Yesterday our family embarked on a long trip across the country to visit extended family. My husband and I have four small children, aged seven, five, two and 2 months. We decided before the trip that it would make the most logistical sense to navigate the airport with my husband wearing the 2-month-old in a wrap and our 2-year-old strapped in the kid carrier backpack. I would manage the suitcase, backpack, diaper bag and two older children.
It's not nearly as comfortable for me to babywear since I'm a pretty petite person and it's hard for me to get stuff done while having a kid strapped across the length of my torso. My husband loves wearing our kids and feels he can get a lot done with his hands free, while I just feel prohibited and weighed down.
(Not to mention that I just spent the last nine months with a baby in my womb—three years total with all four kids—and spend hours a day breastfeeding so yeah, sometimes this mama needs a break from having a kid be attached to her.)
While we were walking through the airport with my husband loaded down with the "Littles" and I cared for the "Bigs" and the bags, he was lauded with praise. People watched him with admiration, making comments like:
"Wow, super dad"
"Dad of the year"
"You're doing such a great job!"
These types of phrases are common while we're all together in public, whether traveling, grocery shopping or at the zoo. And what did people say to me? Nothing.
It reminded me of the time a few years ago when my husband and I were taking a stroll in the neighborhood with our oldest son, then two, and our newborn daughter who was about 2 weeks old. My husband was holding both the kids and had our dogs on a leash. I was just walking next to him. A neighbor stopped us and praised him, then looked at me and said "Wow, he's doing all the work. That's not fair!"
What she didn't know was that I was recovering from a complicated and traumatic emergency C-Section and this was my first time venturing out of the house. Her comment left me feeling discouraged. Ashamed almost. She had no idea what I was dealing with physically and emotionally, and her thoughtless sentiment was not what this hormonal postpartum mama needed to hear.
All of these instances have gotten me thinking about our cultural expectations for young moms and dads. It's as if the bar is set so low for dads that when they are simply being a good dad, it's surprising to many people. Moms are expected to do a lot and since that's what's "normal," it often goes unnoticed.
All of this isn't to say, "Hey, look at me! I need praise and attention, too!" My husband is an amazing father to our children, and he deserves the praise he is receiving. My husband and I share the load of parenting together. I can't tell you how many times I've been at work, and people ask if my husband is babysitting our kids. No, he's not babysitting. He's parenting.
Maybe our culture needs to have higher standards for dads. Many families have two working parents, yet somehow it's still the underlying expectation that moms will be doing most of the parenting and manage all household responsibilities.
And you know what, being parents to small children is hard work. It's exhausting and demanding and pushes you to the brink of your limits. Young families need support and encouragement.
So yes, praise the dads who are being great parents. But also notice the moms. The moms who are quietly doing their mom thing and often fly under the radar. Even if they look like they might have a handle on it all and are managing well, inside they have their doubts and insecurities. Struggling with the weight of their endless responsibilities.
You never know what someone is going through, and a simple "Good job" can mean the world.