Your parenting club membership comes with an invisible package of privileges that we all are guilty of using at times: “Oh, I wish we could, but little Sarah has a thing that weekend. This parenting gig is 24/7 you know.”
What about within the club? A man sharing parenting responsibilities with his partner is often portrayed as some kind of mythical, awe-inspiring unicorn; a woman who changes the oil for the family car is depicted as a badass domestic diva.
In reality, it all has to get done and someone has to do it. Pick something from the infinite to-do list that matches your individual skill set, slap a gold sticker on the poster, and bam — you’re a rock star. Now get back to work. These kids aren’t going to raise themselves.
Yes, of course we should celebrate and respect any parent who is giving and resourceful, but can we please stop giving out trophies for showing up?
It doesn’t matter if you are married, divorced or single co-parents. In 2015, it remains perfectly acceptable to hear people refer to a man alone with his children as “babysitter.” Excuse me? They are his kids. How about a woman coaching her kids’ soccer team? Stop telling her she’s the man for stepping up.
As a divorced mother who shares custody, I’ve had to examine my own assumptions about parenting gender roles and expectations. I continue to own my self-imposed guilt and attempt to dismantle it like a boss. I’ve also learned I can’t demand equality and then invoke Mommy executive override privileges when it’s convenient.
Even while married (and before kids), I bristled at the fact there appeared to be expectations of what I was responsible for as the wife. If the house was clean and organized, to the outside world I was simply doing my job. If it was a chaotic mess, clearly, I needed help with balance and priorities.
So what if I had a full-time job that required an hour commute each way? According to most women’s magazines, and some well-meaning friends, I should be eternally grateful for a “good” husband who helps vacuum, prepare meals and shop for groceries. There were days I felt like I was trapped in a vintage 1980s Enjoli perfume commercial: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan — and never let you forget you’re a man!”
Once I had a child, the expectations reached a whole new level. I had just given birth to my son without so much as an aspirin. I was hell-bent on being a maternal warrior, queen of breastfeeding and the attachment parenting spokeswoman (my reality 10 years later is I’m the reigning matriarch of Pinterest fails, but I can defrost frozen pipes under the house with a hairdryer).
There was a major problem early on with my supermom plan — my precious baby boy missed the memo. He wouldn’t latch on. The excruciating pain convinced me a stealth nipple ninja had attacked me with a machete. My breasts were engorged, our newly arrived little prince was borderline jaundiced and the electric pump became my new best friend. We left the lactation consultant’s office with instructions for me to sleep, pump and his Dad to feed him with a syringe.
Suddenly, my entire sense of self-worth was on the line. The stench of failure was more intense than the poop-incubating diaper genie proudly displayed next to the wipes warmer (it should be noted that before the arrival of child number two all of that was trashed, including a book on how to make your own baby food).
Our little guy never did catch on. I pumped milk for nine months that he could consume from a bottle. I was jealous of that rugged, durable, factory-made nipple he adored — but that was trivial compared to the undeserved resentment I felt toward his non-milk-producing nippled father.
In my mind, he was stealing my mommy moment — my masochistic martyrdom. How could I be the all sacrificing, selfless mother I imagined while sleeping for an entire night? Even worse, Daddy was hailed as a hero for “taking over” while I was trying to recover.
After the feeding crisis, I was pissed as I sat there hooked up to a milking machine like a heifer, watching his father waltz in to deliver the goods. Eventually, I demanded both jobs.
My resentment grew as I began to feel that members of the Daddy club had privileges I didn’t:
- If your children are a mess, clearly, their mother is a slacker.
- Taking a day off to care for sick kids? Congratulations, you’re next in line for sainthood.
- Is that selfish mother of your children having a girls’ night out? You just earned your Daddy of the Year badge and a free fishing weekend pass.
- Did you vacuum all by yourself? You’re a gem — a priceless commodity that should be revered.
- That meal you prepared is like Thanksgiving in July. You can’t be human.
- You share custody? You are now president of the parenting club. That heartless ex-wife that agreed to your heroic request should be stoned at town hall. It’s “unnatural” for mothers to be away from their children for extended periods of time.
- You braid hair, bake a killer lemon cookie and the kids are clean. You truly are a renaissance man.
If you think I am overreacting, just imagine it reversed:
You are such a good mother — that’s great you are woman enough to help cook, clean and take care of the kids. What the hell does he do all day, anyway? Isn’t he on paternity leave? Oh, and he has really let himself go. When does he plan to tackle that baby weight?
Okay, clearly that doesn’t apply across the board. Married, divorced, or single, there are lots of men who carry their equal part of the parenting load enthusiastically. In fact, they are downright offended when folks act like they are superheroes for doing so — as they should be.
If parenting is a job, I think we still have a long way to go toward gender equality. In this workplace, the kids are the equal opportunity employers and they don’t really care who does what as long as it’s done with love.