Keira Knightley has spoken out about a subject near to many mama’s hearts: The fact that dads aren’t babysitters or helpers. They are parents, just like we are.
“It’s really rare to see a guy at a children’s [daycare], and if he is, people say, ‘Ooh what a lovely dad. Look at him looking after his own children,'” Knightley told HelloGiggles. “You would never say that to a woman.”
In heterosexual relationships sometimes mothers end up feeling like society sees their male partner as some kind of hero for doing regular parenting tasks…while mama doesn’t get any recognition for doing the lion’s share of the parenting.
Knightley, who shares two daughters with husband James Righton, wants people to stop praising dads for the basics and start expecting them to be parents. She says the conversation about working mom guilt needs to be redirected, because most fathers work, too—and nobody’s asking them if they feel guilty about it.
“Why do we not engage men in that conversation?” Knightley said. “Why do we not expect a working man to be looking after their children as much as their partner is? Why do we assume that they don’t feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children as well?”
She is concerned that moms are still being asked how they do it all and how they balance childcare when male parents are not.
“We really need to start asking men about what their role within the childcare situation is, how much of that they take on, and expect them to take on that responsibility,” she said. “We expect women to take on that responsibility, and yet for some reason, we give men a free pass.”
Childcare is not just a mother’s concern. It’s a concern for all parents, including fathers. Today’s dads do a lot and that should certainly be commended, but fathers are parents and as parents should be taking care of their kids.
As actress and writer Jenny Mollen (who is married to actor Jason Biggs) noted in a column for Parents in 2019, the gendered double standard around parenting praise and practical responsibility is mystifying. She’s certainly not saying dads don’t deserve recognition (she gave Biggs, a hands-on dad, plenty of that), but wonders why fathers’ parenting is frequently gushed over when moms’ work is overlooked.
“Women are expected to love and protect and show up for soccer practice. For men, an hour or two alone with the kids on a Sunday during football season somehow warrants a trophy, or at least a World’s Greatest Dad mug,” Mollen mused.
Experts suggest that we stop saying dads help or that moms are lucky to have their help and start calling this what it is: A partnership.
“He’s not ‘helping’ you because it’s not ‘your job.’ We’ve got to change some of the conversation around these things,” Claire Kamp Dush, an associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University previously told Motherly.
Sociologist Caitlyn Collins, author of the new book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, previously told Motherly that this kind of rhetoric suggests that childrearing is primarily women’s responsibility, which it should not be in a partnership between two adults.
To Mollen’s point, it should be recognized that when a woman has a partner who is doing their share of the parenting, it’s not about luck, it’s about picking the right partner.
“I wouldn’t have had children if I hadn’t found a partner who was just as invested in raising them as I was. I am lucky that I found such an incredible husband,” Mollen writes.
When we patronize fathers by throwing them a parade for picking up diapers, we’re doing moms and dads a real disservice. Dads are totally capable of parenting, as many of them prove. And when we recognize that, the workload of mothers gets a little lighter.
[A version of this story was originally published May 15, 2019. It has been updated.]