It’s been six months since our son was born. I carried him and birthed him, but my husband and our midwife literally brought him into this world. Yes, I became a Mom, but most importantly we became parents. And wow, has it been a sobering experience in how far women – and men – still have to go.
Firstly, the irony of women saying you can’t have a child and be a feminist has got to be the most anti-feminist bullshit I’ve heard in a while. By taking this stance you’re automatically assuming that it’s the woman’s role to be primary parent, which is the opposite of what being a feminist is about.
My husband and I “co-parent”. The fact that this term even has to exist is ridiculous, but the whole world is still geared towards “Mom” as numero uno.
Many people I encounter, even the enlightened ones, automatically assume I’m the primary caregiver and that because I’m now “a Mom” I’m completely different, i.e. either less or more of a person. My standard response? I had a baby, not a lobotomy. David (Dad and co-parent) doesn’t have to deal with this crap because he is usually regarded as “just the Dad”.
Oh yes, if you want to encounter the most subliminal and insidious sexism in both directions, have a baby. Most of this is 100% well-intentioned and simply people trying to be encouraging and kind. From comments like “Poor Mom, up all night” or “You must be exhausted, I hope Dad helps out” or “Being a Mom is the hardest job ever”, to articles entitled “Mom, you are good enough” or “Why it’s okay to be a Mom and miss your old life.” See? Well-intentioned.
But here’s the problem: I see and hear all of this every day and my instinctive reaction is, “But David is going through all of this too. David was up all night. David also misses our old freedoms. David needs a break. David worries about being a good parent.” And, silently, “David is actually more of a natural with our son than I am.”*
I’m aware that not all men are as involved in raising their children. It’s assumed this is because they grew up in the patriarchal style of child-rearing being “women’s work”, but there are a myriad of reasons for some Dads not being as hands-on as some Moms.
A lot of Dads feel like they don’t know what to do with a baby. Some Dads lack confidence in their own ability to nurture and care for a child (another charming legacy of toxic masculinity). Some mothers tend to embrace their role so strongly that the Dad worries about interfering. But men are more than capable of raising their own children if they’re given a chance. I see this more and more, especially with those Dads under 35, as society slowly starts to acknowledge the role of fathers.
Which brings me back to the uncomfortable reality: Men who do co-parent are not given their due, while women who co-parent are given more support and more criticism than the Dad.
The world is set up to encourage this uneven parenting balance and the perpetuation of women as primary caregivers. Men do not get paternity leave and are not included in discussions and support groups around routine parenting. It’s ridiculous to hone in on the empowerment of working Moms without addressing the issue of working Dads.
As feminists, we cannot expect the world to change by focussing only on our half of the equation when it comes to raising future generations, because ultimately it is equal parenting that will lead to a more equal society.
*I adore you David.