Rules for Dating My …

There’s something troubling about the incessant “Rules for Dating My Daughter” memes. The fact that some of them are meant to be jokes doesn’t make them any more palatable to me—and even those intended to be jokes don’t strike me as funny.[1] Likewise, the closely related, earnest and well-intentioned posts, usually by fathers, fretting about when their infant daughters start to date seem problematic. Both cases seem grounded in fear and based on a fundamental double standard. And threats and coercion don’t seem, at least not to me, to be the most productive and mature ways to parent.

Let’s imagine for a moment a different set of rules, a set that a child gives to a father before introducing a Boy- or Girlfriend to him:

Rules a child could give to a parent

Rules a child could give to a parent

  1. I find it hard to see the references to shotguns and violence perpetrated on minors as funny. Just as I find it hard to see denying a daughter (or son) important, formative life experiences.  ↩


We Could All Use a Compliment

Yesterday’s post was about compliments. I suggested that we parents should be more generous in giving compliments and that, pace the fathers-offended-by-compliments movement, we fathers should be more gracious in accepting them. Today, I want to reinforce that suggestion, drawing on a couple Pew Research reports, “Modern Parenthood” and “After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers.”

Despite recent increases in stay-at-home dads, moms still make up the majority of stay-at-home parents: 6% of fathers stay-at-home compared to 29% of mothers. And since 1999, the share of stay-at-home moms has been increasing. Mothers still vastly outnumber the fathers as stay-at-home parents.

Percentage of stay-at-home mothers, from Pew report on Modern Parenthood

Percentage of stay-at-home mothers, from Pew report on Modern Parenthood

Fathers have begun taking on more housework[1] and childcare tasks.[2] Nonetheless, mothers still shoulder the bulk of childcare and housework. And despite the increases in the amount of time fathers spend on childcare, mothers spend more now than they did 50 years ago. Today, mothers still spend nearly twice as much time as fathers do on housework and childcare.

Time use for mothers and fathers, from Pew report on parental labor.

Time use for mothers and fathers, from Pew report on parental labor.

Let’s recognize and praise all the work mothers do. Too much of their labor remains invisible to our society, not because we can’t see it but because we have chosen to dismiss it as unimportant because a woman does it. An honest compliment now and then—and by “now and then” I mean regularly—is the least we can do. Let’s also continue to recognize the efforts today’s fathers are making to be more involved parents.[3] Not because their labor is more important or any more praiseworthy, it isn’t, but because an honest compliment now and then—and by “now and then” I mean now and then, let’s not get carried away—is the least we can do.

Next time you see a parent being a good parent, smile and say something nice. And the next time somebody compliments your efforts, smile and say thank you.

  1. We might worry about the category “housework.” Pew seems to adopt the categories used by the American Time Use Survey, which seems to exclude certain exterior activities from “housework.” Is mowing the lawn “housework?” Is raking leaves? I’ve wondered about this in my Pew Study on Parental Labor  ↩

  2. The numbers don’t actually show that fathers are taking on more housework and childcare tasks. They simply indicate that fathers are spending more time at these two activities. Perhaps fathers are really slow at cleaning and cooking and bathing the progeny and so are not doing any more, just taking longer to do the same set of tasks.  ↩

  3. We fathers need to be careful here lest we sound like the 1980s’ dad who wanted praise for taking out the garbage or replacing the empty toilet paper roll. We risk sound like little kids jumping up and down wanting praise and affirmation for the least little thing. Oh, look at me, I take care of my kid. Aren’t I special? No, I mean, I am special.  ↩

How To Earn “Major Dad Points”

On the way to school this morning, #2 and I stopped to pick up breakfast. We parked, tumbled out of the car, locked hands, and skipped into the shop, hoping to chase down a couple bagels. We held the door for a young woman who, leaving, smiled at me, and said:

That was great. You get major dad points for that.

