A generation ago, men weren’t allowed in the delivery room. Today, they are not only suiting up in scrubs and cutting umbilical cords, but are becoming stay-at-home-dads… on purpose. Men were not expected to know, say, or do much in the way of parenting back then. Now we have our own manly diaper bags, support groups, and daddy blogs. Nevertheless, if this progression in parental activity is to make a successful transition from trend to permanent shift, you need to be more thoughtful when talking to fathers. To start, here are ten offhanded comments we really wish you would stop saying.
10.) “You really should look into (fill in the blank).”
He knows you mean well, but when you phrase it that way, there is a good chance that he will ignore you completely. Advice is best given — and received — when requested. Feel free to tell him about the cool potty-training trick you used or the new certified organic baby food, but don’t suggest he do it solely based on one positive experience you had or because it comes recommended from a friend of yours. He will be the one who decides if something is worthy of his time and money.
9.) “Changing diapers? Time to revoke your man card.”
Fathers of yesterday may have deigned this responsibility, however, this is 2013 and real men change diapers. Besides, today’s dad stopped caring about his man card back when he stopped caring about mid-terms and frat parties. Furthermore, smart dads realize that changing diapers is excellent choreplay. According to a recent Parenting.com survey, chipping in around the house is a bigger turn on for women than enjoying a glass of wine.
8.) “I bet you can’t wait until they grow up and leave you alone for more than five minutes.”
On the contrary, many dads in society today can wait. After having dawned on them just how fast time flies by, many fathers wish their kids would stop growing. They will have all the time in the world for kayak trips and classic car restoration once the kids are grown, but only a modicum of sand remains in the hourglass with which to adore his munchkins. There will come a time, all too soon and ineluctable, when dad will be left alone; a time when his kids no longer want piggyback rides, underdogs, or bedtime stories. Don’t think for a second that this hasn’t already dawned on him either. He knows the days are numbered, that is why he smiles when recalling the hiking trip that wasn’t after volunteering to coach his daughter’s soccer team instead.
7.) “Let them cry long enough and they’ll stop.”
Dads usually hear this from other guys, making it rather tricky to combat without coming across as weak. Dr. Darcia Narvaez, a Psychology professor at Notre Dame, published a piece in Psychology Today making a case that the cry-it-out (CIO) method of sleep training damages babies, making them less intelligent, more anxious, and less connected to their parents. You would think that would stop the CIO proponents in their tracks, but no. Many men commend one another for rescuing a damsel in distress but belittle the one who comforts a baby with the blues. Turn the tables on the opposition and ask if you ignore them long enough if they will stop.
6.) “The kids are at their mom’s house for the week, you should be thankful for the break.”
This might come as a shock to some of you, but not all divorced men are deadbeat dads. Regardless of what you’ve heard in hair salons or seen played out in Hollywood for years, a copious number of them are just guys who experienced a failed marriage and lived to tell the tale. Being held hostage by drug cartels south of the border would be preferred to being away from his kids for days or even weeks at a time. What is just as troubling is that people suggest he should feel relieved for being “let off the hook” when it comes to his responsibilities as a father. The assumption is that because the children are with their mother, dad ought to be carefree and enjoy the time off. But that simply isn’t the case.
“When you look at the stress and emotion and worry that fathers go through, they still want to support their kids financially, emotionally,” said Katherine Conger, a human and community development professor at the University of California, Davis. “They still are focused on the health and well-being of their kids, even during the process of becoming divorced.”
5.) “Wait, what? You’re having another, isn’t it a little too soon?”
You can be the most successful child in the family, on both sides, and still have dissention heaped upon you from your family. If there is one unbiased certainty in parenthood, it is that you will have to endure criticism every time you announce that you are expecting again. It’s almost as if the joy expressed in your baby-making abilities summons critics to occupy Sesame Street in protest of your thoughtlessness, timing, and tactics. A man’s natural reaction is to get defensive when anyone questions his authority or decision-making, thus a little familial dissonance is to be expected. At a time when dad should be focusing his energy on taking care of his pregnant wife, it is rather depressing that he will be dodging slings and arrows from friendlies instead.
4.) “Can’t you just find a sitter?”
One does not simply ‘find a sitter’. Modern fathers don’t trust their kids with just any available stranger whose number they picked up from a super market bulletin board just so they can run off with you and the boys for an impromptu trip to B-Dubs. Finding a reputable baby sitter is an intricate process; finding the right one is even harder. Furthermore, dads today are already stretching themselves thin doing everything from packing lunches to filing sales reports to hitting the gym a few times a week, causing them to question whether they are truly spending an adequate amount of time with their children.
According to a recent Pew Research survey of over 2,500 adults nationwide conducted last fall and an analysis of the American Time Use Survey, fathers are much more likely than mothers to feel this way. An astounding 46% of fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children. Consequently, even if he already has a go-to sitter for during the workweek, chances are he won’t be calling in any favors before kickoff.
3.) Anything related to ‘Mr. Mom.’
Unless you’re talking about the Michael Keaton movie from the 1980’s, using the term ‘Mr. Mom’ should never be uttered as it sets the fatherhood movement back light-years. Scratch that; don’t ever say it period. The movie wasn’t great and the connotations associated with the term are harmful to actively involved dads from coast to coast. Remember, we are a rare breed. Equal parts G.I. Joe, Bill Cosby, and Martha Stewart, we have become the ultimate triumvirate. We know how to make a bottle, cook dinner without a microwave, wash laundry without magically changing the original size or color of the clothes, help with homework and change a diaper. We are not Mr. Mom; we are Dad and quite proud of it. Yes indeed, the paradigm has shifted.
2.) Saying that a dad is “babysitting” or “daddysitting” his own children.
Based on the very definition of the word, dads are incapable of babysitting their offspring. Go ahead, look it up. You see, it is impossible. Given that he is the father of the children in his care, it is called parenting. If you continue to refer to the time dad spends with his kids while mom is away as babysitting, you are inadvertently reinforcing gender norms that could prove to be detrimental. No one wants to be guilty of such duplicitous behavior, so it would be wise to nip this in the bud before someone is stuck with the thorns.
1.) “Which one is your favorite?”
A perennial hot button issue, the idea of having a favorite kid whom you love more than the rest, has left many a parent demurring to the necessity of the question. Asking ridiculous questions such as this can only lead to injured feelings and fractured relationships. Why bother asking in the first place? To understand better the frustration that dads feel when fielding this inane question, try to remember watching your toddler play with her bucket of shapes. She’d sit there on the polka dot throw rug laid out for her as you folded laundry for what seemed like a full five minutes trying to fit the sphere in the cube hole. You witnessed your little girl attempt the impossible for the first time. Maybe you giggled as her frustration grew, but you knew she would figure it out eventually. No matter how strong her desire to push the ball through the opening, it simply could not be done. The same is true for picking a favorite child.
This article first appeared on The Good Men Project.