Saturday, August 14, 2010

What a Stay at Home Dad Wants Moms to Know, in Fourteen Points


Moms and Dads Socializing at A Local Playground

Prelude to The Fourteen Points (skip to bottom to get straight to it)

Whenever I look back over my ongoing run as a primary caregiver and ask myself what have been the greatest challenges I've faced, two things immediately leap to mind. The first is that I am not a morning person, whereas my son is a morning person. Eighty-percent of the anguish of my life -- and perhaps his -- resides in this contradiction.

As for the second greatest challenge, it can be summed up in one word: moms.

This post is about a stay-at-home-dad's experience dealing with moms, a topic that I've treated before and to which I now return with the following list of Fourteen Points That I Think It Would Be Helpful for Moms to Know About Dads Like Me. This, in the hope that I can contribute to a reduction in the unmistakable awkwardness with which every group of moms typically receives a specimen of the modern parenting bestiary, the Cyclops of the playgroup set, the Quasimodo of preschool pick-up: the stay-at-home-dad.

I put this list together because, to be frank, the difficulty of dealing with moms -- with stay-at-home moms in particular -- has come as the greatest surprise of my 3.5 year stint as my son's primary caregiver. As far as the moms in my neighborhood go my life has, during this time, become segregated like the orthodox synagogues to which I have never belonged, with men and women praying to the same god on either side of a dividing curtain. A sort of breast-feeding, stroller-pushing version of the Shriners, Elks, or Freemasons has absorbed all but the most independent of them into ritually pure conclaves which stand out as the most homogeneous social groups I have ever encountered.

The magnitude of my surprise stems from the contrast with what went before. Whatever gender balance may have obtained in my place of work or in my social life, however many female friends and confidants I may have had, as soon as the women around me are assigned responsibility for the survival and upkeep of one or several munchkins, somehow a collective step is taken through a Way-Back Machine to the American 1950's, or closer in time but further in familiarity, to the post-revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, with veils and de jure segregation in public.

Unsuspecting Parents Step into the Gender Way-Back Machine

So easily does a new gender segregation seem to dissolve the happy gender mixing I once knew -- in graduate school, in corporate and non-profit places of employment, and in the halls of academe; so quickly do the moms who chose to stay at home shift comfortably into the ancient routines and traditions of gender segregated motherhood; so quickly is the network of venerable ladies' institutions known as "book clubs" re-purposed, refitted, and rejiggered into bright and shiny new "playgroups" -- that I have occasionally wondered if the women with whom I seem to share little but physical space on a playground might be more comfortable donning a veil, hijab, or chador, thus removing any ambiguity about their Social Preferences While Parenting.

This regime of "separate but equal," as I mentioned above, stands in bracing contrast to my life-before-parenting. I've always had lots of female friends. In my freshman year of college, I immediately became best friends with a woman living across the quad. We shared coffee, gossip, and travels in Paris and Madrid, all without ever crossing the Rubicon of intimacy. She was one of several such female friends, some of them regular dance partners whose boyfriends didn't like to dance, some of them coworkers united under the yoke of the same eccentric boss, some of them academic companions with a shared set of intellectual pleasures and pursuits. I still have these friends. But, with the transition to parenthood, the rate of female-friend accumulation has hit a concrete wall and fallen onto the floor like a dead fish.

Sweet baby Jesus, ladies --what gives? Why the wall? We can all clamor for the de jure institutional structures of parenting equality, but they are undermined if what we practice is de facto gender segregation. At some point, social attitudes contribute to the drag produced by social institutions on the progress towards equality. Until those attitudes change -- until the book-club-turned-playgroup comfortably admits its first Male Member, a separate but equal sphere of women's domesticity will be preserved into the 21st century.

So ladies, I give you a Stay at Home Dad's Fourteen Points and say "Tear down that wall!"

I've got some damn good recipes to share with you, when you do.


The Fourteen Points

#1. I don't want to sleep with you. So can we please just chill about that.

