The double standard of “missing out on kids’ childhood”

One of the reasons moms weigh the decision whether to resume working or stay home with the baby is the feeling that we’ll miss out on his childhood. I understand this sentiment—when I was pregnant, I wanted to find any way to stay at home with the baby so that I could spend more time with him. With most working people clocking in some nine hours at the office plus whatever commute they have, time seems limited when you only get to see your kid a few hours of the day.

This discussion isn’t anything new. We moms discuss all this and more: Some women battle with working mom guilt. Others have to weigh whether to sacrifice potential career growth in lieu of being more available for our kids. And more of us struggle to balance motherhood and careers and having it all (as Taiia My Brown Baby writes).

But this isn’t a discussion on staying at home versus working, or who exactly is “raising our kids” when we go back to work, or whether or not we could truly balance motherhood and careers, or even whether we’re really missing out on our kids’ childhoods to begin with.

Instead, I want to talk about the double standard: Why don’t we ask these same questions of dads?

The decision to go back to work or stay at home often falls on the mother’s shoulders, but in this era where women work just as much as men, we still expect men to continue working while women are the ones to decide whether they need to go back to work or stay at home.

Maybe there’s some sort of biological, evolutionary explanation to this. Maybe women are the more nurturing of the gender and therefore would feel more inclined to consider staying at home. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

But whenever I hear moms bemoaning other moms for missing out on their kids’ childhood or pitying working moms because someone else is raising their kids, I can’t help but wonder about their husbands and think, “Does that mean then that your husbands are missing out on your kids’ childhood?” We don’t tsk tsk when dads work and only see their kids a few hours of the day just as working moms do, yet we create this guilt trap on moms and place the decision on ourselves when maybe we need to start including dads in this equation.

There’s no doubt that someone has to work. Rare is the situation where both parents can avoid working for a few years. Perhaps the next closest arrangement is where both parents work from home and take turns in caring for the kids, as a former coworker of mine did. But more often than not, at least one parent brings in an income.

But why do we assume dads will continue to work regardless of having children or not? Why don’t dads debate whether they should take a sabbatical for a few years, or choose the path of homemaker while mom brings in the bucks? Maybe we’re still too fresh from the generations where dads work and moms stay home. Or maybe it really is that biological makeup that defines genders and drives women to want to be with their kids more so than men.

Nonetheless, we need to do a better job about balancing these expectations nowadays. When moms make a decision to go back to work or not, that discussion needs to include dads too. Maybe we need to discuss how both parents feel about going back to work, and which situation works best for both mom and dad instead of making this a “mom and career” issue.

Thankfully no one has yet to tsk tsk me about my decision to work or wonder how on earth I could be missing out on my toddler’s childhood (hint: I’m not). I’m pretty sure no one has ever wondered the same question of my husband. I actually thought about this topic mostly from reading mom boards, and how easily we pity working moms for missing out on said childhood or burden ourselves with the decision to work or not, as we are the only ones who should be weighing our options. Maybe that’s why we hardly hear about “working dad guilt.”

Before we feel bad for moms missing out on their kids’ childhood, let’s consider whether we would feel just as bad for dads as well.

Have you wondered if dads miss out on kids’ childhood just as much as moms?

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“Are dads the new moms?”: The generation of hands-on fatherhood

"Are dads the new moms?": The generation of hands-on fatherhood
Dads have raised the ante with the role of fatherhood. While I’ve seen plenty of dads at park outings, I’m seeing more and more of them taking an active role in the daily routine. On Facebook, my dad friends post blurbs about helping with homework or taking their kids to the doctor’s appointment. In my own home, my husband isn’t merely the occasional babysitter and instead feeds, bathes, and regularly interacts with our toddler. And recently, my brother—long known for packing his daughters’ lunches, doing their laundry and playing ridiculous games with them—proudly proclaimed, “I know how to do a French braid!”

Welcome to the new dad: men who no longer see themselves merely as husbands or providers, but have stepped up their game as amazing fathers.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal writer Susan Gregory Thomas asks, Are dads the new moms? She writes:

Whether it is because today’s men were raised amid the women’s movement of the 1970s, or because they themselves experienced the costs of that era’s absent fathers, there is little question that the age of dads as full partners in parenting has arrived.

