The other day I found myself listening to a podcast with a panel of women I deeply admire. One of them said that she appreciates her husband because he is just as much of a mother as her.
Her comment stayed with me, even as the other women spoke. I know her sentiment and underneath her words are love, yet I also found it limiting.
If we want to evolve past stereotypical gender prototypes when it comes to caring for kids, household duties, the workplace, etc, then let's extend this service to all.
This man wasn’t a great mother. He was a great father.
Just as women can have careers outside of their home or anything else they desire, so too can men be equal and active co-parents to their children. Let’s take men out of the narrow box we have put them in that says that if they change a diaper or get up in the middle of the night they are a unicorn … deserve applause … or are a “great mother.”
I recently looked for information on fathers and attachment theory only to find that there is scant research that fully investigates the father-child attachment. Why is this? From what I could gather, researchers believe that the quantity (level of involvement) and the quality (sensitivity) of a father’s engagement greatly influences the bond they have with their child, similar to that of mothers.
After searching the world-wide-web on the father-child bonding process, I also considered data collected in my own home as I witness my husband and his parenting practices.
We have both rocked our children to sleep while humming lullabies, practiced baby-wearing and skin-to-skin, and sat on the floor holding our child as they sobbed about their boo boo. My husband and I are equal partners, both in providing discipline, play and love for our children.
My husband isn't some strange bread of man, but rather one of many men who stand front and center in raising their children. I find this hopeful because it means both genders are closer to embracing any and all roles and pursuits that fill them with joy and give them purpose. The stereotypical generational patterns and prisons are being challenged and, in many ways, improved.
As we move forward in evolving mother/father parenting roles, we can do so with compassion. We can honor how far we have already come, even as we continue to be activists for all genders.
Here are four ways we can advocate for parenting equality
1. Recognize fathers as equally qualified parents.
If we want to break the thresholds of his roles vs her roles, then we need to sandblast the barriers that bind us to them. At times, our own unconscious wiring can holds us here, unknowingly going along with societal "programming" and unconscious bias. Instead, we can honor and value all parents, whether male or female, mother or father, for who they are and what they contribute to their children’s physical, social, and emotional well-being, among other things.
2. Increase access to public family restrooms with changing tables.
I have read time and again about men who find themselves out and about with their young children in need of a changing station. Because these accommodations are mostly in women's bathrooms, dads are left to decide whether to change their child's diaper 1) in the men’s bathroom minus a changing table, or 2) in the women’s bathroom, posing a question of comfort among all parties, or 3) to just throw it down, changing their child's diaper in the midst of the store, park, or wherever they may be. This lack of available changing tables for men is a subtle nod to the old thinking that changing diapers is a woman’s job.
3. Increase paternal leave.
When our first child was born, my husband had one day of paternal leave ... one day! With our second child he got less than a week. This is maddening. It takes two to create a child, and fathers deserve the opportunity to live in that babymoon of getting to know this new life, readjusting to an expanding family, and all other things that come in the weeks following the birth of a child.
4. Encourage dad playgroups and blogs.
When my oldest son was two, we made daily visits to a nearby park where I saw the same group of women standing near the slides chatting as their kids played together. On the perimeter, I saw the same dad watching on alone as his two children explored the playground, too. After a week of seeing this dad solo, I went over and introduced myself. I could tell he was equal parts relieved and nervous. Not long into talking, he said, “Thank you. I didn’t know if this was allowed. I feel like an outsider here.”
This man is a parent, taking his kids to the park, no different from the women there. He is a parent with his own questions, thoughts, concerns, and fears when it comes to raising little humans. As a mother, I feel well-supported in having play circles and "mommy" blogs, but realize they are not always inclusive. These same supportive outlets are important for ALL parents.
Regardless of our role, if we are a parent raising young children, then we are all searching for balance - giving verses receiving, doing verses being, allowing verses acting.
Awareness leads to acceptance. As we widen our lens for women and mothers, we also get to sharpen the clarity of our scope for ALL parents. Because when labels are removed and glass ceilings are shattered, everyone is given the space they need to grow more fully into the person they truly are.