Dads as Champions
I had an early meeting the other morning, so I asked my husband to pack the kids’ lunches. By the time I got dressed and made it downstairs, I found him staring at empty lunch boxes and what looked like half the pantry on the countertop — mostly white food — with, no joke, a look of panic. I swear the grown man had sweat beads on his forehead. “I have no idea what to put in here,” he groaned.
When I rolled my eyes at him in a huff, he reminded me about the Cream of Wheat I couldn’t manage to microwave into more than a soupy puddle. Touché.
See, we have this system in our house. I’m the lunch-packer; he’s the breakfast-maker. It’s a brilliant morning program, split right down the middle, that gets everyone out the door, typically, on time. We never planned for, or talked about, glitches in the system like the one the other morning.
I realized just what a team we really are and how much he really does around the house besides making breakfast, like washing dishes and changing the litter box, my two least favorite jobs. And how dads, as eager and willing as they are today, still get a bad rap. Movies, sitcoms, and advertisers will have us believe they are the clueless, bungling half of the duo, but as someone recently put it to me, “Dads are the new Mom.” I must admit I took offense to this at the time (then what does that make ME?), but she had a point.
Dads are more engaged than ever – they know their way around a diaper bag, run out at 3AM for Tylenol, and sit through Frozen.
According to the Pew Research Center, American dads’ and moms’ roles have been merging over the past 50-some years. Since 1965, fathers have taken on more housework and childcare duties – they’ve more than doubled time spent doing household chores and nearly tripled time spent with children. And the number of stay-at-home and single dads has grown significantly in recent decades.
Dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity (think Will Smith and “conscious uncoupler” Chris Martin). They play an influential role in their kids’ childhoods, and are more engaged than ever — beyond putting a crib or stroller together:
They know their way around a diaper bag.
They run out at 3 AM for Tylenol.
They sit nervously in the children’s dentist office.
They sit through “Frozen.”
They sprint their little girl to the nearest public restroom.
They sit their boy down for an honest, man-to-man talk.
And they’re not afraid to hug, even kiss, him in public.
So maybe they still struggle with a lunch box or grocery list, but truth is, most dads are trying … really hard. And they want to be involved as much as we want them to be. So perhaps it’s time we consider a few ways to help them (help us) succeed:
Don’t break his stride. Sometimes it’s hard to resist micromanaging the dads in our lives. Often we’re not even aware we’re doing it — it’s pretty much a reflex. But dads, like moms, deserve the chance to do their job without constant quality control. Yes, you can manage to keep two measly doctor appointments in your brain and know by now not to try to reason with your tween, but it’s ok. He’s got this. He’s finding his groove, and he needs to know he has your full confidence.
When he gives you time for a girls’ night out, and someone asks you if he’s “babysitting,” tell her, “No, he’s at home – being a dad.”
Throw him a compliment. I hate to admit it, but in the stress of everyday motherhood, I tend to treat those I love the most, the worst. The blame has to go somewhere, so the criticism starts flying, and it can leave my husband wondering why this parenting gig is so darn hard. I tend to forget that guys can be vulnerable, too, especially around parenting, and need to hear they’re doing a good job. No, he’s not perfect, and neither am I, but we need to lift one another up, not just complain and critique, when things get hard. Try to mention something he did well like the way he sang your daughter to sleep or handled your son’s meltdown. Don’t make him fish for it. Offer it up freely, and present it on a silver platter.
Go 50/50. While dads’ roles are changing, research shows that public attitudes toward stay-at-home fathers and stay-at-home mothers still differ. While about half of Americans (51%) think a child is better off with a mother at home, only 8% say a child is better off with a stay-at-home dad. We need to get that dad percentage up by treating him like the equal parent he is. Encourage him to attend a PTA meeting or to try his hand at more of the emotional stuff. Get him in the kitchen more, even if it’s always pizza or cereal night, or a menu of just appetizers. You may do things differently, but sometimes opposites make the best partners.
And by all means, when he gives you time for a girls’ night out, and someone asks you if he’s “babysitting,” tell her, “No, he’s at home – being a dad”. And chances are, quite a fine one.