I’ve long since been a fan of hands-on dads for several reasons:

  • When more dads want to be the primary caregiver just as much as women want to be the company CEO will we truly blur the gender lines often found at home and in the workplace.
  • In dual-income families, women end up assuming not only the role of the income-earner but often the role of child-care provider alone.
  • Kids benefit from having an active relationship with their dads, whether through stronger bonds with both parents or a less fearful view of the disciplinarian dad.

I’m excited that dads are stepping up to the plate. With both mom and dad attempting to balance it all, perhaps we’ll see a cultural shift that will support working parents as they attempt to create a healthy work/life balance. And to all the awesome SSBE dad readers: Happy Father’s Day! My hats off to you on this well-deserved day of yours.

What role does your partner play in your family? How does dad balance career, marriage and fatherhood? What was your father’s role growing up, and how has it affected your own perceptions of fatherhood?

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Weekend links and our spring time carrots

Weekend links and harvested carrots
If that carrot doesn’t look mighty huge and impressive… it’s because it’s not. The carrots measured a mere four or five inches before the roots eventually tailed off, probably looking for more ground that my itty bitty pot couldn’t offer.

I’m still not deterred from gardening! In fact, we already pulled a few from the soil and cooked a shrimp stir-fry as well as baked a dozen carrot cupcakes—my first time baking with LO, believe it or not. More importantly, LO was able to witness carrots being pulled from the ground, so hopefully he understands the process of seed-to-vegetable and that food doesn’t just appear magically at the table.

In fact, I’m so undeterred, I’m on to my next experiment: zucchini. Ambitious? Yes. But according to the lady at the garden center (who I hope wasn’t just trying to sell me a packet of seeds), zucchini should be able to grow in my pot.

This time I’ll make sure to add a ton of soil. Hopefully the zucchini will have better luck than the carrots. And hey, I can always hide my mistakes in zucchini bread.

In the meantime, check out some links I’ve found throughout the web:

  • Ted Talks features Jeffrey Kluger who discusses The sibling bond. According to the site, Kluger “…explores the profound life-long bond between brothers and sisters, and the influence of birth order, favoritism and sibling rivalry.”
  • Finally, The New York Times describes a scene with A child, a gadget, a guest and a question of etiquette. The author asks what you would do if a child’s friend was absorbed with a gadget—an iPad, for instance—the entire time the families were together. Are they interacting with one another? How do you encourage turn-taking? [Edit: I just fixed the link to this article.]

Any tips you can share with yours truly for growing zucchini? What’s growing in your garden right now?

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What to do when your child misses a parent

What to do when your child misses a parent
I’ve mentioned the importance of addressing our kids’ emotions rather than brushing them off, but what happens if the emotion isn’t so apparent?

My toddler has been randomly asking, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I always respond truthfully: “He’s at the office.” I even describe what his dad is doing so that “office” doesn’t seem like just another word that means, “not here.” I wondered where the onslaught of questions was coming from, and figured that he’s noticing his dad’s irregular schedule. Unlike me with my set hours, my husband is working on a tough project these past few months and consequently has had the most irregular 9-to-5 job these days: sometimes he’s home early and some nights he isn’t until after our toddler is asleep. Recently he only saw LO for five minutes in the morning before heading out.

And so the “Where’s Daddy?” questions started popping up. He would ask at random times with no relevance to what we were doing and wouldn’t necessarily ask in any particular tone. Just, “Where’s Daddy?” After a particular day where he kept asking about his dad so much that I finally called my husband to talk to him on the speaker phone, my husband and I discussed what could be going on.

“Maybe that’s his way of saying he misses me,” my husband suggested. And up until he said that, I hadn’t realized that my toddler had no way of expressing “missing” someone. I had always assumed he asked questions to get answers, rather than to convey a particular emotion. He’s aware of emotions like happy, sad, mad and such, but we hadn’t addressed the terrible feeling he must have for missing his dad. At least I get to see my husband in the evenings; my toddler is often fast asleep by the time his dad comes home. In other words, it must hurt not having his dad around.

