It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Moms on Dads. A short rant.

shame_shaking_finger– “Oh, just look at you!” Mom scans her daughter’s outfit and rolls her eyes. “Pink stripes on the top, orange check on the bottom. Guess we can tell who dressed you this morning!” (Hint: It wasn’t mommy, and it wasn’t the daughter.)

– “I just have to check her bin,” says mom as she rummages through the shelf where her child’s extra clothes are kept. “Jay said there were a couple of outfits in here, but I know what he considers an ‘outfit’. He has no idea.”

– “You might want to wash his face and hands, Mary.” Mom nods her head in the direction of her son. “His dad cleaned him up after breakfast, and he’s just never thorough enough.”

Each of these statements made by a mother about her child’s father. Each of these statements made by a mother who believes “he’s a good dad”. Each of these statements made in public, to me and in the presence at least one other parent.

I find it shocking, you know. I really do.

These are all good dads. They are involved. They do half the drop-off and/or pick-ups. They cook some dinners. They bathe the children, the play with them, the speak respectfully and fondly with the kids. They take days off when the child is sick. We all know there are dads who don’t do nearly so much.

And yet, if I were to go by what I hear…

They dress the children — and do it wrong.
They help organize the childrens’ things — and do it wrong.
They feed the kids — and do it wrong.
They play with the kids — and do it wrong.

Some days I wonder why they try at all. Must be because they feel a lot of love and commitment to their child, because heaven knows their wives/partners don’t express a whole lot of satisfaction in their efforts.

Does it matter, does it really matter, if the child is wearing stripes and checks? Or colours that clash? Is it life and death if a child’s face is somewhat less than spotless?

Does it matter so much that it’s worth embarrassing someone in public? Is it so important that it’s somehow all right to undermine someone’s honest efforts and belittle their abilities… not just in the presence of other adults, but in the presence of their children? Are we so insecure as parents, we mothers, that we have to sweat the small stuff just to feel superior?

I very rarely hear dads doing this sort of thing to moms, but moms do it all.the.time.

And I, for one, would like it to stop.

Thank you.

July 10, 2009 - Posted by | controversy, manners, parenting, parents, power struggle | , ,


  1. Thank you for posting this! My cousin and her mom bad mouth my cousin’s husband ALL THE TIME. And in front of him too. No wonder he’s so scared to take the initiative to do anything with their kids – he knows he’ll get in trouble no matter what!! I LOVE my husband and I love the fact that he does things differently than I do. So do my girls. So they might be wearing Denver Broncos jerseys with yellow pants or wearing their swimsuit backwards. Big deal. They’re playing and happy with Daddy and THAT’S what counts.

    And is one of the things he’s criticized for that he’s uninvolved? This behaviour on the part of mothers is called ‘painting yourself into a corner’.

    Comment by Amy | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hear Hear. I hate it when people treat their husbands like they are second-rate. Have you noticed that almost every commercial on TV that features a family has the husband as a big, dumb buffoon while Mom steps in to save the day? It grates on my nerves.

    Yes, I have, and it grates on mine, too. Sexism is sexism, no matter which gender it’s directed at, and it’s just as wrong against men as against women.

    Comment by tuesy | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hear, hear! I witness this kind of thing all the time and it drives me crazy. The other thing I hear is Mom directing Dad to do something, in such excruciating detail that it implies Dad is a fumbling moron who can’t do anything right. Not only that, but there’s so much detail given that Dad is inevitably going to forget something and therefore by definition, do it wrong. Craziness. Moms – let the dads do it in their own way and just relax. You’ll find your life so much easier when you don’t feel the need to criticize and micromanage your partner in child-raising.

    Part of the problem here is that we’ve been given the idea that EVERYTHING MATTERS to the child’s long-term psychological health. If the baby is crying, and mom believes he’s being traumatized psychologically by his tears, she’s not going to risk the possibility that dad’s way of soothing might be two minutes less efficient than hers. How mismatched clothing could be psychologically traumatizing (to anyone but mom), I don’t know, so maybe this idea doesn’t really apply here…

    I agree with your conclusion. Each to parent in their own way, and have enough respect for yourself, your partner and your child to let it happen.

