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Let’s Talk About “Working Dads”

Let’s talk about working dads for sec here. Now, I know that term is a little weird. Truth is, most dads work (92.8%, to be exact) outside the home. But I don’t want to go into semantics. This is just something I’ve had on my mind for a while now.

On Working Dads

Photo by AESharpe Photography

*Caveat: (The only one I’m going to make!) This is my experience. I’m married to a great man. Ben has a solid job. He is an involved dad, husband, and partner. I KNOW this is not true for everyone.*

Situations are different: single moms, moms with traveling husbands, situations where mom works and dad stays home, families with hands-off dads, etc. I have not experienced those lifestyles. But I know they must be different. Also, I want to be clear that I realize I am exploring this topic through the lens of privilege. I’m writing from my private office at work during my lunch break. My work environment is flexible and family-friendly. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have returned to work after my son was born. 

I don’t want to take any of this for granted. I know I’m blessed. No hashtag there, that is my sincere belief. 

But back to the whole “working dad” thing. I think many of them don’t get the credit they deserve — especially when married to a working mom. Working moms are repeatedly asked “how they do it all.” And in turn, they are praised (or criticized, depending on your side of the mommy wars, unfortunately). You do it because you have to, you do it because you want to, you do it because you’re good at it, you do it because it’s routine. But working dads never (or rarely) get asked similar questions. Working is assumed, and the rest of life fits in around the margins. 

Many working moms I know credit their success at work and their survival at home to the support of their husbands. Support has been traditionally assumed to be emotional. While that is needed, especially in the little years, so is the practical support of keeping life in order. Cooking dinner. Cleaning bathrooms. Sweeping the floor. Washing dishes. Folding (and putting away!) laundry. Oh yeah, and taking care of children. Need I go on? I know if it came down to it, I could work full time and do all that. Keywords: if. I. had. to. But if I am not in a situation where I absolutely-without-a-doubt HAVE to do that? Umm, no thanks.

Guess what? My husband doesn’t want me to do that either. So he contributes, to all of the above and then some. Sometimes doing both housework and supervising our toddler at once — just like I do. Not to “help me out” but because the needs of daily life affect him too. From conversations with other working moms, I think this notion is pretty standard. And yet, men aren’t depicted that way in the media, or in casual conversation between women.

Men are often portrayed as uninvolved and self-absorbed or simple, hopeless, inept buffoons. Either way, they supposedly don’t have a clue about anything related to the domestic or family spheres. Those sentiments really bother me. I think we are doing men (dads) a disservice when we tease and belittle them (even if it’s through sarcasm or parodies or memes). I’m not saying humor is wrong, but it often quickly moves from jokes to swapping stories and trying to outdo one another. Didn’t we marry these men? And choose to have children with them? It just makes me sad.

However, there is some truth there. And this makes me uncomfortable — not just because it can be awkward when friends or acquaintances criticize or demean their husbands. (I know people aren’t perfect, but I do think respect of your spouse is important.) But also because of where that uncomfortable-ness leads me, personally.  It leads me to a place of analyzing why we complain or apply stereotypes to our situations. Or why studies demonstrate that “on workdays, parents are more evenly splitting housework and childcare. It’s very much ‘all hands on deck’ but when there is more time available on the weekend and parents are not so pressed to get everything done, then we see the emergence of gendered patterns and inequality where women do a lot more housework and childcare while he leisures.”

Reading that is hard to swallow, and I’ll admit to having this post sit in draft-mode a little too long while I made sense of it in my head. But what I kept coming back to as an answer for why—in my situation—statements like that ring a little too true. During the week, I sing my husband’s praises. Ben and I divide our morning and evening routines equally and often still have time to play trucks or trains or read book after book after book with our little guy. Then Sunday night comes along, and all too often, I find myself agonizing over the lack of free time I had during the weekend. And it’s easy to remember what my husband did and feel a twinge of annoyance.

Family time, yes. Time in the kitchen (which I SO enjoy), yes. A couple of runs, yes. Church, yes. But extended time to read a book or see a friend or check out a new local shop? Nope. Yet on that same weekend, my husband may have watched a few football games, finished a book, played video games . . . and still enjoyed family time, went to church, did some chores, etc. What gives?

Guess what, friends? The answer isn’t really that complex. I think the answer is me. If I don’t ask for help, I don’t receive it. I work until I cannot work anymore. It’s easy to say that my husband is to blame for not fulfilling my (often unspoken) requests and therefore, it’s easy to run down that rabbit hole of male criticism. It’s also easy to say that I “can’t” take time for those things, especially as a working mom, because I need to spend all. the. time. I can on the weekends with my son (and husband, but son mostly).

But maybe working dads (or working men in general) know something that busy moms (or women) who work outside the home (or not) are missing.

Maybe they’re better at choosing (or prioritizing) rest and leisure.

Perhaps we are really critiquing ourselves when we belittle men. And maybe we should learn from their example. 

It’s not bad if I use my son’s Sunday afternoon naptime to clean the bathrooms or go grocery shopping or fold laundry. My first inclination is usually to use that time practically. But maybe it’s better, sometimes, to follow my husband’s lead and take a nap instead. Or get out of the house for a couple hours. The chores are always there, but precious moments of rest are more fleeting. In the same way, it’s also not bad if I meet a friend for brunch on Saturday and leave my son at home with his daddy. Yes, that is time I could spend with my son but it doesn’t make me a bad mom if I don’t take advantage of every opportunity to be with him. I think working moms have a different view of that subject than working dads do, and that’s part of our struggle.

On "Working Dads"

So what’s the takeaway here? 

  1. Thank the dads in your life for all they do. Even if they aren’t looking for credit, it’s always a nice thing to acknowledge their contributions… at work or at home. I don’t thank my husband broadly (or publicly) enough. So thank you, Ben! I <3 you!
  2. If you are prone to criticize or complain about your husband in these ways, try to figure out why. Are they really a slacker at home… or are your expectations too high? Are they really doing what you want to be doing? Maybe you don’t want to play video games, but you want to read at a coffee shop instead. Then give yourself permission to make that happen in a way that works for your family. Ask your husband to help you in that… and I bet he will! 
*And finally a note to all who may have read this and don’t have a great situation in life right now or whose husbands wouldn’t/can’t help in these areas… I am sorry. This is  my experience and I wish I had more to offer you… I hope you have someone in your life who can give you support and love. <3

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