I am a parent to beautiful boy/girl twin toddlers. Every day I wake up with my kids earlier than I would like. I get them washed up, dressed, fed, and style their (mostly her) hair before rushing them out the door to nursery school. And as soon as I am done, it's off to the office to try and kick butt as efficiently as humanly possible so I can get back home in time for bath and bedtime.
But, like so many other fathers, no matter how much parenting I do, I constantly have to deal with negative "dad" stereotypes, the assumptions people make about me because of those stereotypes, and the way people treat me because of those assumptions. You may even remember the recent attention given to the t-shirt "Dads don't babysit (it's called parenting)." While I can't claim to capture all of those negative "dad" stereotypes into a single post, here are the four most common negative "dad" stereotypes involved dads are bound to encounter.
1. Schools assume that a dad doesn't need or want to be involved in his kids' education.
My toddlers have been in nursery school for two calendar years now. Yet, despite the fact that email addresses for both "mom" and "dad" are on their school forms, I spent nearly a year fighting to get the school to regularly include me on communications. The assumption that only moms need to know about their children's education, welfare, and well-being was so ingrained that the school's software was only capable of associating one email address with a child and, you guessed it, administration would fill that one space with Mom's email address.
To get over the issue, I had to engage in a year-long campaign of pestering both the administration and teachers; I had to explain that I take the kids to school every morning and emphasize that a lack of communication means that I don't know when something affects their morning schedule. Ultimately, we figured out a makeshift solution — since I had twins, my email address is used for one and their mom's email address is used for the other.
2. Other parents assume that a dad isn't going to be the one to take the children to a play date.
When you have toddlers, you know that in addition to socializing your kids in school, you're expected to organize play dates for your kids to socialize outside of school. But other parents, like school administration, just assume that by default only moms care about organizing and attending these play dates. Invitations to my kids were almost exclusively directed to Mom, and even when I set up play dates myself, I often received an expression of surprise when I showed up, eventually leading the host to question, "where is their mom?"
The good news is that after overcoming the initial assumption hurdle, most play date parents have been good at treating me as an equal participating parent. I am included on emails between school parents and a good number of play date invitations now come my way. And the effect is infectious. Unlike the school's one-off solution for me alone, I have recently noticed more dads in the play date mix.
3. Other parents assume that in social settings, only moms want to talk about parenting.
Another hallmark of parenting toddlers is that your social circles often expand by making friends with other parents. But even when the kids aren't around, the assumption that dads aren't involved parents is oftentimes comically apparent. I can't tell you how many times I went to dinner with other parents, the seating fell along gender lines and the conversation followed the same path; the moms would talk about their children and parenting and the dads were expected to talk about their careers and sports. I often find myself having to make a concerted effort to break diagonally across the table into the parenting conversation.
4. The assumption that Dad can't have a serious career if he spends time with his children.
The flip side of getting people to see a dad as an involved parent is that once they do, they question whether Dad has a serious career (i.e. is he a bum). The questions are often innocuous on their lonesome, but their undertone is clear. "Oh you drop off your kids at school in the morning. What do you do for a living?" or "You can take the kids on a play date on a weekday. What does their mom do?" Or even the overt "some of us work for a living." Apparently, the assumption is that real men don't prioritize their children; they laser focus on their career and only see their children on holidays.
All of this is to say that real men parent. And when they're the ones showing up at the preschool drop-off or the play date at your house, give them the courtesy of trusting that they know what they're doing. We all don't follow stereotypical roles. Some of us truly enjoy breaking gender norms. #RealMenParent