By: Julie Gamberg
I have a confession to make.
(And believe me, no one is more tired of Mommy Confessions than I am. Mommy Confessions tend to give the illusion of opening the door to honest communication about the real challenges of parenting, but instead they wind up being a false apologia for bad parental practices disguised as shame but actually playing a who-can-be-more-funny about hurting children while secretly thinking of oneself as the hero of the story because of the confessional itself (definitely a column for another day). I digress.)
I don’t have enough men in my life. Or I should say, in my daughter’s life. And I wish that were different. It’s not that I don’t give credence to the idea of the importance of male role models in a child’s life because I do. It’s that … it’s that … and here is the real confession: When I think of parental figure role models who we know, almost all of whom are parents themselves, I usually like how women parent much better than how men parent. Egads! I said it!
Now let me just say (hello, friends!), I know of at least half a dozen straight families of which I am blown away by how thoughtfully the male partner parents. But in most straight families I know, the mother is doing so much more of the heavy lifting and so much more of the thoughtful, careful parenting. And worse than that, and heartbreaking to see, I often see fathers who hinder good parenting with impatience – who would rather quickly fix a problem than try to understand what’s going on – and with a lack of sustained time, energy, and attention to issues of parenting, or to their children.
And this is not just limited to fathers I personally know. I have overheard dads talking at the playground or park, or before or after children’s classes and programs. They seem to studiously avoid discussion of childrearing, and if their talk does stray into that realm, they quickly turn to issues of equipment, such as stroller comparisons, or to reporting on their child’s latest feat, and then just as quickly move back to a non-parenting related topic.
I am also on several online parenting boards, and they are primarily filled with mothers. These mothers are seeking peer advice and resources about important and necessary questions related to, say, the nutritional and sleep needs of their children, or how to solve important and pressing family issues. I realize that some of these women are stay at home moms whose primary occupation is parenting and/or the maintenance of the domestic sphere. But many of the women are also working full-time outside of the home and still make time to focus on parenting issues. Yet I almost never see men on these boards in spite of some boards reaching out specifically to men.
I do realize that many women are terrible parents and many men are wonderful parents. However, I am talking here about a larger trend, not individual cases. And in the larger scheme of things, men are not prioritizing parenting.
These men are not bad people. Many are good, wonderful, smart people. And I hear from some of these men too that they feel criticized by women for their failure to be more involved with their children or their failure to parent better (or as they see it, parent more like the other partner wants, which is not necessarily better). These men often express something along the lines of: Give me a break! They want a break from the relentless criticism which is taken as demoralizing and harsh, and brings up feelings of hurt and anger. Of course that would not be fun for anyone.
A long-distance friend of mine, a very enlightened straight father, talks about how people often critique or offer his wife advice when she is out with the kids no matter how well things are going. Yet when he goes out with the kids, he can be practically dangling them by the feet and he usually gets very positive responses … “Oh, look at the great dad!” So society tells women they cannot do enough for their children and tells men they are heroes for simply walking around the block with their children. No wonder it sounds so harsh when women in a relationship try to tell their men otherwise. No one wants to go from hero to villain in the blink of an eye. And the walking around the block hero narrative is so much more appealing. Who wouldn’t want to be seen that way? Yet it isn’t honest.
And it’s important for women who co-parent with men to be honest about the amount of work involved in parenting, and that we as a society work toward shifting our sensibility about women’s and men’s responsibilities toward their children.
Our culture, particularly the perpetuation of patriarchy, hurts these poor clueless-seeming men as much as these beleaguered-seeming women. I would like to see things be different.
What would I like to see?
1. Women demanding and expecting equal partnership in parenting with men.
2. Women, straight women in particular, having children on their own if they can’t find a responsible, giving man with whom to co-parent.
3. Men stepping up and opening themselves up to the time-consuming hard work and attendant joy that is thoughtful parenting.
Is this just an extended male bash? I hope not. Men are acculturated to function in the world so differently from how women are acculturated. They’re taught to take action, to gently let things slide in social relationships, to be comfortable in their bodies and in taking up space, to be courageous, to endeavor to fix problems. Those are all qualities I would like my daughter to be exposed to and to learn from.
I just hope that as some of us are teaching a new generation of girls to take on more traditionally male characteristics, that we’re teaching a new generation of boys to prioritize communication, emotions, and relationships, to be willing to sit with a problem or difficulty before acting, to be vulnerable, and to respect the space of others – so that the next generation of men feel comfortable and at ease with the role of good parent.
To those men who are already are good parents: I salute you. And hope you’ll come hang out with my daughter.
[Photo Credit: Flickr Image: Disgustipado]