My husband always has the best experiences when grocery shopping with our two boys.
“People were so nice!” he’ll recall. “One lady held the door open, and another offered to entertain Theo while we were waiting in the checkout line.” Managers offer them free samples, and strangers return the grocery cart with a wink and a wave of the hand.
“Look at you,” they’ll say. “Such a great daddy!”
I can’t help but shake my head at this special treatment. When I go out with all three kids, I usually get a lot of “Wow. You’ve got your hands full,” and then some side-eye if the kids aren’t on their best behavior. The rare stranger who approaches me and says, “I’ve been there! You’re doing great, mama!” has my undying affection and loyalty and might also feel uncomfortable when I start crying on their shoulder in the Target parking lot.
Of course it all comes back to the tired trope of the bumbling, helpless husband who gets an A+ for effort when they manage to roll themselves off the couch. Societal expectations for fathers are so low that just bringing their children to the store warrants applause and accolades!
I find this attitude somewhat insulting on Robbie’s behalf (though he doesn’t seem to mind if it means he gets free samples).
My husband is a fantastic, participatory father and helpmate. Robbie is in the trenches right there with me, and our kids turn to us equally with scraped knees, dirty diapers, and snotty noses. We share, take turns, and do our best to make life easier for the other person.
And the thing is, Robbie is far from special (well, you’re special to me, of course, honeybabysweetness). What I mean is, in our generation at least, it’s becoming much more common for fathers to play a greater role in their children’s upbringing. Some dads are becoming primary caregivers, many women are headed back to work, and even in traditional households such as our own where Robbie works and I stay with the kids, we still share the load as much as possible.
So why haven’t expectations risen to meet these evolving standards? Why is it that when Robbie takes the boys to a playground, some people will chuckle and commend him for “babysitting?” It’s not babysitting, it’s parenting. And some days I feel like he’s actually a better mom than I am! (His patience knows no bounds, and it’s actually kind of . . . infuriating, sometimes.)
It’s not a competition to be the better parent, but it is important to have a level playing field. Let’s give dads the credit they deserve, praise the efforts of both parties, and hand out samples without discrimination!