One of the earliest lessons I learned as a child was to always say please and thank you. Ever the obedient Catholic schoolgirl, I never neglected this duty. Now, saying thank you in particular is so automatic that I will end emails with a “thanks”—and the obligatory exclamation point—even if the situation doesn’t call for it.
Since my son arrived on the scene seven months ago, my thank-you reflex has kicked into overdrive. I have found myself thanking my husband for both ordinary as well as extraordinary parenting efforts. I thank him for handling diaper changes, day care pickups, feedings and many other thankless—pun intended—tasks. My hope is that all of these thank-yous will convey my gratitude that he doesn’t expect Mom to do it all herself.
Although I know my husband appreciates everything I do for our son, his thank-yous are not as superfluous. I think this is partly because on some deep level, he believes that I am simply fulfilling my role as a mother. Our genetic wiring has not evolved. His role is to hunt. My role is to gather. Me Jane, you Tarzan.
My husband is what some might call a “hands-on” dad. I detest this phrase. It is often doled out as gushing praise by loved ones and strangers alike as fathers perform everyday tasks that would garner zero recognition for most mothers.
Let’s set the scene. While dining at the local Italian chain restaurant, a baby begins to cry. Dad takes a bottle from Mom’s diaper bag and feeds the infant. Mom continues to enjoy her pasta.
Opinionated onlooker: Oh, you are so lucky that he is such a hands-on dad. I was always the one to have to feed the baby.
No one would bat an eyelash if that scene in the restaurant played out with mom feeding the baby. That’s just mom doing mom’s job. But when dad takes the helm, look out. He’s Super Dad!
It’s time to raise our collective expectations of fathers. Dad should not just stay on the sidelines until it’s time for junior to play t-ball. He should strive to be an equal partner with mom, handling whatever duties the moment calls for without expecting overflowing praise.
Some women may argue that an equal partnership is impossible because their anatomy leaves them in charge of feeding. Yes, this is true, if you choose to breastfeed. Because my son arrived six weeks early and my milk stubbornly refused to come in (and when it did, I faced an uphill battle to produce enough food for my son), I pumped and supplemented with formula. My husband has been feeding our son since the little guy was in the NICU.
Of course, there are tons of other duties dad can handle besides feeding. Some moms may protest that dad won’t do [fill in the blank] as well as they do. Maybe that’s true, but how will they improve if we won’t give them a chance to try?
The growing number of stay-at-home dads gives me hope that the status quo is changing. Both a woman and a man’s place can be in the home. The next step is aiding the transition back to the professional workplace and, oh yeah, making paid leave for the arrival of a child an option for men and women.
My hope is that by the time my son is a father, no one would ever think of thanking him for simply feeding his child. Especially not me.