    Comment by Dragon | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  4. Many wives seem to forget what their first priority actually is. (Hint: not the kids)

    However, my husband will sometimes playfully quote what Martin Luther called fathers when compared to the natural abilities that women (and girls) have for nurturing: dancing camels. In other words, not much natural ability. We laugh about it, but of course we both know that we just have natural abilities in different (and complementary) areas.

    See, I don’t believe that women are naturally better parents. I believe men and women parent differently, and that the child benefits from exposure to both styles. Women may feel more competant than men because they tend to have more experience… but there are lots of women who are totally inexperienced with babies until they have their own. Why should they automatically know better?

    Comment by rosie_kate | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  5. Ok, in defense of the moms, when I had the baby this past January, but after my mother-in-law had gone home, Mike was in charge of the kids in the mornings for a few days while I got my stuff together. I picked my 4 year old up at preschool one day to find her dressed in a sweater and tights. Just tights. No pants. I asked her what happened to the pants (thinking this was an emergency change) and she said, “Daddy said these were my pants today.”

    There was a dresser drawer full of pants. She came down in tights and he was too lazy to make her go up and change.

    Everyone of course thought this was hilarious, of course, and no harm done. I trust Mike completely and I know he’s a wonderful father. He just has….different priorities sometimes.

    And I was so glad he was handling mornings while I slept in with the baby, you know? It was just a funny thing.

    A funny thing, expressed with fondness, is not the same thing as denigrating his efforts… so long as dad’s interactions with the child are not an endless stream of ‘funny things’, making him the incomptent buffoon in the family. I am confident you’re of the first, genuinely affectionate type. 🙂

    Comment by bridgett | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  6. Absolutely! Plus, what about the child hearing this..what are they to then think of their dads? I agree Mary. Dad’s who make the effort should be thanked, both privately and publicly!

    Yes. Doing it in front of the child is inexcusable. You don’t draw your child into your arguments and insecurities, potentially undermining the child’s respect… initially for dad, but quite possibly eventually for mom.

    Comment by Susan | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  7. Yes. Yes yes yes YES! SO so true.

    My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and I’ve written a couple posts about the stupidness of the whole thing. Calling him Mr. Mom, asking me how I’m handling it….not him, but me. It makes me SO ANGRY!!!!

    *deep breaths*

    Yes, my husband may not be able to put a matching outfit together unless it’s folded together, but he dresses her. He changes her diaper more than I do. He gets to see her do her new things first. The love in his eyes when he looks at her are more than enough than the perfect outfit.

    In fairness, they might be asking you how you’re doing because, as you say, ‘he gets to see her do her new things first’, and that could easily cause some wistfulness on your part.

    Your experience has been that society (which does judge mothers for their parenting) also judges men for theirs: mothers may be expected to be paragons, but men are expected to be incompetent. Neither of these facts justifies bad-mouthing each other.

    Comment by mrssoup | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  8. I think sometimes it’s not meant to badmouth the dad so much as clarify that whatever the problem at hand, it’s not the mom’s fault. Society does still tend to blame Mom for any less-than-perfect parenting behaviours…

    I agree. However, these women are in my home, speaking with me, someone they know doesn’t care about those issues at all, someone who views the Really Important Parenting Issues as those which have nothing, nothing whatever, to do with surface appearance.

    Comment by Robyn | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  9. I think some of it comes from that difficult ability to pull back and let someone do things differently than you yourself do.

    My husband and I laugh when I explain in nauseating detail how to give our daughter a bottle. He’ll look at me and say “I’m the dad remember?” He knows that it isn’t that I don’t trust him or don’t that that he knows how to do it but more that I get in that mode of transferring information to caregivers and first time sitters that I have difficulty transitioning out of it.

