We need to stop setting dads up for failure

Joking about the incompetence of fathers is damaging our families

We’ve all seen the classic sitcom bit where the mom goes away for a couple of days and leaves the dad in charge. She comes home to chaos and a frazzled husband. That story line has also been used in commercials and all sorts of other ways.

The subliminal takeaway from those scenarios: dads just aren’t as competent as moms. They don’t cut it. And, eventually, they shouldn’t even try.

Complimenting dads for doing what they’re supposed to

We compliment dads for doing things like taking their children shopping or to school. My husband once got a compliment from a grandfather who had seen him taking our kids to school every morning. Why is it that dads doing what they’re supposed to be doing for their children is seen as so out of the ordinary?

I daresay it’s because of the message we get from media, and it’s time for that message to stop.

What dad should be doing

I grew up in a home where both my parents did household chores, especially once my mom started working outside of the home when my brother and I got older. Now both my parents are retired, and my dad continues to do things like vacuum the house and wash clothes.

I didn’t expect anything different when I got married. Then when our daughter was born in 2009, I didn’t even think to question whether my husband would be hands-on and involved with her. Why wouldn’t he? He’s her dad.

Old school attitudes about dads

But, that attitude isn’t always the case. I also very clearly remember an older relative advising a cousin who had just had a new baby not to leave the baby alone with her husband for a while because he was a man and wouldn’t know what to do.

The reality of modern dads

It’s just not true. My husband figured some things out about our babies before I did. He jumped in and changed diapers right from the beginning. We approached parenting just like we do life: as a team.

When my son was a newborn, my husband was driving 60 miles one-way to work every day. He’d stay up as late as he could to help me manage our unhappy little guy. (Our son didn’t sleep much at all for the first three months.) One night in my exhaustion, I went to change his diaper and found a note my husband had left for me reminding me to wake him up if I needed a break.

That’s far from incompetence. That’s a father. That’s love. And that’s what dads do — or should do. That’s part of a healthy family.

The effect on our families

Yet, we treat them like they don’t know what they’re doing with kids. We expect dads will fail and not do something as good as we do. We overly criticize them for doing things differently. We have to stop because that is only harming dads and our children as a result! We are damaging our families by not trusting dads to parent.

People usually live up to the expectations set for them. So if we are expecting dads to fail, eventually that’s what they’re going to do. Or at the very least, they will stop trying if every time they do something they get ridiculed or criticized.

Embracing the differences

Does my husband do things the same way I do? Nope. I usually pack the kids’ lunches during the school year, but sometimes he does instead. He doesn’t always use the containers I use, he cuts the sandwiches differently and sends more grapes than I do. But he is still making them a nutritious lunch. And it’s completely fine.

My husband plays with our kids differently as well. I’m thankful for that. We have different strengths and weaknesses and work together to raise our kiddos. It’s a team effort through and through. We need to recognize the important role that good fathers play.

Set the right expectations

We need to expect all fathers to step up to the plate and do what they’re supposed to be doing. I look around and see all sorts of good dads in my generation. My husband is awesome, but he’s also not alone. I see dads bringing their kids to birthday parties, playing with their kids on the playground and showing up to every school event.

Dads aren’t incompetent buffoons. We need to stop cracking jokes at their expense. We need to respect their role in child-rearing as much as we do mothers’ roles. We can compliment dads and moms alike for the good job their doing, but not just for the mere sake of showing up like they should be anyway.

My message to all the dads out there in the thick of it with their kids packing lunches, taking them to school and practices, figuring out how to put in ponytails and patiently going over sight words: keep up the good work! We know you’re not incompetent and will stop making jokes to the contrary.

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