In a cultural climate where urban populations are beginning to emphasize diversity, inclusion & equality, you would think that gender roles are becoming less distinct and the lines are more blurred. Are they really? Theoretically, maybe. Realistically? We have a long way to go. On a recent momcation to Cabo, the sun shone on our face, the birds chirped in the sky, and our drinks bobbed in the pool. It was the hotel staff and guests that splashed us with a harsh dose of reality. Within the two-day span of being there, they peppered us with questions bordering on the dubious/incredulous. “A vacation? For just you moms? Where are your husbands? Who is watching your children?” I wouldn’t categorize the reaction as necessarily negative, but the popular sentiment was a true sense of bewilderment. It seemed absolutely absurd that our husbands alone could be handling the babies. How will they survive? Do they have help? Will they know what to do?
This sentiment seems entirely understandable (albeit not appropriate) for our parents’ generation before us. In this day and age, however, while education encourages roles and responsibilities across career, family, household management, financial decisions, and hobbies to be more fluid and interchangeable, how many couples/families feel like there is an equal split or division of labor? Is this idea actually implemented in most households or is it merely an ideal that we theoretically strive towards? Are people inherently still following an archaic practice or is this belief an actuality across most demographics? If it’s the former, why is this so and what can we actionably do to drive change?
My friend (half) joked that her baby skips at least one meal when she’s at home with dad. My mom’s colleague told her that when she was away, her husband fed the kids Rice Krispies (aka air) for three days. Most American media depicts fathers as aloof and incompetent, and in doing so, are doing them and society a huge disservice. Mothers may have more of a natural bond with their babies, inarguably so. Some fathers understandably have a harder time actually bonding with their babies until they move past the spit up and sleepy stages. When it comes to sheer skills of taking care of another human being, however, mothers and fathers are no more or less qualified. Yet, the majority of mothers I have spoken to all agree that the split on childcare responsibilities isn’t even close to 50% shared. Why is this so? Fathers know how to forecast annual revenue for work but are they unable to forecast when formula is running low to proactively order more? Fathers surely have competing priorities and projects that require multi-tasking at work, but are they unable to cook dinner and hold a crying baby at the same time? How is it possible for them to memorize sequencing of an important presentation but it’s impossible for them to remember their kid’s schedule?
Society ironically has told us that men are superior when it’s women nowadays who manage a full time career, a full time parent, and a full time household. Perhaps it’s social stigma that intimidates us to think that mothers and fathers are not equally suited. However, I see fathers out and about with their kids all the time. Pushing them on swings or grabbing groceries. I see elderly women offering praise and gold stars for taking care of the children that they helped procreate. (I don’t see women being offered anything other than a double standard when they join the workforce and face obstacles, criticism and reproach, but I digress).
What we need now is education and mobilization for our counterparts. We hear of mom tribes and “it takes a village.” We’re told that we should empower other moms and that our relatable experiences bring us closer together. What has society done for fathers in this same regard? Where are the FB groups of support and encouragement? Where are the dad dates and the conversations re common ground? If there is such a steep learning curve for fathers, why is this not taught at a younger age? Schools are placing an emphasis on useless curriculum such as calculating the common denominator instead of using common sense on these necessary life skills that promote greater family values and overall happiness. Society has told fathers that this is not their sphere of influence. It can be and it should be.
Moms can be notorious for being helicoptery and hovery. Dads can encourage more independence and exploration. They can empower creativity and unstructured play. When I take my toddler to the grocery store, I race against the clock before my daughter has the chance to insist on more snacks and touch everything in sight. When my husband takes her, they meander through the aisles, as he teaches her about the different spices, fruits and vegetables. She quite possibly was the only two year old who knew the word “kumquat” before she knew ketchup. They offer fresh perspectives and parenting styles that are more freeing. Their approaches and tips should be shared and celebrated as best practices, because they lend insight that others can learn from in an entirely new way. Give your children the benefit of reaping as many positives from both sets of parents, so they can truly embody their best selves. Maybe also give them a side of broccoli and pasta with their Rice Krispies.