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Dads don’t babysit

Men are not dogs.  I’m convinced this is the root of this problem; somewhere along the way I remember “advice” circulating that recommended approaching men’s behaviour as you would your dog.  Reward good behaviour and ignore the bad.  Simple!  Soon your man would be cooking up a cordon bleu storm in the kitchen and sorting the laundry like a pro.  We have been told they respond better to positive feedback, and therefore to stop pointing out the negatives.  This in insulting to all concerned.

Things have gotten out of hand.  It needs to stop.  I am taking one for the team and I will confess that my husband does not get trained as a dog.  He gets criticism, both negative and positive.  I’m sure he would argue the positive comments are few and far between, but I believe he is sometimes coming from a place where he expects to be applauded for putting down the toilet seat.

The generation of women before us play no small part in this.  I imagine I’m not the only one who constantly hears admiring grannies, aunties and random women in the park comment on how great the fathers of today are.

It’s not helping ladies, please stop.

Praise is a helpful tool in encouraging progress and growth.  But it needs to be balanced. In this case, there is no balance.  Daddies are fantastic for simply being present and playing with their kids, changing a nappy or wiping dirty faces.  And unlike dogs, men perfectly understand language and take all this on board.

They have internalised the notion that they are doing an amazing job and sure wouldn’t their own mammy have given her right arm to have his father tell him a bedtime story every second night?  The mother of his own children is lucky to have him!  Look at him flex his fatherly muscles and reward himself with a cool beer in recognition of his parenting feats.

Except they’re not parenting feats; it’s quite often not even an equal division of parental and household labour between father and mother.

There’s probably an up-ended box of Lego at his feet as he puts them up to better enjoy his beer.  Chances are there is a permission slip from school to be signed on the kitchen table that he walked past as he opened the beer, or a birthday present to be wrapped on the counter as he sought out the bottle opener.  He doesn’t see any of it.  His job as a better-than-ever father is done.  Story read and toddler asleep.  Self-congratulatory beer in one hand and remote control in the other, he’s earned it.

I fully appreciate that the fathers of today are more engaged with and active in the upbringing of their children than our own fathers and those before them – which is wonderful and to everyone’s benefit.  But that’s not the only change and it needs to be viewed as part of the bigger social picture.  Mothers “back then” did more child-rearing and household management in general (I’m making sweeping statements here, I realise it’s not a one size fits all situation but it’s not possible to discuss each and every variation throughout) but they didn’t tend to be employed outside of the home.  The home was their workplace.

Mothers these days are more likely to be working outside the home, commuting to an office where they have to be present and capable in the same way as fathers are expected to.  Yet I don’t hear the platitudes about how amazing mothers are, creating such examples for their daughters and sons, contributing to the household finances.   Why not?  A mother’s role has changed as much as a fathers.

Stay-at-home mothers don’t have it as easy as the ones before them either.  There is a ticking schedule of play-dates, extra-curricular activities, and god knows what else to ferry small people to and from.  There is more pressure than ever on the sort of food the children “should” be fed, screen time, social media and a whole other host of worries that simply didn’t exist before.

Mothers needs fathers to pull their weight – and in saying this I am not saying that a lot of fathers are not pulling their weight, but that is is needed.  Not because they will be rewarded and praised, but because it’s their job!  If we keep telling fathers how fantastic they are for “minding the kids” or “baby-sitting” when in fact all they are doing is parenting their own children, they seem to believe they are going above and beyond what is expected of them.  It’s akin to praising a child for learning a-b-c and then never encouraging them to continue with the rest of the alphabet.

We are selling our men short, they are capable of much more.