a matter of trying to get out of things easily, or pawning responsibilities on others. You give it all that you have. And when you have nothing to give, you trust that your partner's engine is still running. When you can get back on your feet, hop up.

Hidden within those very nice compliments that I get for being a father is the hidden code: our society doesn't expect as much from fathers. Low expectations create low performance. But being a parent isn't about performance, it's about joy. It is a pleasure to be involved with your children, and fathers shouldn't let mothers have all the fun!


Cassie said...

Gary concurs.
My husband and I have noticed this for years. The first time we were both shocked at ourselves: We saw a dad alone with his kid at McDonalds eating then playing and we both went on about how awesome that way. Then, we started talking about why did that strike us so much more than the other 10,000 mothers in there with their kids.

Nicki said...

I have a baby-wearing hubby too and not only did I notice this but I also noticed a bit of judgment coming my way from other Moms. Like I was a slacker or somehow not living up to my obligations as mom by "forcing" my hubby to carry the babe. I don't know if it was jealousy or what but it was pretty shocking and definitely highlighted the differences in expectations by gender.

se7en said...

I have to comment... I also would love to know why in this world where everything is so "apparently equal" if I go out and leave the kids at home with their dad... my husband is said to be "babysitting" but when I stay home and look after kids well: that's just parenting! He changes a nappy (diaper) and he is a catch, I change ten thousand nappies and I am a mom. Too weird really this strange double standard... but I kind of like that my husband gets some glory he is a great dad and I am glad I caught him!

Tracy said...

I was at a pyagroup and a couple of mums were commenting their husbands never got up in the night to the baby. I asked what was wrong with their elbow? I often elbow Pete when it's his turn to get up to the baby. They were amazed I was so demanding of my husband!
I think women don't let men help out as much as they should maybe they feel that parenting is their 'turf'and by sharing it with their husbands it somehow makes them less of a mother?
My husband often carries our bubs in the sling and as you say he's stronger than me it makes sense. Plus he loves doing it :) I get lots of cuddles when I feed them and carrying them is his chance to have a cuddle.

Shaina said...

As one who grew up with a very disconnected dad--our only bonding time is when he takes me to the movies or watches tv shows with me that my mom won't watch--i always feel a twinge of envy when i see dads playing with their kids, taking them fun places, etc. i always wanted a dad that would take me ice skating or try and get me to kick a ball around. you can be sure that's something i will make sure my future husband is interested in before i commit to him!

Chelsea said...

I think there is a backlash these days of dads feeling they have to go the other direction: to be the ones involved in all the activities just for the sake of recognition. So, it's all about being genuine about it.

I do get annoyed, though, when my hubby says he gets tons of attention when he goes grocery shopping with our son in the cart. I must look like just another frazzled mom when I shop, but a dad looks "cute." A definite double standard that needs to be rectified within each family before there can be a societal shift.