There’s a Lonestar song you may have heard called “Mr. Mom” that chronicles a day in the life of an overwhelmed stay-at-home dad. The singer opines, “How much smoke can a stove make? Kids won’t eat my charcoal cake. It’s more than any man can take, being Mr. Mom.”
In fact, the Pew Research Center says a mere seven percent of fathers are stay-at-home dads (compared to 27% of women). While this figure has risen from a paltry four percent in 1989, less than a fifth of all stay-at-home parents today are men.
Despite this, research shows dads are much more involved in raising their children than men were a half-century ago, and many fathers consider parenting to be central to their identity. My husband is a prime example; he started changing diapers hours after our daughter Sophie was born, and we are in lockstep on every aspect of her routine.
He nestles her in his arms before bed as often as I do, rocking her and singing to her. He blows bubbles with her while she bathes. When she is ill, he lays her on his chest and strokes her hair. Members of our family and friends commend him for his involvement in Sophie’s daily life, and I am so grateful our baby has such a wonderful and loving dad.
Yet it bothers both of us that my husband often is congratulated simply for participating in Sophie’s care. Are men expected to do so little that when my husband, my equal, shares in childcare duties, it merits such lavish praise?
Dads are frustrated too…
Other parents — dads included — are frustrated too.
“I get undue adulation all of the time for simply being out with my kid,” Go the F**k to Sleep author Adam Mansbach told The Atlantic, adding, “Just because my kid isn’t freezing to death, I’m a great father.”
In a Parents Magazine essay, dad Ross McCammon writes about being praised for holding his baby in a carrier while walking down the street with two bags of groceries. “Spending time with your child does not make you great. Strapping a baby to your chest and leaving the house does not make you great,” he says.
On the other hand, it sometimes seems mothers can’t do enough; our society puts the onus on us to be the primary caregivers, and to attend to our children’s needs cheerfully, without complaint or recognition.
Letting men off the hook?
I cherish being a mother. I also fear that we, as a culture, are letting our men off the hook, and placing an unfair share of the burden on women.
Like my husband, I am a full-time member of the workforce, and I bring home a sizable share of my family’s income. I’m not alone. Nearly half of working women in the United States say they work because they are their family’s breadwinner, according to this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Why then is it unreasonable to expect husbands to share in child-rearing responsibilities? While gender roles in the workplace have shifted, our expectations about the roles of parents sadly have not evolved at the same pace.
Each family is different, and the individual needs of our children don’t conform to a one-size-fits-all approach. But I challenge our society to expect more of its husbands and fathers. To do any less would be a gross underestimation of the capabilities of men to parent their children.