Two mothers sitting at the next table were chatting happily and exchanging pleasantries. At one point, they started joking about their bungling husbands who, apparently, don’t help enough around the house, don’t share any of the burden of raising children, don’t know their way around a kitchen, don’t want to do anything but watch TV on the weekends, etc. Some of their comments and stories were pretty funny and brought to mind the many stereotypical fathers we see and laugh at on TV. They were surely blowing off steam.
But I worry that such humor does more harm than good, to both mothers and fathers. Jokes about how children ask everything of mothers but only ask fathers “Where’s mom?” risk reinforcing both a father’s sense of incompetence (or insignificance) and a mother’s sense of having to do everything.
Jokes about fathers not helping with children likewise marginalize fathers while buttressing perceptions in both mothers and fathers that child care is mother’s work.
Moms end up having to be “Supermoms” while dads are rewarded just for checking in now and then. Unsurprisingly, a search on WordPress.com for “Superdad” turns up only a handful of posts. In only one is a father worried about being a Superdad. By contrast, the same search for “Supermom” turns up dozens of posts, many of which are mothers worrying about failing to be Supermoms. Definitions and expectations for “Supermoms” abound, while “Superdad” usually refers to a movie from 1973—“Supermom” is even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, though “Superdad” is not. And when dads become “Superdads” they look, well, like 50s super heroes.
If we want fathers to take a more active role in all aspects of parenting, if we want them to be partners in this (ad)venture, we have to stop setting the bar so low that anybody with a pulse could clear it, stop equating parenting skills to gender, stop joking about their inadequacies.