    However, it is one of my biggest pet peeves when people (mostly other moms) will affect such surprise that he baths our children, makes dinner, does pick ups and drop offs. My gosh he even knows their favorite things and gasp! does quite a few things MUCH better than I do. He is a spectacular father and a wonderful father. I wouldn’t have married him if I had thought any differently.

    It’s good that you and your husband understand that your tendency to go overboard with the explanations doesn’t constitute lack of trust.

    It is an unfortunate fact that men do less parenting. In part this may be because women screen them out of it, but it’s also that men are willing to let them… and that is very little other than laziness on their parts, both practical and emotional. But we women are only maintaining and compounding the problem when we treat their efforts as inferior.

    Comment by Dani | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  10. My husband has been a stay at home dad for a little over a year, and people STILL ask me daily how he’s doing. As if, while I’m away at work, the bumbling idiot is possibly screwing up our children permanently. Annoys the junk out of me.

    And these are people who, in theory, have HEARD (several times) that he does all the cooking and laundry and dishes and driving and and and… (and ALWAYS has in the 11 years we’ve been married, even when he was working). He changes more diapers than I do, plays with the kids more than I do, and is generally more nurturing.

    The thing that REALLY gets me is how dads are portrayed on tv, particularly in commercials. Ugh.

    Even if it were true that women are naturally better at parenting than men (and there’s a book or ten in that assumption, on both sides of the argument!), mothers do ourselves no favours when we strengthen and uphold the negative stereotypes of the inept and bumbling father. How much less likely are fathers to ever overcome those limits when no one really expects them to? Further, how could a family like yours, equipped as you are with a fully capable SAHD, not be insulted? You are, of course, trail-blazers, and as such are dealing with those stereotypes head-on. Well done!

    Comment by bethsix | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  11. When my third child was born and it was time to leave hospital, my husband brought clothes for me, and nothing for the baby. If the hospital hadn’t lent me stuff, he’d have been naked.

    Having said that, whatever my husband does to help is cheerfully accepted with thanks. He doesn’t thank me for unpacking the dishwasher, but I thank him, If anything’s in the wrong place, I just move it. He does a lot of things without complaint that I’d rather not do (wasn’t me up a ladder clearing a blocked gutter in the rain yesterday) and men need appreciation too.

    The story about dad forgetting to bring clothes for the baby can be told with affection, or it used to put him in his (subordinate) place. It likely depends on the attitude of the teller of the tale — how often it’s told and to whom, and whether dad finds the story entertaining or humiliating.

    Everyone needs appreciation. If my efforts are mostly ignored except when I fall short, I’ll soon stop making the effort.

    Comment by Z | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  12. You tell ’em! The big issue to my mind is the gender splitting taught to the kids.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Sylvia | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  13. You know, I wish I were a perfect partner and never got upset at my husband for stuff like this, but I’m not. I don’t care about matching outfits, but I had to deal with a major meltdown yesterday because my husband forgot to give the kids their snack. His excuse? I was taking care of BOTH of them. Well, yes, we have two kids.

    Today we were walking downtown and I had the baby and her equipment, etc., and the next thing I know, our five year old is crossing the street w/o either of us because I had assumed that my husband (who wasn’t carrying anything) had an eye on him. Now, everyone was fine and there weren’t any cars, so should I not sweat this? To me it felt like because I was there, he was not paying attention to the kids.

    We both work full time and our son just finished Kindergarten – meaning, he has no school in the summer. Who arranged 100% of his summer camps, etc., so that he has somewhere to go? Me.

    To me, what these stories have in common is that the mental framework involved in running our family is still being managed by me. Yes, my husband is super. He does diaper changes, laundry, dishes, all that stuff. He is a very equal parent, one of the most equal I know. But I am still the mom. I’m still doing more of the organizational work, even though my job has more hours and is better paid than his. So sometimes I am very very tired. And sometimes I might express that exhaustion in the less-than-attractive habit of complaining about some minor infraction of his, like missing the snack. I try very hard never to do this in public or in front of the children, but I am not perfect.