#2. I've noticed that you rarely invite me to your functions or friend me on Facebook. Please see #1, which I hope will clear things up a bit.

#3. Your kids will probably like me because I actually enjoy playing with them. So if you're friendly, I'll watch them so you can go take a coffee break with your SAHM-pack and talk about mom-stuff, like how you want to lose those extra 15 pounds.

#4. Although even if you do lose those extra 15 pounds, I still won't want to sleep with you. Nothing personal. So again, let's please just chill about that.

#5. I can be just as catty as you. (Eye-roll, then See #3-4)

#6. I am not a pedophile. I mean, really.

#7. I am actually a very good cook, and enjoy the conceptual overlap with chemical engineering, or how the strategic application of heat denatures molecular bonds.

#8. Every time your kid sees a SAHD with a stroller in the park, packing his kid's lunch, handling visits to the doctor, picking him up from preschool, or hanging with their own mom on a playdate, she's that much less likely to grow up believing that these things must always be women's work.

#9. If I never see your husband doing any of the above-listed things on weekends, days-off, or after work, I start to think you've got a bum deal and maybe think they really are women's work.

#10. If I never see your husband at after-school potlucks or fundraisers or Sunday afternoon birthday circuits, I start to think he may just be a loser.

  • #10a. Unless he works for Goldman Sachs and really is out making millions -- but then why don't you have a nanny?
#11. I don't necessarily form male friendships on the basis of my role as a stay-at-home-dad, though I don't reject them for this reason, either.

#12. Setting up a date with me on behalf of your stay-at-home-husband probably won't work. Just invite me to the next preschooler birthday blowout and see if maybe we hit it off.

#13. I am capable of talking about episiotomies, natural birth, VBAC's, IVF, male and female infertility, breast feeding, doulas, food allergies, sleep training, disposable versus cloth diapering, developmental stages and delay, what you should pay babysitters and nannies, sippie cups, vaccinations, and how lazy your husband is.

#14. I also really enjoy, and maybe even prefer, talking about things that have little to do with parenting.

37 comments:

Holly said...

I feel for you and other stay at home dads. I really think it is sad that so much of what you mention is still going on. I especially think it is awful that whenever a man is taking care of children/involved with children--especially young children--there is an underlying suspicion that involves unsavory predilictions. It all undermines the healthy interaction kids and adult men should be having. I applaud your efforts to break down the walls!!

artsycraftsycrunchy said...

I wish there were more SAHDs. I don't think there is anything better to teach my kids that men and women are equally capable of doing domestic work (or other things, for that matter) than seeing this actually happening. Any dad who enjoys spending time with his kids and is understanding of the desire/need to discuss birth stuff is alright by me! Bless you and all those like you.

Witch Mom said...

Loving it, and great to have found your blog. My parenting blog is also, ahem, unusual.

My (male) partner and I share duties pretty equally- breadwinning and caregiving. But I am always aghast at how some of my mom friends treat him when he wants to accompany us to the museum or such.

Hey- we can be playground pals- there's no weird gender wall with me!

Lily, aka Witch Mom

Lincoln said...

Rock on! I raised my little cousin, and now I do a lot of house husbandy type things. As I have off and on throughout my life.

As much as women talk about wanting men to shoulder more of the work, actually seeing us do it seems to weird them out.

The Crazy Baby Mama said...

you know, for whatever reason, most of my friends are stay-at-home-dads instead of stay-at-home-moms.

forgive me for generalizing, but women can be bitches sometimes, and i enjoy the easy give-and-take i have with the dads i hang with...

s.
p.s. thanks for shattering my illusion (per #1, #2, and #4)

Maggie said...

As a member of the grandparent generation, I am saddened by the truth of these 14 points. Looks like SAHM culture hasn't changed much in 35 years.

