Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dropping the Ball Directly Onto Dads

I've read lots of books lately about what it means to be a man or woman in this world raising a child. Everyone is an expert but no one really knows what they are doing. There is no LEGO manual for making every day awesome because no two families, let alone people are the same.

Finding balance between work and family life is constantly in flux for all of us no matter what your work and home situation may be. In the latest book which tells you everything you are doing is wrong, Tiffany Dufu has dropped the ball right onto dads. In her book, Drop the Ball she has chosen to perpetuate the lazy dad stereotypes of old. 

I mean, I'm sure Dufu meant well. She meant to share her personal experience backed by some semblance of research on how other moms feel about their perceived lazy husbands. But be warned, these, "experts" scream to you from bookshelves that the reason your husband doesn't clean the toilet taint (you know that area between the bowl and the tank) is because men don't want to share the worry and work that accompanies managing a home.

Wrong. We both worry though we probably worry about different things at different times. Let's be honest though, you can't be a parent and not worry about something.  Our mental health issues are on the rise on both sides of the coin. Men's mental health issues are steadily increasing with many men's worries escalating towards suicide which they believe is the only way out. Read up on Josh Levs' book All In where he conducted interviews with countless men over the ways they and their partners teamed up together to find a solution for their families. He will shed light on these sources who claim that women are doing most of the heavy lifting.

Teamwork is and always will be the key to any relationship and it is where most success resides for individuals and companies. People didn't get where they are today without influence from other people, period. Sometimes that meant that they took the lead and other times they were a support person.

The same holds true for relationships. Think of examples where teamwork works the best; on sports teams where their motto is "I don't want to win it for me, but the person next to me." It happens in businesses where people play specific roles that ebb and flow. Oftentimes a project manager takes on a role because they are the best at it while their supporting players may not be as strong. Nothing gets done in America without teamwork. But keeping score and holding that over your team will never make you a star.

What isn't productive is the claim that one gender works harder than the other at something. Claims that men work harder than women who work at home or claims that women work harder than men because they don't do as much housework doesn't bring us closer together, it divides us even more.

Authors like Dufu want to show one side only. They know extreme examples sell books. They want to prove that one sex is superior to the other based on quantifiable reasons. Why does there have to be this giant scale where we keep score?

I'm not in competition with my wife for who can do more. We don't keep a tally of all the things we accomplished that day like some maniacal tail-gunner taking out enemy planes. We don't compare notes at the end of the day over who did more like scars on a small fishing boat hunting down a shark.

We divide and conquer, together. I'm not good at the finances and she hasn't changed the cat litter since her first pregnancy. It works because we do the things that we are good at. In her case it's organizing and numbers and mine is just dealing with crap.

Dufu makes a claim that "When men change a diaper, they feel like they’re helping us out; when we change a diaper, we feel like we’re just doing our job.” If this is you, I'm sorry if you've been around men that don't see that caring for your children is an equal partnership.

The men that I know don't think of changing diapers as helping out their wives. We had children TOGETHER. We take care of them TOGETHER. We will always raise them TOGETHER. The very definition of a partnership is doing something together. 

If I were babysitting a neighbor's kid, that is helping out. If I were changing the diaper of my nephew, I might be helping out. If I am picking up someone's son to bring him home in addition to my own, that is helping out.  Being a parent and managing the household is not a job, it's a responsibility you both enter and navigate together.

I ran into this so often as a stay at home dad of nine years who was praised for doing the everyday tasks any parent would do with their children. People would say I was a good dad because I took my kids to the grocery store alone or because I could make an afternoon recital that my wife couldn't because she was working. These stereotypes make it hard to gain ground when it comes to equality on either side. 

I feel this way every time someone calls me Mr. Mom or asks me if I am babysitting. Stop referring to me as a character from a movie made in 1983. I'm a dad caring for my children while my wife works to support our family. The care and worry won't change once I am back in the workforce, it will just intensify since I won't be with them during the day anymore.

I recently started teaching again and now that I have a job, I'm still caring for the children. That part never changes no matter whether you are working or staying at home. I'm still carting the kids to after school activities and making dinner in the evening. Now that our family dynamic is changing again, we are figuring it out all over again.

Books like Drop the Ball reinforce these negative stereotypes about dads who are unwilling to be an active part of the household beyond just raising the children.  Society may keep those stereotypes alive but it's our job to disprove them, not reinforce them. Instead of figuring out who is doing more, let's focus on how doing it together looks like instead. 

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