Dad vs. Mom: Who’s the Real Parent?

October 8, 2009 at 10:16 am , by

truitt“Dads are parents, too,” insists my new pal Steve Truitt. Steve (that’s him at the right) is a self-help author (Stop Waiting For Permission!), life coach and TV host who became the main caregiver for his two daughters, ages 1 and 4, after he lost a major daily radio gig. I got in touch with him after reading his recent post—on Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference website—about how women can support their husband’s efforts to be hands-on dads.

I didn’t need to ask Steve why he felt the need to defend the idea of dads being “real” parents. I was pretty sure I knew why. As a new mom, I was amazed and horrified at the extent to which parenting, especially parenting small children, is all about moms. It’s like dads don’t exist—and even more than that, that they simply aren’t welcome to become part of hands-on parenting. It’s “Mommy and Me” this, “Mommy-Baby” that, new mom groups and mommy websites. At the time my son came along—three years ago—even Parenting magazine corrected their own gender-neutral name with the tagline, “what matters to moms.”

It made me angry. I became a single mom by choice, it’s true, but that choice didn’t have anything to do with my feelings about fatherhood. For the record, I’m for it. I think it’s extremely important for kids that their dads are hands-on parents too, and I hope my son will be a great dad someday.  But the pressure for men not to be too nurturing starts early. My son’s a very masculine, rough-and-tumble boy, but he also loves his little-boy doll. My mom, looking a bit horrified, asked me why I’d bought it for him. “So he can learn to be a good daddy,” I answered. Duh.

To me, there’s an obvious connection. I had a friend growing up, Ginny, who literally didn’t know how to cook or clean—didn’t have a clue—because her mom never showed her how or included her in the housework, and in fact discouraged her from becoming involved. Same kind of thing. Somehow Ginny’s estrogen levels didn’t entirely compensate for her lack of home training.

What I saw very clearly as a new mom was that men get (often justly) criticized for not being more hands-on as parents, while at the same time there are constant cultural messages that childrearing is women’s work, and that men should butt out.  It kind of seems like the guys can’t win for losing.

“It’s fascinating, the world you enter as a parent,” Steve agrees. “It’s so momcentric.” And as a life coach, he had found that many of his clients who were fathers were grappling with the feeling of being left out of the parenting process from Day One.

Then Steve lost a major part of his income due to the recession and found himself home, taking care of the kids. It was a harsh transition, and one that many men are dealing with right now, he says—he sees plenty of guys like himself in his life-coaching practice.  They are good guys, and they love their children, Steve says, but as traditional men, they—like he—had placed their identity in their jobs and in their ability to be providers. This hands-on parenting while the wife brings home most of the bacon can be incredibly hard on their self-esteem, and that’s not something they generally feel safe talking about with anyone.

These men are struggling, Steve says, but here’s his exciting theory: Steve thinks that this recession has created a de facto men’s movement that may finally change parenting roles the way the feminist movement hasn’t quite been able to do.

“It’s a reluctant movement, forced by the economy,” he concedes, “but I think something really good is going to come out of it. Men who have lost their jobs are not just trying to help raise their children—they’re learning to enjoy it.” Steve sees this as potentially having the kind of profound effect on men’s roles that World War II and Rosie the Riveter had on women’s.

To me, other than the economic loss that’s causing it, this situation is win-win. Men get to experience the joy of hands-on parenting, and kids get to have the pleasure of a really involved dad.

In any case, for Steve it’s been a growth experience. “First of all, it’s given me a tremendous amount of respect for women,” he says. “It has also taught me great patience. I’ve complained a lot less, and reached out a lot more.”

So, what do you think? Are men are parents, too? Are we women ready to share our role as M.I.P. (Most Important Parent)? Or is men’s lack of involvement something we bitch about, but don’t really want to change?

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , | 55 Comments

55 Responses to “Dad vs. Mom: Who’s the Real Parent?”

  1. If you think saying you are a stay-at-home Mom is a conversation stopper, try saying you are a stay-at-home Dad, especially to another man. At parties and other school events, m husband Paul, found that once he told other men that he was a stay-at-home Dad, the guys would utter some comment like “Wow, wish I could do that,” and then hastily retreat.

