An interesting thing I noticed shortly after becoming a mother is that the way our culture here in the US works for parents is thus:
Mom does parent work = doing her job. Mark = meets expectations
Dad does parent work = above and beyond call of duty. Mark = exceeds expectations
My first encounter with this was at the the wonderful miss-it-like-crazy-cakes Montessori school Patience attended in Massachusetts. When I dropped off Patience the marvelous teachers were so friendly, so nice, "Hi Mrs. Pippert! Hi Patience! So glad to see you!" Then they waved goodbye to me, "Have a nice day!"
When my husband did the same---and trust me, he did it just as I did it, no extra fanfare, no bribery cupcakes for teachers, etc.---he got gushed over. "Oh Mr. Pippert, it's so good to see you! You're such a great dad! Patience is so lucky to have a father as involved as you!"
It was the same thing when we went to the school together. So I saw it first hand. The teachers gushed to my husband, gushed to me about my husband, and so forth. At first, it was nice. I agreed. Totally. But then...it got a little irritating.
Did anyone think my husband was lucky to have me? That Patience was lucky to have me?
Or was being a good mom simply expected of me?
It made me wonder...in a family with two dads, is it the same thing? One "meets expectations" dad, and one "exceeds expectations" dad?
Or is it only a thing with women? My husband and I split the kid duty pretty much right down the middle, so his appearance wasn't rare or new. The enthusiasm for it was an interesting phemomenon.
The trend continued in other ways: Gymboree class, Kindermusik class, and best of all...work.
Both of us kept working, albeit on slightly staggered and flexible schedules. We were both committed to the parenting gig 100%, both of us. Not a dominant parent and a back-up parent: two parents. And we were willing to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices for this. It was the method of parenting we both preferred for us. (So that's us, not you, us...in case you felt some sort of passive-aggressive judgment.)
My husband got the big positive at the preschool, and the big negative at his work.
That's the second lesson we learned. I learned that maternity has a rarely mentioned side-effect post-partum: depressed career. Unfortunately, so does paternity, unless it is a man who is not a Dad so much as a Man who happens to have a wife and child at home.
When it comes to work, the formula is thus:
Mom does parent work = doing her job. Understood as necessary and tolerated at work, but taken into consideration by disgruntled colleagues who perceive themselves as "carrying more work unfairly" and "how come she gets to leave it's not fair" and at promotion and review time. Mark on review = job loyalty score falls
Dad does parent work = not doing his work job
I was lucky to have a nice boss who was both understanding and flexible. My work is easy to measure: I either produce a book on time, or I don't. That simple. The quality is easy to measure too: either the book is great and sells well, or it doesn't. As long as I was available to my authors (and since most have day jobs, they were ecstatic that I was suddenly willing, post-partum, to work in the evenings with them rather than restricting the time to 8-5), got my work done, and had books that sold well...we were fine.
Colleagues aren't always as understanding.
Bosses and colleagues of men appear are often even less understanding.
For example, one time I had a big important meeting, and we'd gone to the trouble of flying the author to our location, instead of doing the usual phone conference. I could not miss it.
Patience needed to see the doctor. No coin flip necessary. It was Dad's turn.
When he spoke to his boss to arrange for the time off (which he would use as sick or vacation time or make up with make up more likely in his job), his boss---knowing I had my own full-time job---said, "Don't you have a wife for this kind of thing?"
I kid you not.
We know we're supposed to have family values and support families and be understanding of the modern dad's role. Many workplaces pay lip service to this, some even have pretty decent supportive policies. But in our experience, when push comes to shove, parents pay a price for parenting, and the cost isn't the same for both, neither is the payment.
Luckily, my husband's current workplace is actually understanding and supportive of the family, more so than some of his past ones.
However, that doesn't make everything golden.
Lawyer Mama wrote a piece about the mommy career penalty I mentioned earlier. One of the big sandtraps is extracurricular activities, such as Saturday golf games and happy hour. Parents often opt out of the activities in order to go home and spend time with their families. Dads are more likely to opt in than moms, but still aren't likely to opt in as often as childless or single people.
Believe it or not, these optional activities aren't as optional as they sound. They are actually considered in career development, or colleague relationships.
After reading Lawyer Mama's article, I asked my husband, "Do you get criticized for missing off work time events, like happy hour?"
"Sometimes, yeah," he said, "Depends on the person. Some people just go, have fun, don't worry about who is there or who isn't. But some people do a mental roll call and have a grand time harshing absentee people later."
One of the harshest harshers he ever met was a dad, who liked to check and see which married men or fathers weren't attending these get-togethers. The next workday he'd spend the day calling everyone's attention to the "whipped" and "domesticated" man who chose to "run home" rather than "party."
"Do you think attendance at these social things is considered by your boss, for reviews or promotions?" I asked.
"Not at this job, no, but it can be, it has been," he told me.
