November 24, 2014 — How many of you have heard, “Oh is dad babysitting the kids today?” Or, “Isn’t it sweet that dad is spending time with the baby today at the park?” How many of you have seen dads get special looks or attention at the grocery store, at the playground, or at a restaurant? Or even better, receive unsolicited “advice” from strangers or even family and friends about how to change a diaper, give a bottle, try to get a child to behave, etc.?
As a new parent and one whose husband is currently the primary caregiver, we hear this and much more. We also encounter hostile environments: men’s restrooms without changing tables and restaurants and stores without family restrooms (just one without is one too many!), not to mention open stares from people when dad is the one changing or caring for the baby in the first place.
I’m constantly asking myself, why? Here we are in 2014, and according to a recent New York Times article, paternity leave (also called partner or primary caregiver leave) is the norm at some large organizations. Also, according to some research the number of SAHD (stay-at-home-dads) is on the rise. And even dads who work outside the home are more involved in their children’s lives than they were in previous generations. Yet when we see dads participating, we somehow view this as an anomaly, one worth extra attention and special looks?
According to research compiled by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, having involved and active parents increases a child’s success, and having a responsible father enriches children’s academic lives and reduces disciplinary issues. And more frequent interactions with parents at an early age—through activities like reading, telling stories, playing—contributes significantly to a child’s language and literacy development. Or, in the case of my husband, interacting by sharing all of your own childhood favorites, such as The Letter People and Mr. Men and Little Miss books, He-Man cartoons, and classic Universal Monsters characters!
I hope we can agree that these are all good things.
So when will the tides turn? Will brows continue to rise when dads are standing next to the kids at the bus stop? Or when they are the ones changing the diapers in the family restroom? How about when they show up to help in the classroom or volunteer at PTA meetings? Rather than paying special attention to these actions, do what you would do if you saw a woman in the situation: not think twice about it. Not make a big deal of it. Not call special attention to these typical parenting moments.
Only then will society stop thinking of dads as the “other,” rather than an important parental figure and equal partner.