It happens innocently. At a gathering with friends and family, my son will fall down and then immediately begin searching for his dad to pick him up and make everything better. It doesn’t matter if I’m nearby, I’m not usually who he wants in that moment.
Until I launched The Back-Up Parent, we hadn’t explicitly talked about our parenting roles to friends and family. I think people who spend a fair amount of time with us probably see us as pretty damn equal in our parenting roles. And we are — a 60/40 split is about as close as you can get. The only catch is that the 60% refers to my husband, and the 40% refers to me. When people realize that, they aren’t sure what to think.
They say things like, “That boy sure loves his daddy” and “Aw, he’s going through a daddy phase.” It doesn’t add up for them that Brecken might prefer his dad because his dad is the default parent — not his mom.
This mentality is antiquated. But it will NEVER stop existing if we don’t do something about it. We shouldn’t be shocked to see a dad take on a bigger role for his kids then just coming home from work late and riling them up before bed. We shouldn’t be shocked when a man changes a baby’s diaper while the family is out to dinner. And we certainly shouldn’t continue to frame dads as “mom’s helpers” or “babysitters.”
So why does the default role automatically fall to mom?
The simple answer is, moms are the ones who get pregnant and birth babies. They connect with their children in the womb, long before the dad can even feel them kick. The have to prepare physically and emotionally for the baby in ways that dads just… don’t. It’s not fair to the men who really do want to be 50-50 parents, but it’s not something we can change, either.
But the simple answer isn’t the only answer in this situation.
The other answer is that gender norms affect us every single day, whether we realize it or not. And parenting is no different. Gender norms can be defined as “standards and expectations to which women and men generally conform” or “ideas about how women and men should be and act.”
These stereotypes start at such a young age. We perpetuate it when we only buy blue toys for boys and pink ones for girls. When boys play with soccer balls and water guns, while we give girls play kitchens and baby dolls.
Our world has changed dramatically since the 1950s. Back then, there was obviously no Internet. No smart phones. No GPS. Diet soda and TV remotes had just been invented. Can you imagine life without those things??? I sure can’t.
Our day-to-day lives are insanely different than they were back then, yet we still hold onto some of the “standards” and stereotypes set in this era. When the men worked and made the decisions, and the women stayed home with the kids, cooking and cleaning into oblivion.
[Side note to the people who will inevitably read this post and think I’m bashing SAHMs: If you are happy being a stay-at-home mom, that is 100% okay. YOU get to make that decision for YOURSELF. But, if you don’t want to be a SAHM, that is also 100% okay. Read my blog on this topic.]
I’m here to challenge these gender norms for several reasons:
- They aren’t fair. If neither parent wants to give up their career, then they both need to be working their butts off at home, too. Even if mom does stay home, it certainly doesn’t give dad a pass to forgo participating in parenting unless it’s convenient for him.
- They aren’t good enough. Simply put, we don’t hold men accountable to be the husbands and dads we need them to be. As a society, we finally saw progress toward that accountability with the #metoo and #timesup movements. And I’m so thankful for those. But that was the tip of the iceberg. The work has barely begun.
- Our kids deserve better. We don’t give children enough credit for how emotionally intelligent they are from a very young age. They pick up on so much of the world around us, including how dad treats mom. How grandpa treats grandma. How the man at the restaurant treats the woman he’s sitting next to. But if we right those wrongs now, we will raise men who ARE good enough– instead of trying to reverse learned gender norms and stereotypes later on.
Are there other reasons you want to challenge gender norms? Drop a line below.