What I remember most about my SAHM days -- and what sent me back to the working world at the earliest opportunity, sending my preschoolers to daycare when I couldn't afford a nanny -- was #14. Spending the whole day with toddlers didn't mean I wanted to forget about everything else, but I could never get the other mothers to talk about anything but children. Unless they were complaining about husbands, of course, but I didn't want to do that, either.
I also was never very good at #3, #4, or #7 ... which probably means the SAHMs I knew would have liked you better than me. I wish they'd have given both of us a chance to be who we are, and love our kids.

dprice95 said...

This is a great article. As a part-time stay at home dad (2-3 days a week, just me and the boys) I feel this pain. Most moms don't want to even say hi to you at the playground/storytime/zoo/etc.
And don't even get me started on the
"mom's clubs" which are so popular where we live--Discriminatory by their very name!

Allie said...

I found your blog via Offbeat Mama and now you will be on my Google Reader. My husband is a stay at home parent and deals with a similar issue with moms in the community (actually wrote about it not too long ago: http://www.emerson-elaine.com/2010/06/moms-suck.html). It's amazing the stereotypes placed against men who do stay at home with their kids. I personally wish there were more of you out there!!

Meredith L. said...

Hi there. I came to this post via my husband, who, while not a SAHD, is nevertheless actively involved with our child, loves being a dad, and does as much as he can do during our family time together. And he loves your blog.

As a SAHM I would like to ask, where are you that the local moms are like this?

I live in a very progressive neighborhood (sometimes militantly so), and I would say that about 1/4 - 1/3 of the SAH parents I see when I go about my day are dads.

As for point #1, I don't think any of them want to sleep with me. Nor do I want to sleep with them.

#6: Duh.

#10a: Even if my husband earned a kazillion dollars a year, I would not hire a nanny. I love being a SAHM and being with my son.

#13: Just because you are capable does not mean I am necessarily comfortable talking with a man about these things. I respect your wisdom; but certain things I reserve for my mom friends.

That said, I've made efforts to engage in chit-chat with some of the SAHDs I see around, and am usually brushed off. They either fly solo or in pairs, and seem to prefer it that way. They get uncomfortable if I make an attempt to move past a simple, "Hey," when our kids' paths cross at the playground.

So, you know, maybe in some places it cuts both ways: maybe there are plenty of SAHMs who are more than happy to be friends and pals with you. I know I would be fine with inviting a dad to my playgroups, if only they all didn't make a point of walking away from me the minute I say, "I love your child's name! How did you come up with it?" or "Have you been to any of the other classes here? What did you think?"

It IS important for children of both genders to see fathers engaging in regular child care activities and in housework, just like it's important to see moms doing things other than "women's work." I'm glad I live in a neighborhood where my son sees plenty of dads at the playground. I just wish this "wall" you speak of wasn't put up and maintained by moms OR dads.

tcs3600 said...

As a lesbian mom I was expecting to have trouble integrating into playground culture, but to my surprise I was readily absorbed by the mommy crew. Gender trumps sexual orientation even in our liberal neighborhood playground -- I see some of this awkwardness and inadvertent exclusion of dads from the tighter mommy groups.

The point about the wayback machine is excellent. Like spawning turtles we tend to return to the gender roles we saw in childhood, as soon as we become parents. It's a constant struggle to learn different behavior and attitudes.

Thanks for bringing some frankness and humor to this topic. It's good work you guys are doing.

Anonymous said...

uh...I hear you. I didn't like SAHM culture either, and I'm not even a dude. My partner was a SAHD dad and it made both of us uncomfortable how unwelcomed he was.

Anonymous said...

A great article. I am so thankful for the work that SAHDs do to debunk stereotypes, give more children a chance at good relationships with fathers (through debunking stereotypes, in part), and to get men in general out of thinking you are not a man if you are not relentless;y focused on competitive achievement and consumption.

This article actually made me think of my career as a Gen-X female in corporate law. My Baby Boomer male law partners used to play cards together, go to lunch together, go on scuba diving trips together, and even go to strip clubs together and with clients. These were all activities I was excluded from (some I wouldn't have wanted to attend).

