Beto O'Rourke says he 'helps' raise his kids, but dads are not just helpers

The field of Democratic candidates hoping to claim the oval office in 2020 got a little more crowded this week when Beto O'Rourke joined the race, and almost immediately sparked a conversation about gender equality in parenting and politics.

On Thursday morning at a coffee shop in Iowa, O'Rourke spoke to a crowd of citizens and reporters, and joked that his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders, is raising his kids, "sometimes with [his] help."

The statement was tweeted by Washington Post reporter Matt Viser and quickly attracted a lot of criticism online, because as we've said before, dads should be seen as partners—not just 'helpers'.

The same morning as O'Rourke's described himself as just a "helper" in parenting, the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, put the voice of another political parent, Anne-Marie Slaughter, into the ears of moms across the country (and around the world). She spoke about how women's roles changed when we entered the workforce, but our responsibilities at home didn't.

"We went from caregiving almost entirely to working and working for money and then still caregiving. Men's roles have not changed. I mean they help more but I hate the word 'help'," Slaughter explains in an interview that was recorded before O'Rourke made his comment.

"'Help' means [the mother is] in charge and he's doing what you tell him to do. It does not relieve you of the burden of responsibility of management, of thinking about it, all of that. And lots of men have stepped up, but their role, their socially expected role, is still a breadwinner," adds Slaughter.

According to Slaughter, for America to truly see gender equality, men's roles have to change. They need to evolve from dads who 'help' to dads who see themselves as competent caregivers.

Many internet commenters have been quick to point out that O'Rourke was likely joking when he made the comment, and that his tone and the context around the comment could not be fully captured in Viser's tweet.

But experts say even if O'Rourke's comments were a joke, they highlight the extra burden that working mothers carry, and that men don't. And that's not funny in 2019.

"Comments like this might seem harmless or made in jest, or maybe even a form of praise for women's hard efforts at caring for kids. But these comments aren't harmless," sociologist Caitlyn Collins, author of the new book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, tells Motherly.

"But I'd say that it's problematic for any men—especially those in positions of power—to reference 'babysitting' or 'helping' raise their kids rather than egalitarian parenting. This rhetoric suggests that childrearing is primarily women's responsibility."

We've said it before here at Motherly: A dad is not a babysitter or a helper. He's a parent.

Fathers like O'Rourke may think they're complimenting their partners when they diminish their own roles at home, but these kinds of comments reinforce that while dads are expected to go to work, moms are expected to go to work and carry all the responsibility for managing the family. That sends a signal that moms should not be running for office.

For Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, who has been fighting to level the political playing field by asking Connecticut's State Election and Enforcement Commission to allow those running for office to use campaign funds for childcare expenses, O'Rourke's comments shine a spotlight on how the real advantage many male candidates have over women.

"It's disappointing to hear comments like this, especially when they are made in what appears to be such a flippant manner," Clarkson Pereira tells Motherly. "In order for mothers to run for office, we dissect and calculate every possible situation with our children and how we can be sure to give them the attention they need while being in the race. Who is going to pick them up from school? What if there is a snow day? What if one gets the stomach bug hours before an event? What if you make every attempt possible to find a sitter because you have an afternoon meeting with constituents but are unsuccessful?"

And what if the man you're running against doesn't have to think about any of that?

Beto O'Rourke's comment doesn't make him a bad dad or a bad partner or a bad politician. But it does highlight the need for a shift in how we talk about fatherhood, and it's not just dads who need to change the way they speak.

As Claire Kamp Dush, associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, previously told Motherly, "Women need to ban 'my husband helps me a lot' from their language."

Because if fathers are helpers, they're not equal parents, and we know that that is what millennial fathers want to be, and what American families need them to be.

You might also like:

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.


Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.


Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.


Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.


BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play