As I was sprinting – pacifier in hand – from my work office to our daughter’s daycare class (yes, I know: my wife and I work at the same place and have on-site daycare… we are that lucky), something came to my mind in an adrenaline-filled rush.
My wife has been out of the country for the better part of a week (a total trip of about 10 days – also this is not what came to my mind), and I have received many sympathetic remarks from people. Many coworkers have asked, “how are you holding up? Do you need anything? I’m here if you need me.”
While this has been helpful, and I’ve been quite affable and grateful in my responses, something about it has felt odd to me. It’s brought two things to mind.
How do single parents do this?
Would they offer this same type of sentiment to my wife if I were the one out of the country?
Now I am not knocking people who have been so kind to me these past few days. In fact, I have responded jokingly and genuinely appreciative to all attention and mercies lavished on me. After all, I am trying to corral an almost 2 year old for 10 days without backup (minus some helpful grandparents!). And she is smarter than me, I can assure you. (She knows when I’m out of apple sauce and when I’m just fibbing.)
What I am curious is about why I – as a man – would seem ill-equipped to handle the rigors of parenting. I can’t help but think that, if the roles were reversed, no one would ask Damaris how she was doing or if she needed help. I think they would expect her to get the job done. Partly, because she is Damaris, but mostly because she is the mom.
This at times makes me feel like the “B” parent. B might stand for babysitter in some circles. I wouldn’t push it that far, but it does feel like an almost apt description. The expectation seems to be that the mom can handle the kid indefinitely, and the dad has little capacity for tiny people.
Due to the rhythms of her job, Damaris has been very involved at our church on the weekends. Without childcare, that has usually meant that parenting those days are a solo gig for me. I do my best to meal prep, do laundry, clean dishes, pick up around the house after hurricane Thea subsides, get her to bed at her normal scheduled time, defuse tantrums the best I can, teach her things, keep her off devices as much as possible, spend copious amounts of time coloring on paper (and other surfaces: meh), keep her from fighting the dog (this happens sometimes: they do like the same foods after all), and on and on it goes. I don’t feel like I fit into that ill-equipped box.
I’m not saying we should throw out the societal dynamic between moms and dads. But maybe we should consider amending it. We should consider expecting more of our dads, because many of them are starting to rise to the occasion.
I am also not saying that my wife is a bad mom. She is the best mom. She is smart, comforting, godly, wise, strong, and all the other things parents should be. And I know she misses Thea fiercely. This has less to do with her, and more to do with my feelings as a parent and, more importantly, as a father.
So the next time you see a dad in line with kids at a store or at a restaurant and he’s by himself, just smile and keep walking. He’s doing exactly what’s expected of him! As much as I like praise for being a good dad, it should be the expectation, not exceptional.
[Also, if you don’t grocery shop while the kids are in childcare, I just don’t know how you’ve survived this long.]