Let’s face it; the bar’s not set that high for fathers of young children.
Some score points just for sticking around. Most get nods of approval if they don’t forget to bring the kid’s snacks along to the park or the mall.
But if this is the measure for dads, I’m in big trouble (today I ordered adult size meals for the kids because I didn’t realize there were kid sizes – yes, even the 1 year old). But whether I get the little things right or not, I’m committed to being fully engaged in raising my girls, right from the start.
Many men do make young children the central focus of their lives (I’m far from unique), but they don’t always find it easy. For every man out there who chooses to stay home on parental leave, for example, there are two more who would never consider it.
To think, when I told my co-workers that I was taking 9 months leave after Emily’s birth, a couple of them told me to enjoy my vacation – and another my sabbatical.
I’ve heard comments ranging from concern about my career to what a waste of money it is to offer fathers parental leave. Many asked me why I would take some of the time right away when Julie would be home with the baby. I didn’t want to get into what a traumatizing experience we’d had the last time, so I let it go.
I shouldn’t have cared about all of these opinions. But I did. The preconceptions and expectations I was hearing openly around the time Emily was born were similar to the ones I had secretly feared during Chloe’s colic – namely that in many peoples’ eyes, fathers are expected to be at work; mothers are the ones who are expected to go to appointments, pick kids up from daycare, and work short days, but men…well they’re who the boss depends on.
I readily admit that my fear was incredibly chauvinistic. I feared that my work might want “men to be men.”
But of course that’s what I feared. That’s what makes subversion of roles both exhilarating and terrifying. It’s about leaving a comfort space, a space where you feel assured, surrounded by others like you.
How many men would want to admit that the jobs they’re doing every day at the office, with accompanying stature, salary and inbox full of useless messages might be less work than staying home with their kids?
Until we can bring an alternative masculinity into clearer focus – one that doesn’t rely on men having to justify their value based on their perceived importance in the public sphere, many stay-at-home dads are going to continue to feel as though they just stepped out of a cold swimming pool naked every time they’re asked what they’re doing Monday to Friday.
But too bad!.
It’s our turn to feel a little uncomfortable – to worry about taking a sick day to stay home with the kids, or to leave work early because it’s our turn to pick up the kids at daycare. The game’s been changed and we’ve benefited from it.
When it comes to our young kids, we’re actually there. We’re involved. Overall we should be grateful, shouldn’t we?
The struggles of women over generations to be more than just mothers have allowed us to be better fathers. We’ve been given a gift.
Fathers are needed more now.
Mothers have taken their place in a new order. They have demanded to be acknowledged both as individuals as well as guardians of their children. And yet they are still burdened with the weight of generations of expectations. They are “supposed” to know what they’re doing. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk.
Raising children used to be a responsibility shared by mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. And a woman’s domain was once almost exclusively domestic.
But what was, isn’t anymore, which is why men take parental leave, and why women need their support at home. Society is adjusting to changing circumstances. And so am I.
Our role, that of men and of fathers, is slowly coming into focus. We’re still catching up. But the shifting ground will settle. And families will be the better for it.
Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici
Sean Sutton lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and two children, Chloe and Emily. He spent much of this year on paternity leave following Emily’s birth and started a blog to document his experience.
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