    Even though, as one poster already mentioned, any infraction, from a mismatched outfit, to a lost child, or just one with the grumps, will be blamed on the mom, by society, by the child, and probably by the mom herself.

    “The framework of the family is still managed by [the mom].” That’s true of the vast majority of families, I’m sure. If it suits both parties, it’s a perfectly good arrangement. It’s effficient to delegate areas of responsibility. It’s certainly the way my household was managed when my children were younger — and how I preferred it.

    The issue is not that these small (and large) infractions bother you (because you’re quite right: letting a child dart into a street is not a small infraction), the issue is what you do with the annoyance. Do you bad-mouth him in public as a matter of habit, do you make a conscious choice not to sweat the small stuff, or do you talk with him? I’m talking about the habitual belittling, not occasional slips.

    If you’re the primary parent and carry the majority of the logistical and decision-making responsibility, do you prefer it that way, or would you prefer a different distribution of responsibilities? No matter how you divvy up the tasks and obligations, you and your partner both need clear and clearly expressed parameters for your roles. Communication. It all comes down to communication.

    Comment by Sarah | July 12, 2009 | Reply

  14. One of my friends has a habit of doing this. It makes me crazy, mostly because she has never, not once, mentioned to her husband that some things bother her. Not the big things, not the little things. She complains enough to me, I guess, that she doesn’t need to tell him. It boils down to communication. If you can’t talk about the little things – and let’s face it, non-matching outfits definitely qualify as a “little thing” – how are you going to talk about the big things?

    Exactly. You can decide whether a little thing even warrants a conversation… and if it doesn’t, it’s also too little to use to mock him in public. But if it is important, then talk about it. Men and women parent differently, and no one can read minds. Assuming we’re not talking about basic health and safety issues, you’re going to have to talk with him about it; he’s not going to intuitively know what you want.

    And if you have talked about it, respectfully, constructively, repeatedly? And if it is important, really important … and the patterns still don’t change? Then you have a problem in your marriage that could be more constructively dealt with talking to a marriage counsellor.

    Comment by Candace | July 12, 2009 | Reply

  15. My husband and I make an effort to not bad-mouth each other because we’re a team. Basic team rules (goes for sports, business, etc.): united front to everyone outside the team, and if there’s a problem with a teammember, talk about it in private.

    I like that analogy. It’s simple, straightforward, and thus easy to adhere to — or at least, easy to know when you’re meeting the expectations. Thanks.

    Comment by Sherry H. | July 15, 2009 | Reply

  16. I heard this ALL the time while working in the preschool. Every day..from almost every Mom. Putting down the Dad because he didn’t do Suzy’s hair right..or didn’t put on Tommy’s school shoes. Oh heck Bily’s socks don’t match.

    *eye roll*

    I promised myself when I have kids. I will never put down my husband.

    At least not in public. 🙂

    As a preschool worker, I’m betting you probably care far less about whether Billy’s socks match than whether Billy hits other kids or is learning to share.

    Comment by ~S~ | July 16, 2009 | Reply

  17. My sympathy is with the moms on this one.

    It’s no secret that society and individuals in it judge mothers extremely harshly, but cut dads a lot of indulgent slack. If the kid is dressed by the father but out with the mother, the mother will be judged harshly on the kid’s appearance according to the standards expected of mothers, not the much lower standards expected of fathers.

    The dad is essentially throwing the mom to the wolves in this situation. He knows social penalties will hit her but not him. She can either say nothing and take the pressure of harsh judgment, or she can speak up for herself and be judged a harpy. When it comes to women suffering disparate treatment from men by society, I’m all for the harpies that speak up.

    Yeah, it does mean the couple has some real difficulties that need working through in private or with a professional, and mature individuals under an amount of pressure they can handle wouldn’t ever have it show up in the public eye. But when it does, I’m not willing to join those insisting the moms have to be “nice” about taking it.

    I have two thoughts to the idea (with which I agree) that society/individual judge women more harshly than men for parenting.

