Last November, I sent an email to my coworkers letting them know that my daughter was sick and I’d be taking the day off to take care of her. I got a number of emails praising me for taking time off because my daughter was sick. One person even called me “a wonderful father.” Each time I stay home with one of my children, I receive this kind of praise and admiration. And I’ll admit, as I read those compliments, I felt pretty good about myself. But honestly, am I even doing anything special by staying home with a sick kid?
I don’t think so.
My wife works full time at our children’s school. She takes time off to care for our children when they are sick, and I can say, with 100% confidence, no one from work sent her a message letting her know she’s a great mother.
So what gives? Why do I receive so many compliments for merely doing the same thing moms do with regularity?
I see it online all the time, mothers praising their husbands for doing the dishes or folding the laundry or falling asleep next to their child. A few months ago I wrote an article about how I showered my friend with praise when he told me about flying alone with his three children. I ended up having to step back a bit and ask myself why him flying alone with his kids was a big deal, but when a mother does it, no one even bats an eye. I ended up apologizing to his wife.
I suspect the reason no one praises my wife when she stays home with our kids, and no one praises a mother when she flies alone, and a million other duties a mother just does without fanfare, is because these tasks are socially expected of her. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve gratitude. Mothers deserve much more gratitude than they could ever receive in a lifetime. But it’s hard not to notice this dichotomy and ask: Why are we getting all goofy over fathers simply for being fathers?
I’ve been writing about fatherhood and parenting for a number of years now, and I receive a lot of messages, and what I’ve come to find out is, on the whole, most fathers are stepping it up and becoming equal partners. They are pitching in, becoming more involved, caring more for their children, and taking on domestic obligations without chagrin. The majority of fathers I encounter love and respect their egalitarian relationship and don’t need praise for doing what they ought to be doing as a father anyway.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t show gratitude for the father in your life. You should. We should all show gratitude to the people we care about. But praise is something else, and I think this is where we need to take a step back and examine the difference. For instance, back to the story about my friend who took his three young children flying alone. As he got off the plane, a group of people clapped. They patted him on the back and called him a wonderful father. Literally.
Now that’s praise.
Yes, flying with children alone is 100% hell. But have you ever seen that kind of praise given to a mother traveling alone?
I think there was a time 30 years ago when a father traveling alone, or doing the dishes, or getting up with their children might have been seemed more praise-worthy. That dad was breaking the mold. But we are past that now. Don’t get me wrong, if a father does something truly exceptional, then yes, praise him.
But doing the dishes?
Staying home to be with his sick children?
Frankly, this sort of thing should be expected of fathers. It’s not exceptional, it’s the bar. It should be something that a man comes home to a kind word from his partner, but not a social media post or a crowd of strangers cheering him on as he exits a plane.
Listen, you need to love the person you are with. You need to show them gratitude. Good marriages are rooted in gratitude, and contributions should be recognized. But we need to move away from the understanding that if a man does anything outside of the ’50s bring-home-the-bacon, fatherly stereotype, we should be showering him with praise. NO. ENOUGH.
Many fathers are good men who care about their families and deserve to be treated as an equal in the parenting battle, not someone who deserves to be praised for doing the minimum. I don’t want to be praised for doing the minimum and simply showing up.
So the next time you see a dad do something fatherly, save the over-the-top praise. We’re just doing our job.