Does your husband help you with the kids? He shouldn’t.

I was almost finished making dinner when my husband returned home from a long day at work. He spotted our younger daughter, C, playing and cooing in her walker, picked her up and took her into the living room. A short time later the two of them returned to the kitchen and we all ate together. Then, Mr. Mustard went back to the living room alone. By that time, C was getting tired and a bit clingy. I knew she wouldn’t allow me to put her down while I cleaned up the dishes, so I brought her to her dad and sat her next to him on the couch.

“No thank you,” he said. “I already held her while you were cooking.” Now friends, I don’t get much sleep lately and it’s sometimes hard for me to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable things for a man to say to his wife. I was annoyed, but I picked C up and took her back to the kitchen with me. I realized Mr. Mustard had worked hard all day, but so had I, and it certainly would have been nice if he could have helped me. In hindsight, I see that the problem lies in my ever wanting/hoping for/requesting help from him in the first place. Real men don’t help with their children.

You see, help is something voluntary, which should always be appreciated. The term implies that the helper is doing the helpee a favor, and etiquette would dictate that some form of compensation or reciprocity is in order. To help is to give of one’s own time and energy in order to lighten someone else’s load. Helping is noble. Helping is admirable. Helping is going above and beyond the call of duty and bearing someone else’s burdens. If my teenage niece comes over and plays with my children while I run to the grocery store, she is helping. If my husband entertains our daughters long enough for me to clean the kitchen or take a shower, he is not. He is parenting. He is carrying his own weight, fulfilling his own obligations, and *gasp* raising his own children.

By labeling interactions with their own children as ‘helpful,’ society has made fathers impervious to the guilt and judgement that plague mothers. Men can either decline to help, turning their wives into nags or martyrs (after all, help is not something one can force another person into), or they can comply with our requests and feel entitled to gratitude and accolades in return. It may sound like a win-win situation for men, but make no mistake–it is costing them dearly. The semantics is demeaning to men; it diminishes their role in the lives of their children, implying they are neither essential nor capable of anything more than holding down the fort while their wives indulge in the occasional well-deserved break. This mindset is harmful to both parents, and particularly detrimental to children.

While a mother’s need for help is transient, a child’s need for love and attention from her father is enduring. Dads who see themselves as second-string parents often feel justified in ‘checking out’ when their wives have life under control. Whether they excel or miss the mark in their role as parenting assistants, these men are missing out on the opportunity to act as hands-on fathers. They relish a certain freedom from monotony and responsibility, while withholding their contribution to those simple and priceless memories that solidify the bond between parent and child. In time, these dads begin to question why the children are closer to their mothers, and they withdrawal further as a result of feeling excluded from the family dynamic.

How can we, as families and as a society, bring an end to this vicious cycle and restore a healthy level of accountability and respect to the role of fatherhood? We can start by eradicating the word ‘help’ from a dad’s job description. Let’s not fuss and swoon when we see a man at the local park playing with his children. Let’s not act as if he deserves a medal because our husbands “never help us out with the kids.” Let’s not ask our fellow mothers, when we see them out alone, if their husbands are babysitting. My daughters’ birth certificates (too politically correct now to use gender-specific terms) list my husband as a co-parent. Not an assistant parent, not a backup parent, not an intermittent childcare provider–a co-parent. So the next time I’m tempted to ask for his help with the girls, I will choose not to insult him and shortchange them. I will simply remind him, instead, that his children need him.

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Does your husband help you with the kids? He shouldn’t.

  1. Several thousand good points here, my fellow Mommy! Also, fantastic to see your insightful words here once again! Not so coincidentally~ as we are often traveling along similar routes of thought~ I’ve long had in my mind an idea to write about the very notion of men as Father being largely vowed by society as a more optional, part-time, sporadic role than that of Mother, who is of course fully expected to be on-call 24/7. Your thinking mirrors mine in many ways.

    I recently watched a talk show where a man got very agitated that people were praising two male celebrities for their consistent involvement with their young children and current custody fights to have more time with their offspring. His point rang very true: Please stop lauding men for doing what they should be doing; there’s nothing worth praising about a man taking-up their rightful responsibility and privilege to be a Father.

    To me, it creates an environment in which we are so shocked by men fulfilling their natural role and so busy complimenting them for such, that it allows the more typical situation that men do not take up their dutiful parenting role to be considered the norm and barely met with surprise, criticism or condemnation by society. If we want men to be as involved with their children as women, we need to change our perspective and languaging of such as a society.

    Of course, this isn’t speaking to your husband or mine or lots of other Daddies who are very much a part of their children’s daily lives. We are blessed for that, as are they, and most of all, as are our children.

  2. Well since MM has posted her eloquent comment mine will just be as crazy as I am lol.

    I agree completely with what you have said and I feel I need this train of thought in my head and somehow shove it down SO throat. Too many times he tunes out and am tired of it, his son needs him and enjoys him but if am around am seen as a threat or as the superior human that my child will ask for. Yes I am his comfort but he’s my sons acceptance, my son loves playing with him more than he does with me but he doesn’t see it that way Bc my son will ask for mommy!

    I do feel tho that some fathers are more hard on and more likely to share time with their children than others, the question is how do I get mine to do it and stop complaining? Lol

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