Thank you. I appreciate the compliment and the endorsement of my skipping despite, no doubt, the fact that I must have looked like a lanky, spasmodic gorilla.[1] Her compliment underscores how easy it is for dads to get compliments. Organize the class party, receive praise. Skip into the bagel shop, get points. Fathers can get credit simply by not injuring their progeny.

These compliments irk a number of fathers because they presume some Y-chromosome-linked deficiency or some cultural vestige from our neanderthal past both of which prevent men from being competent dads.[2] Fathers who are upset by such compliments urge people to stop making them. The act of complimenting a father for relatively insignificant or quotidian parenting reinforces the cultural stereotype of the failing father. Previously I seemed to come to a similar conclusion.

My real point in that previous post was ambiguous. I want to clarify my thoughts here. Rather than ask people to stop complimenting fathers when they are engaged, caring parents, let’s recognize and compliment mothers for being engaged, caring parents.

Being a parent is tough. None of us are parents because we want compliments. Still, we all could use a little recognition and a kind word now and then (or daily, for that matter). Let’s be generous with our praise and in our acceptance of others’. Let‘s strive to repay the compliments we receive by passing them on to other parents who, like each of us, is struggling to do right by our children.

So, to the young woman who was kind and generous to me: Thank you for noticing. Thank you for saying something. I, in turn, will compliment a parent I see tomorrow. Hell, I’ll live on the edge and compliment two parents.

  1. Let me clear, I am not graceful. And at well north of 6 feet, I am hard to miss, arms and legs akimbo. The shocked looks of the people sitting just inside the shop were totally justified.  ↩

  2. I wonder if fathers are equally upset when such compliments come from women or from men, from mothers or from fathers. What is the source of this unease?  ↩

The Parenting Pressure Cooker

We’ve all felt it, the pressure to do more, more creatively, more frequently, and more lavishly. We succumb to some imperative to push[1] our children to accomplish more, to excel, to clear some intellectual or academic hurdle, to master some musical instrument or foreign language, or to become an accomplished athlete. Little Jane and Little Johnny should not have one second of unscheduled time or unstructured play, lest they fall behind their peers and we be exposed as negligent parents.[2]

The implicit and at times explicit competition for how we raise our children begins before we even have them (as “The Parenting Challenge” points out so clearly). This tournament for the best child has little to do with our children and more to do with us, the parents. Have we failed to grow up. Do we need to refight some battle we lost as teenagers. Are we so narcissistic that we reduce our children to instruments of self-validation? Are we just bad parents?

Whatever the explanation, the pressure on mothers is, I am sure, infinitely greater than it is on fathers. Everywhere you look are, inter alia, magazines, ads, blogs, and websites celebrating Preternaturally Creative Mothers whose relationship to time is clearly not limited by the same constraints that operate on the rest of us mortals.[3] In the face of so much perfection, how can any mortal mother feel adequate?

The solution to this problem—and let’s be clear, it is a problem—is not to extend the fantasy and drum the self policing into fathers, though the increasing number of inter alia, magazines, ads, blogs, and websites celebrating Preternaturally Creative Fathers is on the rise. The solution is to recognize it’s a juvenile game of oneupmanship and to decide to stop playing. Stop reducing their childhood to evidence your success or failure as a parent. Stop invoking them as evidence of your worth or standing.

Sure, do wonderful things with and for your children. But also do ordinary things with your children. And do nothing with your children. And once in a while, not on any schedule or calendar, leave them to their own devices.