The worst thing for my husband is that my toddler takes it out on him. Rather than jumping all over his dad when he comes home, LO instead prefers me over his dad and fusses if his dad so much as tries to spend time with him. My husband becomes discouraged, and it’s a terrible cycle that could continue all because they miss each other but my toddler still doesn’t know how to express his hurt from missing him.

The next few times he asked about his dad, I elaborated on the answer. “He’s at the office. Do you miss Daddy? Sometimes it doesn’t feel good when we don’t see Daddy for a long time because he’s not home. That’s called ‘missing’ someone.” He still asks where his dad is, but I noticed that the more I expounded on his emotions, the less likely he was to give his dad some ‘tude. I continued to describe what his dad was doing at work so that he knows it’s not for lack of wanting to be with him that he’s not here. On a recent day off, we even visited him for lunch where LO was able to see his office.

We also give him “placeholders,” like my husband’s watch where he tells LO, “Hold on to Daddy’s watch and keep it safe while I’m gone. When I come home, you can give it back to me.” This helps him know that his dad will absolutely come back and that he’ll see him later. And if my toddler won’t see his dad at night or in the morning, we give him a stuffed toy monkey that he associates with his dad.

In an ideal world, my husband, toddler and I would spend every single day together (well, most days!). But in the meantime, while my husband’s project is still wrapping up, we rely on addressing emotions, placeholders, and plenty of patience and love to help our toddler address the times he misses his dad.

What do you do when your child misses one parent?

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The “right way” toddlers should play

The right way to play-baby swing
My toddler doesn’t always play the “right way.” For instance, he actually complains when I try to sit him in a swing. Instead, he wants to be on the ground so that he can pull the swing, let go and watch it sway back and forth. He has even added a few variations of this game: he’ll grab the swing and pull it out to the side to see it sway left and right instead of forward and back. And each time he does this, he squeals with delight, as if he has just discovered the most entertaining game ever.

This reminded me of a recent comment from SSBE reader Oster’s Mom from Discover and Devour. In my post Libraries do not make good venues for play dates, she writes:

I don’t understand why some librarians are angry with the children when they are playing (or in your case, stacking up books). Isn’t that one of the points of a public library? To engage the children in books? It doesn’t mean they have to ALWAYS read the book. They are exposed to it.

In that post, I mentioned how one of my toddler’s friends spent a good chunk of the time pulling out books from the shelves and stacking them on a table. I considered this perfectly normal; unfortunately the librarian did not, and complained loudly why kids keep doing this. Oster’s Mom brings up a good point that books aren’t meant to be just read. Sure, that’s their primary function, but to a toddler, books offer so much more than reading a story. And in LO’s friend’s case, they offered an opportunity for him to practice pulling objects and stacking a neat pile.

The right way to play-toy fire truck
When my toddler was younger, I used to cringe when I would see him head towards his fire truck but, rather than ride it, he would scrutinize the underside or fiddle with the buttons. He was also fascinated with the seat and would spend several minutes lifting it up and down and placing objects inside. But he hardly rode on it. When his friends came over, they immediately sat on the truck, scuttling their feet and “driving.” “Why isn’t my toddler riding his truck?” my ever so worrisome self asked. “Isn’t this a milestone that he should be able to do?”

I realize now that no, it’s not a milestone, nor is it an indication of anything other than a little boy’s insatiable curiosity about how things work. And sometimes that curiosity requires him to play differently. There are plenty of ways that we encourage him to play “the right way.” For instance, we model the proper way to read books, which is left to right, up to down, because eventually he’ll need this skill when learning how to read. But we don’t step in if he suddenly wants to flip pages back and forth, all in the wrong order, or even use the books as a boogie board (yes, he has done this on our carpet).

I want my toddler to explore a toy and decipher its function himself. If we define how each toy was meant to be played with, he may assume that there’s only one answer to every question, one authority over every possibility. Instead, we don’t want to limit his curiosity. There will always be something to learn—whether it’s mastering object permanence by hiding items inside a truck, or discovering momentum in the pull of a swing.

Do your kids play in unconventional ways?

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