    I’ve been stopped in the street by Moms and nannies who are eager to tell me that they’ve seen Paul on the playground and that he is a GREAT father. I appreciate their compliments, but can you imagine someone stopping a Dad on the street to say, “Wow. I’ve seen your wife in the park and she is a GREAT Mom!”? You might say that about a nanny, but certainly not a Mom. Why is it appropriate to say that about a Dad?

    Finally, I have to say that at least in some cases, Mothers have themselves to blame if their male partners aren’t more “hands on”. I’ve seen many a man avoid parenting duties in order to avoid criticism. If we, as Mothers, can learn to bite our tongue and let our men find their own way of (fill in the blank: diapering, dressing, feeding, playing), I think we’ll find the guys will participate more. But that means keeping one’s mouth shut while watching the Dads reinvent the wheel and yes, make mistakes. And isn’t that one of the hardest things to do as a parent, too?

  2. I gotta admit: After carrying my first baby inside my body for nine virtually sleepless months, spending 14 hours in labor and then getting ripped stem to stern in order to meet him, feeding him with my poor sad breasts, and eating nothing I liked to eat for weeks because I got even less sleep when he suffered from gas, I had a hard time viewing my husband as an equal parent. He loved our son as much as I did, he was at least as competent as I was at bathing and dressing and soothing and entertaining him, and he took care of me as tenderly as he took care of Sam. But still. I felt this atavistic need to shout, “This is MY BABY!” if he ever had a different idea about anything. I don’t think I got over it for months.

  3. I definitely think that fathers are of equal importance in parenting. But I also think they bring a different element to the mix. In my case, I’ve been the one who nurtures and sets boundaries. My kids’ father is the one who plays and introduces new experiences. Not to say we don’t each do these things, but it’s more a matter of degrees. But now that we’re no longer together, I’m watching the Dad having to do both, since I’m not always there, and it’s been a good thing.

  4. Nice post. I didn’t know you were a single mom, Louise — my hat’s off to you. As you can see from this post I wrote about my more-than-halfway-husband, I honestly don’t think I could do what I do without him:

    That said, the world IS set up for mommy-baby, with dad hovering on the edges. In our school, if there’s a parent event, it is mostly moms who come, though a few dads. Most of that is practical. Yes, there are stay at home dads, but you have to admit the vast majority of stay at home parents are moms. And economic fact, sad to say for women’s earning power (though I freely admit that I mostly make more than my husband!).

  5. Like Steve, who is a close friend, I, too found myself the Stay-at-Home Dad as a result of losing my job. And, like Steve, I will never again consider staying home with the kids something my wife, or anyone else’s “gets” to do. It’s by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. Doubtless, that is also why it has also been the most rewarding. Careful what you wish for, people… you just may get it.

  6. It’s so easy to see one’s side and not the other in this issue. Indeed women carry and birth the child and that can be a very very very difficult experience. But once the baby is here, we both have responsibilities and opportunities to care for the child, and by no means is it a mommy’s right to lay claim over both the decisions or the credit 100%. The emerging man of the 21st century seems to be someone who can do it all as well! Now we have something in common, ladies! Let’s celebrate!

  7. Steve seems like a likeable guy. I think he’s right…all win when the Dad is really involved…especially if the wife is accepting and appreciative…and vice verse.

  8. It takes two people to MAKE a child because it takes two people to RAISE a child. Period. Dads are just as important as moms.

  9. I myself am a single momma by choice and although I chose to have my daughter on my own, I recognize the importance of fathers and their families. It is improtant for society to nurture and respect the role of father, allowing our men to play, teach and nurture their children. I have heard over and over how much work it is to raise children and now I relize it. I commend parents who are loving, thoughful and guiding their children, no matter what sex. Thank you to the parents who raise their children in love, men and women alike.

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  11. If the byline of parenting magazine says it all, then so does LHJ: It’s about ladies, women, daughters, sisters, mothers. Where is the Gentlemen’s Home Journal? Oh, wait, there really isn’t any since men aren’t supposed to be in the home, even if the want to be. That’s Mom territory.
    Seriously, even if there were a domestic journal for men, it probably wouldn’t refer to men as gentlemen — that word seems to have been shoved aside; we still refer to women as ladies, but fail to use parallel language when referring to men. It’s guys or men, but women or ladies. Hmm. Antimale sexism still knows no bounds these days.

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