What dads do isn’t ‘help’—let’s stop calling it that

Pregnancy

For years now, it seems like moms have been crying for help. Literally. There are many reasons for our mom rage, not the least of which is that many of us have too much on our plates with not enough support. Stop calling us superheroes, we sigh, and give us a hand instead. But it isn’t really “help” we want. Help is temporary. Help is subordinate. Help needs direction and follows commands. We don’t want help. What we want—and need—is equal parenting

Related: Why equal parenting is still a myth 

To be clear, many dads are equal parents—or strive to be. Many husbands are proactive and engaged in running a household and caring for a family. I am fortunate to be married to one of them. And progress has been made. According to Pew Research Center, dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity and, in 2016, dads reported spending an average of eight hours a week on child care—triple the amount of time dads spent on child care in 1965.

But despite the progress, social norms make it hard for dads to fully share in the parenting role and outdated gendered stereotypes persist. Pew Research Center also reports that in a 2017 survey, 76% of adults said that men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially compared to only 49% saying men faced pressure to be an involved parent. In contrast, 77% of adults said women face pressure to be an involved parent and only 40% said women face pressure to support their family financially.

And in Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey, 50% of respondents who are primary  income-earning moms said they also handle the majority of the household chores, up from 40% five years ago.

Even when fathers are equally engaged in running the household and parenting, social norms make it hard for dads to get the parenting respect they deserve and for mothers to get some slack on the parenting pressures we face. People continue to refer to fathers spending time with their children as “babysitting” or “daddy daycare.” When a mother travels for work, she often gets questions about who is caring for the children, yet fathers rarely get asked these questions. Schools frequently call mothers first when a child is sick, and we continue to calling dads’ involvement “help,” when it is really equal parenting that we need. 

Equal parenting means both partners seeing, acknowledging and appreciating what the other is doing, not because it’s “help” but because it is an important, meaningful and necessary contribution to the family.

These gendered stereotypes regarding parenting and running a household have been around for generations. They won’t just change overnight, regardless of whatever progressive ideals and modern plans we might have. It takes proactively working to shift the narrative. 

Equal parenting means stopping ourselves when we want to refer to a dad’s involvement as “help.”

Equal parenting means listing the father as the primary school contact, or expressly indicating that the school should alternate who they call first. 

Equal parenting means not saying things like “daddy day out” and correcting others when they refer to father parenting as “babysitting.”

Equal parenting means pressing employers for parental leave for both parents, not just maternity leave for mothers. And it means dads actually taking parental leave offered by their employers.

Equal parenting means delegating household responsibilities and resisting the urge to micromanage our partner’s tasks.

Equal parenting means men putting in a load of laundry and doing the weekly grocery shopping. It means dads picking kids up from daycare and handling the bedtime routine at the end of a long day.

Equal parenting means sharing the mental and emotional load of parenting.

Equal parenting means both partners seeing, acknowledging and appreciating what the other is doing, not because it’s “help” but because it is an important, meaningful and necessary contribution to the family.

To the dads, husbands and partners who fully share in equal parenting: thank you. I’m not suggesting that we should stop thanking our partners for the things they do for the family. Gratitude is always in style. But let’s just make sure we’re thanking our partners for being the awesome person they are and not because they are “helping” us with something that is their responsibility too.

Related: Dads are partners—not just ‘helpers’ 

Working to change the way we talk and think about dads’ parenting roles doesn’t just benefit moms. It benefits dads too, by giving them credit where credit is due. They aren’t “babysitters”; they are parents—and good parents too. They aren’t “helping”; they are raising children and actively contributing to the wellbeing of the family. And of course, these changes also benefit our children by changing the narrative and the lens through which they see parenting roles. With any luck and a lot of work, when they become parents, these things will be second nature.

METHODOLOGY STATEMENT

Motherly designed and administered its 2022 State of Motherhood survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1,197 respondents, millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.

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