Only when a couple Gen-X men became law partners did we start doing co-ed cycling after work, co-ed hiking trips, etc.

When these younger fellas opened the doors like that so I could participate it was being able to breathe again. I didn't realize how demoralizing I was finding it to be excluded.

So, I can imagine being a SAHD in land of women very invested in the SAHM status and clubbiness can be tough. If you hang in there, I hope you'll find some women like my Gen-X male law partners who are not so exclusionary.

I also agree with the other poster that parenting is especially tricky because it is such a personal thing that people do tend to parent the way their parents did unless they go to the effort to consider and think outside the box and learn new ways. So, it takes some concerted effort to break down these paths of least resistance, dysfunctional though they may be. That's not to say that the SAHDs have to do anything, but that I wish these exclusionary SAHMs would just try to consider a little some other ways of doing things. They may be surprised how much they enjoy a less Balkanized and friendlier male-female dynamic.

Beta Dad said...

I haven't really experienced the cold mom shoulder yet, but my girls are only a year old, and still nap twice a day. We haven't started doing a lot of activities that involve interacting with other families (except ones we already know.)

At the playground, I don't mind being a lone wolf SAHD so far. With twins, I don't have much time to socialize--I'm just trying to keep the kids from eating rocks and falling off the slide.

I do belong to both a mom group and a dad group. And although I'm not highly active in either group (too much nap interference), I'm more comfortable with the moms.

My dad group is a little weird. Several of the guys are pretty chill, and just want to hang out while the kids play; but some of the younger dads seem a little competitive or aggressive. I can't quite put my finger on it. It might just be what happens when guys sit around drinking beer and talking shit. With their kids.

I think my mom group might not feel like I am trying to seduce them because it's a formal group that I joined and they all know my background and many of them know my wife. Had I approached them at the playground, uninvited, things may have been different.

Max said...

It's very interesting to hear about this. I've been a 50/50 single dad since birth and originally I was off-put by the quantity of "mom groups" on meetup.com (often stating no dads allowed; having minimum attendance, etc). This was particularly difficult when I was trying to figure out how to care for an infant totally by myself.

Then I discovered the single parent scene; which has been much more open to dads. They have lots of events going on and everyone has been very very friendly. Maybe the single-parent bond trumps gender, who knows??

I am, however, a person who socially focuses on 1-on-1 relationships rather than "packs." Combining this with being a single parent means that my son and I have a VERY strong 1-on-1 bond. When we're out on the playground we're running around playing together -- so I don't really have a chance or desire to talk to the parents sitting on the sidelines. Sure I'm happy to chat with someone (male or female) who is beside me pushing their kid on the swing; but when the boy moves on to the slide -- so do I. I'm there for the boy; not the other parents. Maybe it would be different if I stayed at home fulltime, who knows?

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Love this. !

Steph

Backpacking Dad said...

You know, it was weird. When I became a stay at home dad and got my Stay At Home Dad Survival Kit in the mail from the SAHD FAiry it came with wipes for the snot, formula for the lactivist confrontation conversation starter, ear plugs for CIO training, and a big box of condoms for all of the sex to be had during playdates.

I thought those were standard issue.

Lance @ NYC Dads Group said...

Great post. Sharing it with other dads in NYC!

J Chapman said...

I was not at stay-at-home full time, but I did take a full 3 month paternity leave when both of my children were born. When my daughter was born, we were also hosting a 13 year old brother-in-law for the summer (giving him and my in-laws a break from each other for a few months) so much of my time getting out of the house revolved around doing things with the 13-year old. With my son, however, I had three months of playground time and all the rest (it was late fall in Seattle, so there was also a lot of "out" time at the local Tullies - they were so smart to put in a kids table and toy basket!).

I never found a total mom exclusion, and made some lasting freindships with women I met a the informal "Tully's Mom" club. There was a little bit of hesitation on the part of some, but otherwise they were fairly happy to chat. Even now, when I am toting along my 8 and 10 year old, I can get a reasonable conversation conversation going with playground moms by admiring how cute their baby or toddler is.

