Last week, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a law enforcement officer. He responded to a call about a boy on a bike that was hit by a woman in a car turning out of a parking lot. It happened during pick up and drop off for a busy school.
As is often the case, there were conflicting stories between the driver and the boy’s mom. The driver, who went into the school to let them know what happened, said the boy darted in front of her while she was already moving.
The mom said her son would never do that. Only the bike was hit, the boy was not injured, and there was no damage to the vehicle or bike.
When the officer tried to explain to the mom that because there was too much hearsay, no damage, and no witnesses, there was little that he could do about the matter. He could not cite the driver but felt everyone just needed to heighten their peripheral awareness.
The mom was not pleased with his response.
She wanted something done and then dismissed him, telling him, a father of two, that there was no way he could understand how upset she was because he wasn’t a mom.
“Vanessa, can I have your opinion as a mom?” he asked me. I obliged.
“Do you think that your bond is stronger with your daughter because you carried her for nine months?”
In a nutshell, no. No, friend. Just because I have the ability to incubate a human being inside me does not mean I also possess a superior ability to connect with said human being.
The fact that I did the actual physical labor of carrying my child did not create a connection that transcends a father’s connection to his kid. Others may see it differently, I just don’t.
What I do see is that we marginalize dads in small ways that send them a message that motherhood somehow outweighs fatherhood. As a result, we make them the less important, less qualified parent. This helps no one.
The reality of the roles and parenting equity
I blame part of the marginalization on stereotypical gender roles that have been pushed on us. Dads are the disciplinarians. Moms are the caretakers. Dad teaches the kids to ride the bikes. Mom takes care of the wounds when the kids fall off. Dads provide. Moms make Halloween costumes.
Men are told that it’s okay for them to be less present in kids' lives. Oddly, data shows that the majority of dads find being a father central to their identity.
At the same time, I know a lot of women who have elevated motherhood to martyrdom. If we’re not suffering every day, do we even have kids?
I will be the first to admit that mom guilt is a real damn thing and that it’s stupid. If women are spending a considerable amount more time on child care, it’s our own fault. When we establish parenting expectations, set boundaries, and communicate with our partners, we create more equality. We don’t get to have our cake and bitch about it, too.
The media feedback loop
You don’t have to look very far to how TV, movies, and commercials perpetuate the idea that dads are just bumbling idiots who have no clue what to do with a pint-sized person.
You know the trope. Mom and dad split up or mom goes back to work and childcare is left to the dad who has absolutely no understanding of how to keep a child from falling out a five-story building window, let alone feed it.
Even in movies and shows where parents live together, the dad is often relegated to the role of being another child instead of a co-parent. The more we accept this as a reality of men as fathers, the more damage it does.
Starting in a deficit
Another problem is that we’ve set men up for this marginalization from the day the baby is born. They’re behind in the game immediately.
Currently, only five states have mandates that companies have to provide fathers the ability to take paid paternity leave without risking their jobs.
This means that the perceived increased bond between mothers and their kids seems natural given that we spend a couple months at home with our babies while dads spend a couple weeks.
When bonding time between fathers and their children is not taken seriously immediately after birth it carries on for the rest of that kid’s life. It’s some patriarchal bullshit.
Though schools are trending toward calling classroom assistant, room parents, vs. just room moms I found that there are a gaggle of resources and websites dedicated to being a “room mom.” I could not find a resource that was focused solely on the dad.
It signals to dads that they’re allowed to join the club but we’re not going to go out of our way to make them feel welcome. Step aside, dads. We have the cupcakes under control. You’re not needed here.
Am I taking a life a little too seriously by being upset about this? Perhaps. But, when men tell us they feel unimportant as parents, we should listen. Moreover, when we’re the ones sending them that message, we need to acknowledge that it needs to stop.
I know some damn good dads who know how to do a killer French braid, can bake cookies for a classroom full of kids, and have never shied away from getting up in the middle of the night to go change a diaper.
We can do better by these men. If we, as women and moms, are going to fight for equality, we need to give it and champion for it, as well.
Thank you, dads. I’m sorry. I see you.