I had always considered the ramifications I faced by missing get-togethers, but hadn't thought that men suffered a similar penalty.
Although neither my husband nor I are currently in a job that builds around socialization like happy hours or golf games, many jobs do. This is an old model of workplace relationship development, left over from the past, and probably really prominent in some careers.
In the past, the workplace schedule was not like it is now. The average work day has increased 7.9% since 1960. I imagine the average vacation time has shortened too. Additionally, more families have two working parents. I've written before about the workplace expectations of the modern family, and how the current workday can be a burden.
However, work and school aren't the only places our gender inequities and parenting roles come into play. They come into play in leisure activities, too.
When a parent stays home, it is usually the mother. However, increasingly it is the father. Or, with telecommute options available, the father is more able to participate.
In my neighborhood, there are quite a few active dads, stay at home dads, or at home and flexible schedule dads. However, all of the organized groups are for women, for moms. Now and again one of the dads will come along, and we often try to organize events that encourage dads to join in the activities. I don't hear disgruntlement from dads, but I do hear my husband---who commutes to the city and isn't home as much as he wishes---express the desire for a way to meet other dads, have some fun groups and outings like I have.
He also likes to have an organized activity with the kids. Last year it was gymnastics, although at Patience's level that doesn't include interaction. This year he wanted to do Indian Princesses, which is a nice father-daughter activity, but we found Girl Scouts instead. When we went to sign-up, Jon came, of course, because Girl Scouts is much more his thing than mine.
He loves camping, hiking, biking, exploring, and is, believe it or not, much better at crafts than I am. Must be the architecture degree.
Girl Scouts accommodates dads, the lady assured us at sign-up. They have a special name for them: Do-Dad.
"We even had one dad come along to the camping leadership training," she told us encouragingly.
Despite her words, it was clearly still more comfortable and natural for her to speak to me. Each thing was clearly more geared for moms, despite accommodation for dads. Despite the welcome and the space, it clearly really still is a mom thing.
Each time my husband goes to be involved, he gets the same gushing approval. The same welcome. At first, I thought it was a statement about dads and involvement (or perceived lack thereof). At first, I thought it was solely a statement about dads exceeding the call of duty.
With time, I've grown to understand that just as workplaces puts words to paper about family values, so does society at large. But words to paper isn't actual, real. And accommodating isn't the same as equal role and part. It doesn't provide the same comfort level, or feel of welcome and at home, in place. It can make a dad feel like a bit of an interloper into a gaggle of moms.
It can be uncomfortable being a man in a woman's world. All jokes aside, it can be. It can get tiresome always having a bit of a mountain to climb in order to participate in activities with your kids, always feeling a tad awkward, slightly out of place or element.
My husband has the same commitment to parenting he began with, but with each passing year, we find one more new or more more tougher obstacle for him to overcome.
Patience and Persistence are lucky to have him as a father. I am lucky too---or not so much, as I knew he was a good guy when I married him.
But with time, we've moved from the equal share parenting partners to more traditional roles: evening and weekend dad back up parent and primary caretaker mom. In part, it's because I am staying at home with the kids, now, and my husband has a long commute to a demanding job. Our roles have changed.
But he wants a role in the kids' lives that is more than just their father. He wants to be dad...Girl Scout dad, soccer dad, fun memory of special times dad.
There isn't any one solution. Our culture needs to do more than pay lip service to family values. When possible, all organizations needs to equally support parents parenting. Currently, organizations are putting the right words to paper to support families, and dads. Traditionally exclusively female groups are opening up to men, just as males groups did for women. These are steps in the right direction. However, let's take it the next step beyond words to broader action. I think more men are going to have to be pioneers, tough it out, make the space theirs, too.
This will make it more than simply an accommodation for dads.
You might lose your "exceeds expectations" mark for just being there, but wouldn't it be grand if the standard were set so that this was simply "meets expectations?" I look forward to the time when all the things so many dads like my husband want to do, and do do, are simply ordinary rather than extraordinary.
I will still appreciate it, for the record.
Note 1: Tomorrow is Hump Day. Remember to do your Hmm! Click here to read the instructions for this week.
Note 2: Breastfeeding is under attack again. As a mom who had the best set-up EVER for breastfeeding with both kids, one time working and one time not, I am super sensitive about the plight many women and the act of breastfeeding face. I could rant your eyeballs out on this issue, oh could I ever, but instead I'll make sure you are reading the relevant bloggers who have already done so very, very eloquently (and I'll be glad to link more if you let me know):
PunditMom at DC Metro Moms
David at It's Not a Lecture
Mojo of a Mama (READ THIS ONE...it's totally what I think about it)
Velveteen Mind (With links to more posts and information, including Sara at Suburban Oblivion)
It's a BABY eating from the BREAST. That's what they're FOR. If you have a problem with it, it's YOUR problem. Quit making it mine. Seriously, grow the eff up, Bill Maher.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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