But I live in Seattle, and the culture is one where people talk to strangers. You chat with neighbors. You talk to people, even of the opposite gender, in the elevator and nobody grabs for their wallet or fingers the 911 button on their cellphone. Coming from Philadelphia, that was a bit of a shift for me (I did check my wallet a lot after those conversations at first). So the mom exclusion may partly be due to overall cultural factors.

I also found that many of the close-nit moms groups at the park had pre-existing connections. They were already friends getting together with their kids, rather than friendships that had formed post-kid (and a surprising number of people drove to various parks, rather than walking to their regular neighborhood park).

John

The Angry SaHD said...

Excellent Post, I linked to it from my blog. I have a couple lists on there too, but I won't advertise :)

Anonymous said...

There are some SAHMs that DO want to sleep with.

Rick Juliusson said...

After 2 years of SAHD-ing, I'm actually on a few invite lists. This summer I received 3 emails in one week to different beach/park/dance get-togethers, all addressed to "Mommies". I have no idea if this means I'm "in" or if they mistakenly invited me.

rtb.ink said...

I know I'm a bit late to this but I'll add my 2cents anyway. This is the biggest issue I've faced in my 18 years in being a homemaker. As a rule I've come to the conclusion that it hasn't changed much and is unlikely to. In the end parenting is about dealing with the private bits of peoples lives, and those private bits don't get shared across gender lines.

One of the primary tenants of modern thinking is that gender doesn't mean much. The whole tabla rasa thing. But it does. What you are seeing on the playground and on play-dates are women being cliquey (spontaneously self organizing). If you like you can pull out a clipboard and stopwatch and start observing the population in front of you. It's all that kept me sane for years. As a goof it's wonderful as an icebreaker too.

As a hint, never try to be one of the girls, you're not.

rtb.ink said...

Before I forget, like I just did by hitting enter --

You're also leaving out the point of them possibly wanting to sleep with you. Or at least each wanting to make sure that none of the others gets the idea that she might not be totally faithful. Inter-female dynamics can get complicated, so don't always assume it's you. You don't really know what their pecking order is, or how it works.

Clark Kent's Lunchbox said...

Certainly something I can relate to, and being in the rough and tumble, oil-drillin' state of TX it feels as if there's an added perception of emasculation that comes with being a SAHD. (Let me qualify this by saying that's not the case everywhere--Austin for instance has a solid SAHD community.)

Over the past several years as a SAHD, I've been given the cold shoulder many times. At birthday parties I'm usually informed by the hostess that I can just leave my stepdaughters there and come back in an hour. And should anyone mother ask about my staying at home, it always includes a line of questioning hinting at what I did wrong.

Early on, I'll admit to a degree of over sensitivity. I was embarrassed because, yes, I did lose my job. But in time, I accepted the role (and myself), and now believe I can discuss this issue without my emotions taking over.

In all honesty, this standoffish attitude harbored by mothers towards SAHD is something that's going to remain prevalent, save for a few pockets, within the world of parenting.

I wonder though, if this reflects a certain (conscious or subconscious) insecurity in mothers, because if they have to accept the reality that men can be as equally adept in the role of primary caregiver, it threatens the only role women have been able to consistently claim as their own throughout history.

Anonymous said...

Clark Kent's Lunchbox:

You said "I wonder though, if this reflects a certain (conscious or subconscious) insecurity in mothers, because if they have to accept the reality that men can be as equally adept in the role of primary caregiver, it threatens the only role women have been able to consistently claim as their own throughout history."

I think this is very likely what is going on. I think this clinging to power as mothers is very unfortunate, for a number of reasons, not least of which that (a) they almost ensure that their children will have trouble connecting with fathers, which the children will especially need since the mother does not have a job and the children will need one someday, and (b) they miss out on finding the confidence and self-esteem of acquiring some traction in the public economy, which in turn translates to much better quality mothering. Both things really hurt children as well as the mothers and fathers.