    1. In the instances I cite, these mothers are not talking to ‘society’, they are talking to me. They know me and they know I don’t judge them for these non-issues at all. In fact, I’ve often admitted to my own oblivion to most of those sorts of things. Thus, there is no need to be doing this with me: it is simply a habit — and a bad one.

    2. I freely admit that when my children were little, I was the sort who’d be out in public with them before I took a critical look and saw the dirt or the one missing sock. Were people judging me for that? If they were, they never said anything to me — and I suspect that’s because I didn’t buy into the mythos that good-looking children are the hallmark of good parenting. Well-behaved children, yes. Looks are the easy (and unimportant) part.

    My feeling on this is that if you cheerfully and confidently refuse to bend to other peoples’ opinions on something as insignificant as whether your child’s shirt matches their pants, you’ll hear a whole lot less of it. And, that if women simply refused to accept that criticism as worth hearing, it would die out.

    It’s like bullies: stand up to them with firmness, they back down. Cower, and they never let up.

    Comment by Helen Huntingdon | July 17, 2009 | Reply

  18. My husband has good taste in clothes for himself and it extends to our son: I often comment how cute our son looks when my husband dresses him! On weekend mornings we take turns sleeping in, and the “on-duty” parent gets our son up, dresses him, feeds him breakfast and plays with him until his morning nap. I love waking up to see my son all dressed and bright-eyed on those mornings.

    This is a good reminder to me though. I am still on maternity leave and thus I am kind of the “expert” on our son’s care simply by virtue of time invested. My husband is just as competent as me, but he doesn’t have the same amount of practice, and I can be guilty of over-managing him.

    When I taught prenatal classes, I would tell my students: “The ‘maternal instinct’ is nothing more than a biological drive, the one that gets you pregnant. Then, having assured the propagation of the species, it deserts you. After that, it’s all on-the-job experience, for men and women alike.”

    One of the hardest things for a new mother to learn is to step back and let someone else do it differently, but as you note, it’s just a matter of practice. Competence comes with practice. Even mom was inexperienced at first — and somehow the babies survive it!

    Comment by Jaimie | July 18, 2009 | Reply

  19. Who are all these people judging women on the street for mismatched clothes? I have never noticed and my son rarely matches because neither one of us prioritizes that unless we’re going to a party or having pictures taken.

    My husband does 98% of daycare drop offs and pick ups because his hours are very regular and mine are not. Thus we chose a daycare convenient to his work while I work an hour away. After some months at this daycare the providers in the room switched and the new teachers somehow got the idea I was not in the home. One woman began nitpicking on my husband’s choice (or my son’s choice since he was over 3) of clothes and his grooming. As if he were a clueless single dad with no one to show him what’s appropriate. Our philosophy was the child goes to daycare to play, so sweat pants on a daily basis are fine. My husband finally asked me to do a pickup and introduce myself to the teachers in hopes they would let up on him. I did and I explained that I travel all over the state providing court services for poor families and that’s why Bob does all the daycare pickups and dropoffs. Comments about Henry’s clothing dropped off quite a bit after that.

    I don’t know who all these people are. I’ve honestly never met them, nor heard their disparaging remarks on the appearance of the chldren in my care… who don’t always match. When anyone comments at all, it’s either something about how cute they all are, or something about how well-behaved they are.

    That’s an odd story you tell about the nitpicking daycare worker. After my years in childcare, I’d be quite prepared to make strong, confident eye contact and say something like, “He’s happy, well-fed, and well-behaved. I think that’s more important than his clothes, don’t you?” Said with a confident, beaming smile.

    I’m also suprised it came from a daycare worker. We tend to have different priorities…

    Comment by Rayne of Terror | July 20, 2009 | Reply

  20. Until Moms start holding Dads more accountable for how they parent, equality is still a dream.

    I’m not sure what the thrust of you comment is. If you’re suggesting that mothers should expect (and permit!) fathers to parent, I agree 100%. However, I do not agree that this is done by micro-managing dad’s efforts, insisting that he do it precisely as you do, and certainly not by mocking him for his sartorial choices.

    Comment by Ann | February 24, 2013 | Reply

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