This week my daughter asked me to download a game on the iPad called “Daddy’s Little Helper”. The first line of its description reads “Silly Daddy can’t get anything right! Help Daddy clean up & organize the house!”
Um, is that for real?
After explaining to my daughter why we wouldn’t be downloading that game, I turned to deal with my internal monologue which was exploding with rage and frustration.
I know, I know, “it’s just a game”. But it’s not. We are constantly confronted with a “mum vs dad’ dynamic, it pervades in our media and culture. Created forever ago, to keep women in their place, this rhetoric now damages men as much as women.
The modern dad? A buffoon who doesn’t know how to turn on the washing machine or the SNAG who saves the day without breaking a sweat. Dads are meant to be tough but soft, a handy-man (but actually not really!), handsome but not vain, funny but with bad jokes, hardworking but present. We are meant to love them and laugh at them, seemingly in equal measure. And let’s not get started on the myriad of stereotypes about Mums.
Rather than presenting parents as teams, we are subjected as competitors – fighting it out for who has it toughest, who has the harder “deal”.
The great risk in these stereotypes is that we stop trying to understand each other – whatever our relationship status. We think we know the others story, and so we don’t ask them to tell us….not until we reach boiling point by which time it can be hard to hear.
So how do we overcome this? I wanted to ask a range of Dad’s to share their story with me – to start a conversation. I asked them to tell me three things they would want the world to know about being a working Dad.
This is what they said…
Don’t Matronise Me
“When we are ‘on-duty’ at home to feed, bath and just generally look after the kids, we’re often ridiculed as utterly stupid numpties who are incapable of performing basic domestic tasks. Remember, this is not our regular workplace – we don’t know the systems, we haven’t been trained in the protocols and we don’t know where the ointment is! Yes, you might have told us before – but that was 7-months ago (the last time you went out for lunch and a spa treatment with your childless girlfriend). Try coming in to OUR workplaces a couple of times a year and figuring out the quarterly payroll tax-rate, weight-bearing stress-load factors or how to bath an elderly man with dementia and no legs.”
“Don’t matronize me: Patronize is when a man treats a woman as an inferior person especially in regards to traditionally male domains. Men today expeirience a certain matronization, women treating them as an inferior in traditionally female domains. Men may work full-time, but when they apply their hand at cooking or cleaning or looking after children, traditionally female domains, please don’t treat them like an idiots. They may lack a certain proficiency, but if you give them the space and time and benefit of the doubt, they will find their own way in these areas.”
Being at work all day is not a holiday from being home.
“Work is more than just a job for me: In recent times working fathers have been encouraged to be more engaged in the running of households. This is an important and beneficial corrective, meaning that men are usually more engaged with their children, as has been common in the past. Despite this men still gain a lot of self-idenity and worth from their work. Indeed, not just working fathers but working mothers as well. “
“There is still a real feeling that men should be providers but that’s also bundled up in our sense of identity which I think is at least in part synonymous with ‘what we do’ .”
“While my child comes first it can be a fine balance to do what is required to keep my career on track while also making time for my child.”
“Work is not a holiday from being at home. It has its own pressures and stresses. It’s not harder or easier, but different.”
“Work is not a holiday. When we come home we are tired, just like Mum is after taking care of the kids all day. Therefore, parenting should be shared when both come home, not a chance for Mum to put her feet up and say ‘my day is done”.
It is not because I don’t want to be there
“I would much much rather be at home with kids than at work.”
“I would prefer to spend time with family and engage with them in all activities, more so that being at work. If I miss a school concert, or something similar, it is not because I don’t want to be there.”
“I miss the kids like crazy during the week and put a lot of pressure on myself to get home in time to see them before bed (and help with evening activities). Never easy. Having a boss who doesn’t have kids makes point 1 even harder!”
We are in this together.
“I miss the kids like crazy during the week and put a lot of pressure on myself to get home in time to see them before bed (and help with evening activities). Never easy. Having a boss who doesn’t have kids makes point 1 even harder! The goodbye hugs and the ‘welcome home excitement’ is the best!
Kids are great but wives are still the best!”
“My mate who is considering having kids recently asked how best to manage time to fit in hobbies and general downtime as a working dad…he didn’t like the response: ‘I don’t have downtime anymore and my ‘hobby’ is now the kids'”
“Despite what that roguishly good-looking snag-dad on the cover of ‘Good Parenting’ magazine says, we’re not all staring out the window at work, longing to be home with our beautiful families. Some of us are quietly – maybe guiltily – enjoying our 8-hour ‘vacation from parenting’ each day. When the boss asks, “Hey Dave, any chance you can stay back to get that thing finished tonight?”, the truth is we’ll often respond with “Well, I really should get home to help with the screaming madness, chaos and filth that awaits me there, but ok, I guess I can get paid money to stay in this clean, quiet office, interacting with kind and reasonable people for just a little longer. Or a lot longer…”
I’m in the process of working it out
“Many men have been brought up with models of being a working Dad that are redundant in the contemporary world. Gone are the days when we were kept out of the birthing suite, right from the word go, we’re right there, next to mum, holding the scissors to cut the chord. In this way, we’re still working it out too. For men today we have work out what our values are almost from scratch, and then work out how to live them out.”
“Working and ‘Dadding’ are (usually) two very different jobs, and it can take a few hours to get from one head-space to the other – sometimes more than the couple of hours between getting home and kids going to bed. This is why blocking out a decent chunk of time to interact with your kids is so important. It’s like learning to enjoy the company of people who speak a different language …a made up language of nonsense words, that is entirely unreasonable and often offensive. Treasure every moment.”
5 ways to get the conversation started with your partner
- Have you worked out your family values and family culture – what are your priorities as a family for time together, apart and with your children.
- Pre-empt issues by regularly checking in with each other. One of my friends does regular marriage maintenance with her husband, either reading a relationship style book together, listening to an audio series etc…(And here I recommend anything by The Gottman Institute). Other friends have regular “team meetings” where they check in with each other, set plans for the coming months/year etc… Anytime we can pre-empt an issue rather than react to one is a winner.
- For parents who are no longer together, this will look different and some circumstances will make it easier than others for respectful, co-parenting post separation.
- Avoid talking negatively about your partner to your friends – there may be times when you need to have a vent but we’ve all been in gatherings where someone lets rip about their partner and then the floodgates are open. This is an extension of the “mum vs dad” dynamic we are surrounded by and so it’s easy to feel like it’s not big deal BUT I’m a big believer that the way we talk about things impacts the way we think and feel about them – so this is something I am very mindful of (and this means self-talk counts too – ha!)
- Make time for one on one time with your partner OFTEN. I know, it’s hard. So darn hard! But a date-night at home once the kids are in bed counts! Every single person I know who has been married for the long haul has told me that the hard times come and that you need to be prepared for them – the ONLY way to be prepared is to invest in each other in the good times, and build a solid foundation and good communication habits.