I made the mistake.
I was at my sister’s house having brunch with her husband, our brother, and my pregnant girlfriend. My sister was telling us about an evening out the night before. And that’s when I said it to her husband…
“So you had to stay home and babysit?”
I said it to give him credit, but I knew I was wrong before I even finished the sentence. I cringed as the words came out of my mouth.
By staying at home caring for his kids, my brother-in-law wasn’t babysitting.
He was parenting.
I hardly finished the words before my girlfriend gave me the ‘look’. It wasn’t a second after that my sister started explaining that it’s not babysitting just because it’s a man doing the job.
I apologized the next day through text because I was too embarrassed to at the time.
And the worst part about this interaction? I’m a feminist. I know better.
The bottom line: Dads aren’t lesser parents (and we shouldn’t treat them like they are).
All hell will not break loose when dad takes over. The very idea is degrading and sexist. The notion that dads are lesser parents is a stereotype that society keeps playing over and over again.
And we see it every day…
- At pre-natal checkups when healthcare professionals only make eye contact with the mother-to-be, and don’t include the father in the conversation.
- In mainstream media, marketing, and hollywood movies where dads are treated like parenting arm-candy.
- At work, with no one expecting dads to take more than a couple weeks parental leave.
- During pregnancy when our friends and family focus solely on the mother-to-be
(the stereotype here is that dads are blasé about becoming parents).
- And we see it in our partners when they refuse to share the emotional toll of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding just because we are male.
For all these reasons and more, what I’m about to tell you is crucial…
There are huge cognitive, social, and emotional benefits to children when dad’s are treated (and act) like equal parents (not to mention all the perks it has on the parent’s relationship).
Children with involved dads:
- Develop higher IQs and better problem-solving skills
- Do better in school
- Have higher self-esteem and confidence
- Are better empathizers
- And are more resilient and well-adjusted later in life
So that’s why breaking down stereotypes and welcoming men into parenting is so important.
Because if we don’t, our kids will suffer.
So this is a call to action to all parents, men and women. We need to do better.
As dads, we need to step up and start parenting harder. That means doing the things we might shy away from. We need to schedule dentist and doctor appointments. We need to do the shopping and meal planning. And we definitely need to do more laundry!
As moms, it would help if you opened the ‘parenting door’ to us. We can do the things you do, but we might need a little encouragement and support.
Dads can raise their parenting prestige by doing these three things:
- Believe that you are capable and irreplaceable (and not just an extra set of hands to help mom out). It’s super important for dads to realize that they have the same parent-potential as their female counterpart. And it’s true. Science shows that dads are just as good as mothers at recognizing their baby’s unique cries, for example.
- Don’t let gender stereotypes shape your parenting role, especially if you are a dad with a daughter. Because research suggests that dads who are more egalitarian tend to raise daughters with higher workplace aspirations. And let’s be honest, men’s attitudes towards household chores need to catch up with the times
- Engage and take responsibility. This applies to almost all areas of parenting. Most things can be learned. And many people learn quickest by doing. So just get in there and do it.
Here’s how moms can help dads:
- Share the primary parenting role (stop ‘mother gatekeeping’ as it’s sometimes called). Sometimes women can be reluctant to let their partners ‘in’ because they’re worried dads won’t do it right, or might do it better. Or sometimes, moms fear that sharing responsibility could somehow lessen their own connection to the kids. Whatever it is, if this is you, stop worrying and be more inclusive.
- Don’t be too critical. Parenting is a skill that takes time to learn. It’s not going to help if all you do is criticize. It’s fine to offer some suggestions, but for the most part, let them figure it out…What’s the worst that could happen?
- Offer encouragement. This one is important because we love being appreciated. Especially from the one we love.
But what about if you’re not a parent? What can you do?
Just say “no” to gender roles and parenting stereotypes.
That means not going into a frenzy when you notice a dad baby-talking, playing, or just wearing his kid in a sling. Men are parents too. Dads parenting and interacting with their children should not be novel. Don’t perpetuate this stereotype by acting like it is.
And on the flip side, these things shouldn’t be overlooked when they’re done by a woman.
If you really want to acknowledge how impressed you are with someone’s parenting prowess, then give credit where credit is due (i.e., to both parents if they’re doing a great job). Praise for parenting shouldn’t depend on your gender.
We know that there are massive benefits to getting and keeping dads involved.
So let’s work together to raise society’s expectations for dads as parents. Let’s make it feel normal for dads to be the primary caregivers, the nurturers, the stay-at-home parent, and the ones who their kids run to when they skin their knee.
And let’s definitely stop saying things like “Dad’s on babysitting duty tonight” when he parents alone. Because that will not get society closer to parenting equality.
Do you want to see change, too?
Do you think:
- Dads should be treated as equal parents?
- Gender roles and parenting stereotypes need to stop?
- Moms deserve more support?
Then SHARE this article and help raise our parenting standards.
And remember, the next time you notice a dad being “cute” by doing his job as a parent, don’t call him out on it. Just smile and keep on walking. He’ll appreciate not being a spectacle.