Do Dads Get Undue Praise for Parenting?

by Abby on February 22, 2012

Superdad doing pushups with 3 kids on his backThe other night at dinner, my husband told me about a funny exchange he’d had with a woman at his gym. Once a week, on Saturdays, C. takes our boys to the gym with him. The kids go to the childcare room while he works out, then they all go out to Chick-fil-A for lunch after, and sometimes Home Depot if they’re feeling extra manly.

The boys love “Daddy Day.” I do, too, because after a solid week of being the go-to parent, I get a break. If you define cleaning, laundry, and errands without 2 kids in tow a “break.” Which I do. Actually, I usually spend the time enjoying the quiet, reading, writing, returning phone calls uninterrupted, or just staring into space with a cup of hot coffee.

Anyhoo, this woman at the gym daycare seems to think C. is a single dad. She greeted him with, “How ARE you? Are you hanging in there?” All concerned and stuff. Then she says, “If you don’t mind me asking, where’s mom?” Cue record screeching.

What the WHAT?! Now, wait. You could look at this 2 ways. One, Little Miss Inquisitive could have been assessing the situation to see if C. was single. That’s what he’d like to think, anyway. Daddy’s still got game! Even if he is dragging around a diaper bag and 2 bedheaded tykes. Sister: check the wedding ring.

Or, she was oozing sympathy and praise for this hardworking, responsible father who’d stepped up to spend an entire Saturday morning with HIS OWN CHILDREN. Don’t tell me you’ve never encountered this phenomenon. Any guy wearing a Baby Bjorn is a magnet for these people, who rush over to tell him what a great dad he is and see if he needs any help.

Three years ago, I blogged about how infuriated I get when people refer to a dad caring for his own kids as babysitting. Then, just yesterday, I came across this Time article on the exact same topic. So even the government’s backing this idea of dad as “babysitter?” I call B.S. The point is not how much time each parent is spending with the kids, it’s about how that parent is treated — by their own spouse, other parents, and society at large.

Back to C.’s and my conversation in the kitchen. After we both chuckled/gasped at the gym woman’s comments – and agreed how absurd it would be if someone came up to ME with both kids at my gym, where I take them 3-4 times a week, and said, “Good for you! Where’s Dad? Need any help?” – he added, “I LIKE my Saturdays with the boys.”

Got that, gym lady? He’s not taking his kids out on his own because he’s a single dad and he has no choice. It’s not a chore he takes on valiantly to “help out Mommy.” It’s not parental showboating intended to elicit praise and admiration from the ladies. (Although he’s lying if he claims that’s not a bonus.) He’s spending time with his children because he likes to and that’s what dads do.

READS O’ THE DAY: This post made me a fan of the dad blogger who pens Founding a Father. Being called a great dad only means something if it’s coming from the right people.

And this article gives dads helpful, not patronizing, tips for running the show when mom’s not around. I hear from so many moms who complain their husbands won’t or can’t take on more responsibility for the kids. Are you sure you’re giving Dad the opportunity to do so? From one control freak to another, I know it’s hard to loosen the reins. He dressed them in THAT shirt with THOSE pants?! But believe me: it’s a good thing for the whole family.

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