Have you noticed how much more enlightened classic kids’ songs like Wheels on the Bus have become?
Here’s an excerpt from a version I heard recently.
“The mommies on the bus say, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ The daddies on the bus say, ‘I love you too.’ All through the town.”
First off, the mommies seem to be much nicer now, choosing words of adoration to soothe their crying babies in lieu of frustrated shushing. This seems to be a pretty clear leap away from reality, but whatever, I’ll let it pass. Because what really gets me pumped is that daddies, after all these years, finally get a shout out! Sure, it’s a hastily added throwaway line that does little to detract from the undisputed stars of the show––the mommies––but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Daddies, the stay-at-home variety in particular, don’t always get that much respect.
Many things are very much the same for both male and female stay-at-home parents. Both moms and dads are likely to have the Disney Junior programming guide memorized and are perhaps just a bit too knowledgeable about Sofia the First and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. And kids don’t care if it’s mommy or daddy preparing a grilled cheese sandwich, if s/he even thinks about cutting it in anything but the required shape (and of course, that shape is anything but a fixed target, it seems to shift by the day, minute, or second) it will not be eaten and there will be a meltdown, complete with theatrical hysterics and lying face down on the floor. But despite the equivalencies, the closer you look at the world around you, the more differences you begin to recognize that separate stay-at-home moms and dads, particularly when it comes to public perception.
1. People don’t really believe dads are stay-at-home parents
I’ve always hated the “so, what do you do?” question. In fact, a recent blog post by Ann Cinzar perfectly captured my feelings on this subject. Similar to Ann, I’ve carefully honed a completely non-foolproof way to dodge the question. Whenever I feel it coming, I locate the nearest potted plant and examine it with a careful eye, feigning a sudden and urgent interest in horticulture. And while this particular aversion seems to be one that is shared by stay-at-home moms and dads alike, moms have one not so insignificant advantage––people tend to believe them when they say they stay at home with the kids. On the other hand, for dads like me, you would be surprised how often the response to our answer takes the form of, “Haha. No seriously, what do you do?”
2. People assume that dads are incompetent
Almost everywhere you look––TV, movies, your Facebook wall––dads are portrayed as idiots when it comes to parenting, just another burden for moms to carry. So it should come as no surprise that many people are downright horrified when a dad is left in charge for extended periods of time. This aura of inferiority makes me feel like I’m under a microscope anytime I’m out in public with my kids. While this might sound like paranoia, and it probably is in most cases, a few interesting conversations I’ve had made me realize the paranoia is not entirely unfounded. For example, I was asked once, “What do you guys (meaning my sons and I) do all day while (your wife) is at work?” Seems like a completely benign question, right? However, when I thought about it later, I wondered if the circumstances were reversed, could you imagine anyone asking my wife, “What do you guys do all day while (your husband) is at work?” Probably not. I decided the most appropriate answer would have been, “you know, the usual, stick forks in light sockets,” but I’m not that quick on my feet.
3. Dads have to tread carefully at playgrounds
Grown men and playgrounds just don’t mix. So dads, stay at home or otherwise, have to tread carefully. As long as you stay within arm’s length of your child, you should be okay, save for the awkward smile or sideways glance from the group of moms that rule the monkey bars. However, taking a moment to yourself to sit and read a book or check your phone while your child plays isn’t advisable. You know those signs posted at the entries of most playgrounds? The oddly phrased ones that make you hesitate for a moment because they seem to be worded incorrectly. “No adults unaccompanied by children.” The key parenthetical that’s always missing is, “(Guys, this means you).”
4. Dads lack support systems, real and virtual
The playground provides another window into the stay-at-home dad disadvantage––the comparative lack of support groups for dads. What you often see at the playground are groups of moms pushing strollers, lugging diaper bags, and wrangling children, all while swapping war stories about the previous night’s bedtime disaster or their husbands’ insane work schedule. That feeling of community and camaraderie, that you’re not in this alone, can be a powerful thing and it’s something that dads tend to miss out on. And this support system imbalance also extends to the Internet community. For example, the mom parody version of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space has gone hugely viral. It’s very well done and really nails the stay-at-home parent condition. It makes parents feel like someone out there understands what they’re going through––well, it makes moms feel that way at least.
So yes, it seems that stay-at-home dads still have a ways to go to gain acceptance and better fit in, but hey, maybe the Wheels on the Bus have us rolling in the right direction. The arts often are an important driver of social change, right?