The other day, I was at the grocery store with all three of my children, who are 10, 8 and 3. The youngest was in the cart, the other two were holding onto the sides. All three of them had pretty bad attitudes. Not that this is unusual. Taking three kids under 10 to the store is basically me repeating “no” over and over again, and threatening to not let them to get a free cookie at the bakery, all while wondering if life would be better if I ran away and lived in the woods.
Somewhere near the middle of our trip, as I was consulting the list on my phone to figure out what flavor of goldfish crackers I was supposed to get (there are soooo many now), a woman in a her late-60s tugged at my shirtsleeve and said, “Nice work, Dad.”
She smiled at me, and I smiled back and said, “Thanks” in that exhausted tone all parents carry when they are at the store alone with kids. But then, when I was at Costco during our next shopping stop, it happened again, only this time it was a couple in their early-50s. It happened a third time at the bank.
Now keep in mind, having triple compliments while out shopping with all my kids is unusual. This was the first time that I’ve run into parental cheerleaders three times in one day. But the reality is, it isn’t all that unusual for someone to complement me as I am out with all of my kids alone, whether it be at the store or the park.
I went home that evening and told my wife about my compliments. Her brow immediately furrowed and she said, “Seriously? No one ever compliments me.”
She said it with a cold sincerity, and I can see why. She works part-time at our children’s school. The rest of the time she’s a mom, so she has many more opportunities to take our three wild honey badgers of children around town to run errands.
So why the inconsistency? Why am I getting encouragement for being a dad while Mel isn’t getting the same kind of cheerleading for being a mom?
You know what, I don’t know. None of what I am about to say here is based on a sociological study. I have no quantitative data, just my own experiences, but for whatever reason, when people see a dad being a dad, they feel the need to give them a little moral boost.
Coming from someone who has been writing about fatherhood for years, the majority of dads I know who would take their children to the store alone are pretty active fathers. They don’t subscribe to the antiquated idea that their only duty as a father is to be the family provider. They wash the dishes, do the laundry, and perform a million other domestic tasks. In fact, in our home, I usually do the laundry, while Mel manages the budget. We don’t look at obligations as what we ought to be doing biased on our gender, but rather who is available and who has the skill set. It’s best that Mel manages the budget. I studied English for a reason.
If you see a dad at the store with his children, chances are he’s invested in parenting and his family. He’s interested in picking up slack wherever it might be. He’s not babysitting (another question I have been asked often and I hate it). He’s just doing what is required of a good and active father. And while it might seem like something that should be called out, he’s not doing anything more than what a mother does.
Plain and simple.
And to be honest, as much as I hate taking my kids to the store, being an active father has come with a lot of benefits. I am closer to my children than my father ever was. I know them better. I understand their needs and wants. I know their antics and I know their smiles. I have a wonderful relationship with all three of my kids, if I do say so myself.
It’s pretty awesome.
Furthermore, and this is where things get a little dicey, complimenting me every time I go out with my children feels like I’m being placed on a pedestal for doing what I’m expected to do as a father, and slap in the face to my wife for doing a very similar gig and receiving no praise.
I mean, honestly, do we really need to be singling out dads just for doing their job?
Listen, compliments are wonderful. And parenting in general can feel thankless, so, yes, it’s nice to be praised now and then. I never turn down a kind word when I receive them. But what I want us all to realize when we see a dad being a dad is that he’s doing what he should be doing. And when you see a mom being a mom, she’s doing the same. Both are doing their job to raise good children.
The last thing I want to advocate here is for less praise for parenting, so how about this? What I’d rather see is it all even out a little bit. Because honestly, parents need as much praise and support as they can get.
So when you see that frazzled mom at the store wrangling a cart full of children, tug at her sleeve and tell her she’s doing an awesome job. And in the next aisle, tell that father the same thing. It’s only fair.