On mom boards, I’ve been hearing from moms wondering how to get dads to pitch in more, particularly in the child-rearing department. They’re stay-at-home moms with husbands who expect them to handle the kids, or working moms who come home from work only to do even more work around the house. They’re not sure how to get their partners to ease some of the burden from their shoulders.
I’m not surprised with this situation. Women are seen as the nurturing gender, the caregivers of the family (maybe that’s why most schools, hospitals or single-income families I’ve seen tend to have female teachers, female nurses, and stay-at-home moms). Some parenting books even have a section “just for dad,” insinuating that most parenting falls on mom and, oh hey, dad can be involved too. SSBE reader (and dad) Chris from Babies and Dogs posted an article describing a parenting book with just that kind of section:
My favorite lines are in the “Your Young Toddler” section of “Dad’s Role.” Here it advises you to take your toddler to the park, to the pool, on a walk around the block, and to the bathtub (all activities that give Mom a break, I might add).
At a park it advises that, “While playing at the park, some safety rules have to be followed. Your toddler is still learning to walk, so she may not be as good a climber as you think she is.” ‘Cause let’s face it, Dad’s are idiots.
Apparently even parenting experts consider dads as a byline, a helping hand. Time-wise, I spend more time with our toddler, but effort-wise, my husband and I expend the same amount and equally co-parent LO.
Yet even with a willing husband, there have been times when I wasn’t always so eager to unburden my duties. I remember a particular day when LO was several months old. We were heading out the door, and without thinking, I grabbed the baby, the diaper bag and my own purse. I walked straight to the garage door, fumbling at my keys and trying to reach the doorknob, all the while carrying the baby and my bundles when my husband, “Let me do it.” I didn’t even stop to think that he could open the door too, particularly since he wasn’t carrying the baby.
We talked about that incident later that night, and he pointed out that he wants to do more, especially if I’m clearly struggling with a heavy load (literally). Until that point, I hadn’t even realized that 1) I was trying to do everything myself, and 2) my husband wanted to and could share the burden as well. I remembered to let go of many responsibilities I automatically assumed. I don’t have to do everything, don’t want to do everything, and that I have a husband whom I was shutting out of the parenting role.
Since I spent more time with the baby, I grew quite adept at handling things—I’ve carried the baby, diaper bag and my purse while fumbling for keys to open the garage door—alone, often and successfully. So I had to consciously remind myself that when my husband is around, I needed to step back, share the load, and give him the opportunity to care for his son as well. I needed to let him do things his way and parent the way he wanted to as well.
Thankfully we are more often than not a tag-team extraordinaire. We’ve assumed dad- and mom-designated chores, so that I tend to pack our toddler’s main lunch and snacks while he fills the sippy cups and roasts the sweet potatoes. I put on LO’s pajamas while he reads to him. It’s nice not to have to wonder whose turn it is to give him a bath or to keep score. But we still share plenty of roles interchangeably as well (I don’t think either one of us want to have sole responsibility for changing diapers).
I want my toddler to know that his dad is just as invested in him as his mom is. He sees me more than his dad (which is probably even more true for kids of stay-at-home moms) but he knows that his dad has equal parental authority over and love for him. When kids witness their dads willingly chop up their food, do their laundry and sing them lullabies, they’ll hopefully grow up and be yet another generation that will blur gender lines when it comes to parental duties (and for this reason, I applaud stay-at-home dads and their partners most of all for paving the way).
I’m thankful that my husband will gladly don the parenting badge and assume its duties, both good and bad. He has even worn the Moby Wrap (“Why did you have to pick beige?” he asked. “Couldn’t you have chosen black instead?”). Life at home is just so much smoother when we work as a team. I don’t have to do everything; I have a hands-on dad—a co-parent—as my partner in crime.
How do you and your partner work together? Do you find the workload more or less balanced or tilted to one parent? Stay-at-home dads, have your thoughts on parental roles changed now that you are the one who stays home with the kids?
- The “right way” toddlers should play
- My toddler prefers mom over dad
- Honoring the impulse: saying yes before no