  1. It is fascinating to catalog the many euphemisms parents employ to disguise their act—we encourage, coax, urge, stimulate. On a good day, “push” describes what happens. Frequently, the process degrades into bribe, goad, impel, coerce, nag, force, require, browbeat, bulldoze, and bully.  ↩

  2. Now, in some freakish parody of ourselves, we are expected to schedule unscheduled free time, i.e., unstructured play. At curriculum night, one parent was boasting about how much better Little Jane is doing now that “every day I make sure she has some unscheduled time for unstructured play.” I’m trying to envision the calendar of activities I’m sure hangs conspicuously on the kitchen wall where not only members of the family can see it but visitors will see and marvel at little Jane’s impressive schedule of activities. Sandwiched between Violin practice from 3:30–4:20 and Chinese tutoring at 5:00 is 33 minutes of “Unscheduled Time for Unstructured Play” (with 7 minutes reserved for bodily functions), except on Wednesdays when Chinese is replaced by Ballet class, which requires a 10 minute drive, so “UTUP” is reduced to 20 minutes (saving the 7 minutes for bodily functions and 3 minutes to collect the ballet paraphernalia).
    Soon, I am sure, parents will be competing over their children’s UTUP, not just quantity but also quality and even authenticity.  ↩

  3. When I was young I was convinced that if I could adjust my mechanical watch so it ran fast, 15 minutes per hour fast to be precise, I could enjoy 32 hours in my day where everybody else would have a scanty 24 hours. Perhaps prematurely and much to my regret, I came to believe that I would not, in fact, benefit from setting my watch fast. Perhaps these P.C.M.s have figured out how to make this work.  ↩

The Franklin Institute—The Same Just Different

Today I took #1, #1’s friend, and #2 to the Franklin Institute. The day was very different from yesterday’s experience at the Crayola Experience. While unaccompanied fathers were still the minority—I saw just a handful—mothers were more frequently accompanied by grandparents, especially grandfathers, or fathers.

Perhaps because the Franklin Institute is a “science museum,” grandfathers, fathers, and mothers still subscribe to gender stereotypes that make science and places where science occurs a man’s domain. Perhaps grandfathers feel they need to accompany their daughters and grandchildren. Perhaps mothers think grandfathers and fathers would enjoy the Franklin but wouldn’t enjoy the Crayola Experience. Perhaps mothers are less comfortable going to the Franklin. Perhaps yesterday was an aberration—maybe most days unaccompanied mothers fill the place.

Whatever the case, the experience at the Franklin was considerably more pleasant: I was neither looked at as if I were a threat nor applauded for “being a great dad.” I was simply a parent spending the day with my kids. That, alone, was worth the price of admission.

My Crayola Experience

Like a scene out of some bad romantic comedy, we first saw each other across a crowded room. Our eyes met and lingered. We smiled tentatively at each other, acknowledging the bond we shared: we were unaccompanied fathers who had chosen to spend the day with our progeny.

The Crayola Experience was filled with moms, usually in pairs, herding kids around. There were some families. But we were the only two fathers who had ventured out without a mother. Clearly, end-of-summer childcare (like most childcare) falls disproportionally on mothers.

My Crayola Experience shifted between vaguely wary glances from mothers who didn’t expect to see an unaccompanied father to gentle looks of compassion and words of encouragement from mothers who seemed to think I needed the support. On the one hand, I was a suspicious anomaly, a father in a mother’s world. On the other hand, I was a well intentioned if bumbling father who needed positive reinforcement. Both responses are disheartening. First, there should be nothing threatening about a father spending the day with his kids. Stop treating me like some sort of potential criminal. Second, just because I am a father doesn’t mean that I am an inept or lament spending time with my children. Just the opposite, in fact. I looked at the day as a great chance to spend uninterrupted time with #1 and #2 (as a side note, while there I used my phone twice to take photos and send to #1 and #2’s mom—many mothers watched their kids between texting, reading or writing email, updating Facebook, and playing games or chatting on the phone). I appreciate, I suppose, the kind words but not the assumptions that undergird them. Third, why when a father does least little thing does he receive praise while mothers have to save the world to get even a backhanded compliment? I’ve commented on this before. The assumption that fathers are naturally maladroit means if we don’t harm our children we are a success.

Five hours later, as #1, #2, and I wandered out to get a very late lunch I saw the other father leaving. He was guiding two tired looking but otherwise happy and unscathed children toward the parking lot.