Fathers are not back-up, the help, or the assistant.
In fact, they aren’t adjuncts in any shape or fashion. They are tenured parents with full-time roles and responsibilities, other duties as assigned, and no union rights available. Fathers are parents, not babysitters. And yet I often hear them referred to in these auxiliary roles, as if they are dangling onto a family unit by a mere thread. Sometimes they even jokingly refer to themselves this way: “I’m on dad duty tonight.” I know, I know, it’s sometimes said out of love. But words matter and get stuck deep down in our subconscious and have an impact. “Duty” implies that it’s some sort of unwanted gig and “tonight” sounds like a temporary, obtrusive and interim hang-up. Why?
I know some women feel that the grunt of the housework and child-rearing falls on them as the primary caretaker, and their significant others naturally kind of settle into these sub-roles where they are playing an outfielder position…only jumping in when a random ball rolls their way. In fact, I hear many of my girlfriends complain about the sheer exhaustion and burden of carrying the family on her shoulders.
And let’s get uncomfortably real for a second…some fathers ain’t in the field at all! Yep, sit-the-bench-fathers is a real phenomenon! This reality is partially molded by society’s construct of gender roles and expectations, and often maintained by the apathy of both mother and father to change the story. So when will we update that narrative to promote fathers to family pitcher, catcher and umpire?
Are fathers on the clock?
What is it with these circumstantial parental phrases that we commonly use? Like, how the word “watch” is to denote a temporary sit-chee-ation. No, fathers do not watch their own kids. Fathers and mothers must both drop this “temporary help” mentality and bring fathers to the forefront of parenthood to stand side-by-side as equals. It matters.
Words matter. Roles influence how we see each other, and our children are watching. Fathers should not willingly accept these labels, or allow this “substitute-parenting” phenomena to define their role in a family. We have to break down this narrative, kick this sucker to the curb, and #NormalizeFatherhood.
Why does it seem weird when fathers take on a primary role?
Just recently, a dad’s post went viral when he tackled the misconception that fathers are powerless in a mother’s absence. He denounced the assumption that he was completely handicapped and totally incapable of caring for their 6 children while mother, Jessica Martin-Weber, was away on business. It was a jarring and touching post that caught national attention because of the candid and often untold story of “normal” fathers (which is a complete oxymoron, btw):
“Who is going to do all that stuff while their mom is away?” the dad asked. “Me. That’s who,” he answered. “Because I’m not the babysitter. I’m not just their playmate. I’m their dad. And looking after them and guiding them and caring for them is my responsibility. And I love it ― with all of its challenges.” -Jeremy Martin Weber
And then I thought to myself, the real news is that this story went viral. It made headlines because the narrative states that he is an anomaly. An exception to the rule. Perhaps, a rebel of some sort. But, there are so many fathers that do in fact subscribe to this primary parental role and it’s great that he is telling their story. Why? Because I’m convinced more fathers are actually doing this than not and it’s time to bring them all into the conversation.
Two primary caretakers in a household is actually common
I’m here to tell you, some of us are blessed to witness this every day. I come from a household where we are both primary caretakers. Yes, our different strengths and interests manifest in how we divide stuff up. But when I say we are both in the trenches in this thang, I mean it and we both have the gray hairs to prove it!
I think about all the fathers I know who are giving their 100% and assuming a full-time role. It’s not weird, it’s not strange. It’s pretty common and I can point many of them out for you. I would be way over my word-count if I listed them all here, so I won’t…but I digress. Let me start wrapping this thing up.
Dad’s may get things “wrong” sometimes…and it’s OKAY!
Sometimes it’s our fault fathers are demoted to babysitters. We’ve got to stop beating dads up. Are you guilty of “my way or the highway?” Many of us moms build fathers up to knock them right back on down. We plead with them to step up and take on more responsibilities, but then we are guilty of nagging them and critiquing them on how they aren’t doing it to our liking.
We don’t like the outfits they picked up for the kids. It took too long to change the baby’s diaper and the onsie is mis-snapped. Their disciplining game SUCKS. We are guilty of going on and on and on, emasculating the very men we want to step up. Our rhetoric translates into “your parenting isn’t good enough.” How hurtful is that?
Well I have news for you that you may not want to hear. It’s totally okay if they do things “wrong!” Ask yourself, did my child survive? Was my child happy? If the answer is yes, then congratulations, you just empowered a father. And here’s the kicker….perhaps it’s not wrong at all! It’s just not your way. Allowing them to do it their way is the key to empowerment and success. We have to learn to relax, relate, release and let a father take control to do his thing his way. The gift of parental autonomy is critical in molding a great dad.
We must empower fathers to stay clocked in
Two things need to happen in order for fathers to thrive in a primary role: 1) fathers need to stay in the game as the real MVP, and 2) mothers need to CALM DOWN and let them score. We have to remind fathers of their value every day and appreciate what they bring to the table. And many people will probably wonder, why encourage them and give credit for something they should be doing anyway? I feel you! And the answer is this: Because!
Dismantling an outdated narrative and telling a new story requires effort and action. And it starts within our own households. Furthermore, we must build up fathers for several reasons… to share the burden of parenthood, to allow them to grow deeper into fatherhood, and to teach our children what a father is so they pass those ideologies down to their own children.
Fathers are parents, not babysitters and it’s time we change this narrative. One dad at a time.
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