At a recent kiddie party, while discussing the challenges of raising four littles, a fellow Mom asked: “Do you guys have help?” To which I replied, “No,” as in my mind, “help” is what I would request of someone to assist in something I’d rather someone else do, like clean my house, provide nanny services, etc.
By definition, “help” is “[making] it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or resources.”
Another parent was listening in, and quickly jumped on me stating, “Yes you do, you have your husband!” in a snippy tone, insinuating I lied and should shush up. It felt gross and dismissive. But got me thinking about why it didn’t sit right with me. To which I would like to respond:
First, having open conversations about the challenges of parenting is necessary and healthy. Silencing me in the middle of a private conversation was inappropriate. Second, my husband is not helping me. He is not providing his “services” to parenting any more than I am as the mother. What he is doing is honoring me, us and our family. He’s committing to all the things it takes to make this family function. He’s being what a father should be – a family man who demonstrates every day that his participation in our family didn’t end at the point of conception. Who acknowledges that each of us have a role in raising little humans, and whose importance in making a meaningful contribution extends beyond the monetary contribution he provides to our brood. Who has a woman in his life who sees his value as a man and father and gives him the confidence to show his strengths in those roles. Who married a woman with her own dreams and aspirations, and by parenting along side me, and sharing this mother-load, makes room for both of us to realize them. Who knows he’s modeling to our sons and daughter what it means to be an active contributor in making the heart of our family beat. Who does not treat me like a second-class citizen in my own home, expecting me to do all the “unpaid” and, what I find, mind-numbing domestic work (laundry, chauffeuring, dishes, etc.) of family management myself. Who understands, wholeheartedly, that parenting is a partnership and best undertaken as a team.
Parenting is not meant to be a solo journey. I know many of you do it (either by choice or by circumstance) and I have the deepest respect and admiration for your strength and resiliency. Some of you get your bliss from domestic duties and managing all the family stuff, happy to be the sole commander of the ship.
I admire your choice.
There are times I wish I had more enthusiasm for many of the tasks that amplify when children enter the picture. No judgement, all support over here. Sail on Sister! But this is not about who does what, who has it worse, who is parenting harder and it’s surely not about who does more.
I don’t think the responsibilities and lists would ever be even anyway. It is about normalizing involved Dads. We need to remove “help” from describing a father’s involvement in family life. Fathers add significant value to the overall well being of the unit. Our children deserve the affections of both parents. We need to hold dads to the same standard of significance as we do mothers. His role should not be implied voluntary, and a mother’s mandatory. Parenting is a partnership in every way, shape and form. It’s a follow through on the planning that two individuals made to bring life to the world.
Study after study shows the importance of fathers in their child’s upbringing. While our social systems have implemented measures to support this by introducing paternity leave, there still lies the hidden disapproval in many industries and corporations of a man taking extended time to be a father and a contributor in those early days of parenting. Many men feel this underlying condemnation of requesting time off and still bypass this wonderful bonding opportunity out of fear of dismissal upon return. This is shameful. Progress needs to be made here.
And it starts with not making mothers with hands-on partners be made to feel lucky. I am grateful for many things – a role model for my sons who may one day become father’s themselves, a male figure for my daughter who demonstrates what it means to honor a wife and be equally engaged in the rearing aspect of family life. I’m grateful that my spouse lives up to the “honor” and “cherish” sentiments we both stated in our vows and is a true, life partner in every facet of our journey. I’m grateful that our children will benefit and thrive from the love and affections of BOTH of their parents. But I don’t have to roll out the red carpet to the fact he’s parenting, anymore than he should feel gratitude that I stepped up and embraced my mothering role wholeheartedly as well. The choice to become a mother often means putting off career growth, surrendering to the mental and physical roller coaster of pregnancy, unruly hormones and radical body changes, and then being expected to perform at a level of super-human no one other than mothers understand, but many unrightfully judge. Having an involved partner helps relieve the load, yes, but he’s not helping me. He’s enabling a well-functioning “we.”
And though hands on fathering and home management has not always been the norm, that is not justification for continuing the way things have been. Women are redefining what it means to be a contributor to society, and, for many, it extends beyond her capacity to bear children and maintain a home. As before, but increasingly so, women are trailblazing, finding ways to pursue their passions, while still being phenomenal mothers. Except the unique gender difference is when a woman works, she’s expected to still mother as if she doesn’t, and work as if she isn’t a mother. That level of expectation is unhealthy, unsustainable and burning women out. Inadequacy in all their roles at its peak.
So, respectfully, please refrain from saying he’s “helping” me. It implies that I seek out his assistance for something I can’t do myself and that he’s doing me a favor. I can do it all myself. I just don’t agree with that level of expectation. Our household keeps afloat because we’re sharing the load and support one another as partners in parenting – our children benefiting from the love and affections of two parents who appreciate that dynamic in each other. And even with us both participating, parenting is still incredibly challenging. SOS!