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Home > Gender Roles > Article

What I Don't Like

by Stephen Harris

I don't like the term "Mr. Mom." It reflects an attitude that women are parents, and men are baby-sitters. I suppose it is more a matter of semantics than of anything else; there is no other popularly accepted name for at-home fathers. But it points out a greater social misunderstanding-that men have no value as care-givers, even for their own children.

I don't like being thought of as an aberration. I don't like the stereotype of fathers as foolish, incompetent bumblers who can't change a diaper without rubber gloves and a clothespin on their nose. Any man, given enough time and space, given the support and encouragement of his partner and peers, (which is what we offer to new mothers) can be a perfectly good parent. I and my fellow at-home dads are not weirdoes because we can deal appropriately with children. We simply found ourselves in the unique situation of having the opportunity to learn how to be caring fathers, nothing more.

I don't like being told that by taking an active part in the feeding of my infant children I am scarring them for life. People who insist on the breast and nothing but the breast are closing their minds to the vast variety and complication of real life. Telling men that for them to get involved in feeding their babies is harmful only serves to force women into extended child care, and to force fathers out of their families. Breastfeeding is unquestionably the best option, but there are plenty of situations where it is simply not possible. I hope that my children learn tolerance for the differences of others as they grow up, and the best way to teach them that is to actively demonstrate tolerance in my day-to-day life.

I don't like having to explain what I do. I love talking about parenting, and about my children, but it is difficult to have to explain that staying home to care for my children is my career. The name "mother" speaks volumes, and implies a full-time position, but "father" doesn't seem to say anything more about a man than that he has the ability to impregnate a woman. Working mothers are pretty much accepted as normal, but non-working fathers...there isn't even a good term to describe them. I wish people would simply accept mothers and fathers as parents, and not put so much emphasis on who cares for the children and who works.

I don't like people asking me if I will "go back to work" when the kids are in school. At first, I don't understand the question; I've never worked so hard in my life as I have these past six years. Then I wonder why people assume that my work as parent will be done just because my children are in school. Do the people who ask me about going back to work perhaps unconsciously mean that my rightful place is in the marketplace, and that my time at home has been a temporary detour from the career track? Is it assumed that, given the option, I would give up my career of full-time parent and seek paid work elsewhere? I know that I could never find another career as fulfilling and astonishingly creative as this one. My kids certainly will need me no less, and I will need them no less either.

I don't like being around my children day in and day out. Bear with me here; my job as chief entertainment director, purchasing agent, delivery man, chauffeur, cook, nurse, waiter, dishwasher, household maintenance engineer, peacemaker, psychologist, and nutritionist leaves little emotional and physical energy for my role as husband and best friend to my wife, let alone time for many of my own needs. Caring for children full-time is an emotionally draining job. I don't get to leave my workplace at the end of the day or on weekends. The people I deal with all day, my clients if you will, are frequently irrational, and act like children. This is what at-home mothers deal with, but I add to it the stereotypes and misconceptions about fathers and men that I face every day.

I also love to be around my children day in and day out. People talk about the major events in a child's life-the first step, the first word--but there are a million events every day that flash by in the wink of an eye. I like reading a story with my children in the middle of the day. I like overhearing my daughter singing a song to her cow as they camp out under the dining-room table. I like listening to my son's conversations between his Lego people as he plays in his room. I like having the time and great luxury to wander through the day with my children, without having to be concerned with much in the way of schedules. Those are the things that only an at-home parent gets to see. There is a bond forged over time and a closeness that only comes from expansive daily interaction. I am privileged to be witness to my children's everyday reality. There is nothing like it in the world. The day is made up of an unending procession of moments that not even the kids themselves can keep up with. While there are days when I want nothing more than for them to simply go away and leave me alone, there are also days when I can't bear to be apart from them. In the long run, there is such joy and love in the job that I take on all the misunderstanding and unintentional insult without hesitation.

This article originally appeared in Full-Time Dads, and is reprinted by permission. No reprint or other use of this article is allowed without express written consent of the author and Full-Time Dads.


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