This is cross-posted at The NYC Dads Group blog
The word is getting out about the "new" father. More involved, sharing equally or even taking a larger role than the mother in the raising of kids. Our group is filled with men like this; they're competent with their kids, competent at their jobs if they have them, competent with running the house. Dads, employed or not, across the country are making parenting a more important part of their life.
That said, we still get the stereotype of being the Mr. Mom, trying and failing at replacing a mother. Except perhaps around Fathers' day, we are presented as bumbling, laundry-forgetting idiots who can't manage as well as our wives. Speak to most of us, however, and you find these stereotypes don't hold.
With more notoriety coming for the involved dad, comes more media coverage. With more media comes the opportunity to correct the stereotypes. A friend of the NYC Dads group, Adam Cohen, from Dadarocks.com, got such an opportunity at iVillage recently. See this recent clip from their video segment The Conversation Thread.
Now, while Cohen gets a great opportunity to set the record straight, the interview was set up in a way to reinforce the stereotypes, and we think we all can do better. We've put together a list of a few things to think about when being an involved dad, and especially when discussing it, whether it's on TV or the playground. We hope these will move the conversation forward and help us move away from 1950's clichés.
1) Don't be the boob. Listen, just because expectations are low, doesn't mean you have to live up to them. We get a lot more credit for simple things just because people expect us to fail. Everyone wants to make the Mr. Mom jokes about burning the ironing, burning dinner, and burning your kids up because you forgot the sunscreen. Don't let this be true, and don't let other people get away with accusing you.
Saying that after you "mess up that laundry 3-4 times you don't have to do it again" might get a laugh, but it makes us all look like an idiot. Most of the dads we know are excellent at managing their households, cooking, and making sure everything that needs to get done gets done.
Victoria Perico, of Savvymommy.com, says that "if we leave anything up to a dad that's major, most likely it will fall apart." Not only is this complete nonsense, but it makes me wonder why she would tolerate her husband being like that. Our responsibility as an involved father is two-fold. One, don't be that useless guy. Play your part and take control over these things. Make sure things get done. Two, when someone calls you incompetent, don't laugh. Correct them.
2) Be involved in everything -- not just major discipline. Don't just be there to back mom up when "it gets escalated." Being involved with the discipline (and education, entertainment, and everything else) of your children is your job. You want your kids to respect you? Be there from the beginning. When posed with the question about fathers' parenting skills, it's not best to start by explaining that you let your wife do the "baseline" parenting.
To kick this reputation, we can't be the Don Drapers of the world, or even the Ward Cleavers. We need to make sure that we are there for the school events, scraped knees, and the time outs. We are not just the nuclear option for our wives when they get overwhelmed.
3) Be on top of your stuff. One of the more offensive points in the video is when Amy Oztan, of selfishmom.com, says "Let's face it, I think that in most relationships, men just suck at logistics." She describes it in the context of her husband. Points like this need to be challenged. While this may be true in her household, perhaps some of it is because she tolerates it. She says "there's always that extra layer of stress," but she says nothing about trying to get her husband involved in doing those things. When we allow negative behavior from our partners without trying to address it, it is also our fault.
For starters, handling "logistics" and the small details is not a trait unique to one sex. I've known plenty of amazing male and female project managers, which is essentially what parenting is. Just because in one person's household, such as Oztan's, the woman is better at it, does not mean the rule holds true for all couples. In our group, we have men who run all of the details of their homes while others take a more shared role. That said, part of being involved is being on top of the things your kids need. Be a counter-example to Oztan's point, and then correct people when they make such assertions.
For better or worse, part of the "job" of being an involved dad is helping to change the incorrect impressions people have of all dads. Set an example, live that example, and correct people when they are wrong.