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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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

N Trick Steinbach February 22, 2012 at 7:53 am

Love this. My husband is taking four months of parental leave, starting in March and I am sooooooooo interested in how people will react to him and how much his parenting will grow (oh, yeah, mine too).


Ali/Alessa February 22, 2012 at 7:58 am

Amen, sister! This is a topic that arises again and again and again. People just aren’t getting the message, it seems.

Dad’s get praise for doing practically nothing–doing his wife a “favour” because he’s such an awesome dad. Meanwhile, mom’s get blames if, say, the baby leaves the house without socks or a mismatched outfit (I vented about this one on my own blog).

In your situation, would you kind of hope that the woman was hitting on your husband? I think, for me, that would actually be the less infuriating scenario.


Abby February 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Ha! I agree. He IS very cute; can’t blame her. My favorite was the time he took the kids to a school carnival & several people we know came up to him and asked, all incredulous, “Where’s your wife? Isn’t she lucky to get a break!” I was home on a ladder with a paint roller, painting the family room.


Mrs.E February 22, 2012 at 10:27 am

So true. My hubby loves taking my 20 month old out, or staying home with him when i need abreak and i go out. But even i treat these situations as special circumstances, and tell my friends my husband is “babysitting” when they ask. You know in our culture, some men our age even have never changed their children’s diaper once. This post was an eye-opener. Thanks!


Abby February 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

And thank YOU for the reminder about cultural differences. A good reminder that not everyone has, or even wants, an 50-50 split in parenting duties between mom & dad.


Malia February 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Steve is a pretty full-time dad in the summers and on school breaks, so he gets that a lot. His response to that “Oh, you’re babysitting!” comment: “No. I’m parenting.”


Abby February 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Yay, Steve! Can we get that printed on a T-shirt? 😉


Tina February 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Hey Ab, This is so true. Trent takes the kids to the mall every Sat. (unless it’s nice out) and has a regular routine. The Chick-Fil-A staff knows him and has assumed he is a single dad and has the kids on the weekends! REALLY? SERIOUSLY!
Good post!!


Angie Mizzell February 29, 2012 at 11:16 am

Holy moly. I have no words for that woman or that comment. What the what? is actually very appropriate. And that’s how my husband spends his Saturday mornings too. I guess that makes us all liberated and stuff.


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