A while back I wrote an essay for the Huffington Post titled, “Just Because I Get Up in the Night Doesn’t Mean I Deserve Praise.” It was about an argument I had with my wife where I bone-headedly said that she should be grateful because I get up during the night. “Most men don’t,” I said. At the end, I apologized to my wife, naturally, and realized the error of my ways. It has since gone viral and been translated into several languages.
And what I’ve discovered is that men are, in fact, pitching in more than they ever have. I’ve received multiple messages from women telling me that they love how their husbands do the dishes or the laundry, or like me, get up in the night with their children. But what they hate is how their husbands act like they deserve a very special pat on the back.
And you know what, I get it, dads. I’m doing way more than my father ever did when it comes to raising children.
I was grocery shopping with my mother a while back while Mel was at home. In the cart were my three kids. As we walked through the aisles, my mother asked me why I was shopping. The conversation soon led into how I often get up in the middle of the night and do the laundry too. She just didn’t understand where I came from, considering my father didn’t do anything like that when I was young.
He went to work, brought in the check, and came home. And sadly, I think, the “I bring in the bacon — anything else is extra and deserves praise” status quo still lingers in the subconscious of many fathers. I know it once did for me, anyways. But the thing is, we live in an egalitarian age where fathers are no longer second-class parents, but equal partners in raising our children.
This is awesome!
I am closer with my children than my father ever was with me, and I can say, without a doubt, that it has to do with viewing parenting as an equal partnership. But for some reason, many fathers think that they deserve something special for doing household chores or participating fully in child-rearing. And I’m here to say that you don’t. I’m sorry, but we are past that.
This isn’t to say that couples shouldn’t say thank you every once in a while. You should show praise. Praise is something that is a necessity in marriage. But check it out, dads, don’t expect a special thank-you for loading the dishwasher, or folding the laundry, or getting up in the night. Because the fact is, as a society, we are past the point where fathers should be anticipating sex for vacuuming the floor.
I’d like to stop here and say that if you are one of those ’50s era dads who think that your wife is obligated to clean and cook and stay at home, while you bring in the check and do nothing else, you can stop reading now because this essay isn’t for you. You’re not ready.
I’m writing to those dads who are fully participating in a partnership. The ones who smell a poopy kid and don’t look for their wives rather just get down to the business of changing a butt. You are kicking ass. You are changing things. You are involved with your family and your children in a way that has never happened before. You are not babysitting! You are parenting! Own it.
Let’s take things a small step forward. Let’s drop the gender roles and the expectations that all housework and child rearing is a mom’s job and that if you do any of it your wife is indebted to you. Let’s stop announcing every time we make the beds as if it was some amazing stroke of generosity. Let’s just clean the bathroom because it needs it, and move on.
Please keep in mind that none of this is a bad thing. In fact, it’s wonderful. Never before has parenting been more of a partnership, and this should be celebrated. In 2013, 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 included mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.
Bringing in the paycheck isn’t all that it once was.
I remember when I first became a father. My son wouldn’t sleep through the night unless someone held him while sitting up. I was working close to full-time waiting tables and attending college. My wife worked full-time at a hardware store. Both of us were exhausted all the time from taking shifts in the night. There was no way I could leave the sole responsibility of getting up with my sleep-fighting son to my wife. We were in this together.
And when I think back on all the time I spent out of the house, working and studying, and falling asleep on the bus and waking up in strange places, I realize that during that very busy time in my life, getting up in the night was the only opportunity I had to feel like a father. It was the only chance I got to hold my son, to give him comfort. To be a dad.
My father never got the opportunity to hold a sweet sleeping child in the night because it wasn’t socially acceptable to do so. He never had a rewarding conversation about hygiene with his son after doing his laundry. He never had the opportunity to discuss toast-cutting options with his daughter, and then moments later, laugh his head off at how ridiculous a 6-year-old can be at breakfast time. He never bathed a toddler and had them reach up from the tub and wash his face, her little blue-green eyes focused and adorable.
He missed out on a lot because of antiquated gender roles. But luckily for me, I don’t have to. Because the fact is, dads are parents too, and the praise we need to be worried about receiving from working in a partnership around the house shouldn’t come from our wives. It comes from the rewarding, everyday memories, of being a committed, loving, and dedicated father.
It’s not shameful to take care of kids anymore. It’s not about a man doing a woman’s job. It’s about being a parent, which is half of a wonderful rewarding partnership full of amazing memories and a melted heart. It’s time to realize that, to look around us, be grateful that we get to be a significant player in our children’s lives for the first time ever, and love every moment of it rather than acting like we are owed something.