Many women have not had the modeling by their own mothers or the encouragement from their own fathers to develop a sense of self, and self-esteem, that allows for a dual focus on children and career, as well as a more secure attitude that would allow for sharing parenting with the dad.

Truly sad, indeed (no pun intended).

fatboy said...

Great blog and story. As a stay at Home dad you hit everything on the head.

SoulSnax said...

I've experienced the same shit from moms at the playground, but I always thought it was just racial thing cuz I'm not white.

That being said, if any white guys out there wanna know what it's like to be a minority, spend a week as a SAHD among SAHMs.

Jay Palter said...

Wow, great post. I heard some of my own words in it, so it rings true. But it feels a bit strong to me.

I too am a primary parenting dad among SAHMs and while I feel a bit the outsider I have been warmly welcomed on a one-to-one basis by many of the SAHMs. There are barriers to be sure - no book club invitations or joint workout sessions - but we coordinate after-school activities and playdates and social functions.

Some moms are more comfortable than others with active dads, but it takes time for social mores to change. And traditionalism is lurking everywhere. It can be lonely out there when you are at the leading edge of a social revolution.

Anonymous said...

After being a SAHD for two years, I'm starting to wonder if there really is any point in trying to befriend the female species on the playground when in a group? Especially when I've distracted from watching my own children because I am constantly having to discipline their children for kicking my son in the head on the climbing wall, or pouring sand on his head in the sandbox, or biting him just because he was standing there and their child had nothing better to do, all while the mom's club chats about dieting, vacations and the hot, must-have back-to-school toy of the year. Never an apology, an acknowledgement, or even a "hello." I may as well be with the Park and Recs department coming out to fix that damn merry-go-round for the 5th time this month.

Anonymous said...

Well, having had a SAHD, I found out quickly, that for him #1 was a top priority. So, for me, there is no painting sainthood on SAHD's. I'm not naive, I know they are not ALL the way that mine was, but having gone through 10 years of a couch laying, 10 hours of sleep getting, I don't "do" dishes, windows, sweeping, dusting, or any other type of womanly duty. Also, my children were told to go to their rooms, the minute they ever stepped out of them. When I would be home from work on the weekends, it was always a fight because I wanted to see them more than I wanted to see them. Now, that was after I had done my laundry, and made them breakfast, lunch and dinner, etc. It seems my duties never ended and his never began. It was the WORST time in my life. I lost respect. I worked 3 jobs to stay afloat financially at times. He played in a band. I paid the "band dues". I'm not looking for sympathy, I just wanted another perspective in this "all hail the SAHD trend". Sometimes - it is just bad.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I have a feeling that there are two sides to your story. And perhaps a third: that of the children who were stuck with two such obviously immature parents.

Anonymous said...

Actually- I think the real problem goes back to the men. Who are the women who become mothers in two-parent families? What are their qualities? Think about all those really great women you didn't want to sleep with... I know! I had tons of great platonic relationships with guys- and I really didn't want to sleep with them, either (though I am straight). But what was it about them that made them such good friends, but so unfuckable? If men start valuing women for qualities other than being fuckable, then women will respond positively to them. Also- we don't like the feeling that you think we're unfuckable. (f- u!) btw- most of my parent friends were stay-at-home dads- and guess what- it wasn't that hard. They didn't make me feel like shit, and I returned the favor. and we didn't have to talk about stupid mommyshit because we weren't afraid to talk about anything interesting or just to talk shit.

Jay Palter said...

This post left an impression on me and I finally got around to write a proper piece of my own (see http://bit.ly/dO7dtp).

Suffice it to say that friendships between dads who take care of their kids and the moms they encounter daily are fraught with complexity. And this is too bad if you're a guy who just likes hanging with moms 'cause you have things in common with them.

Conor Neill said...

Thanks for sharing. It helps to see that it is not just me ;-) It is a fun adventure in any case - I definitely don't have any clear role models from the generation before for how a dad takes a 100% role in upbringing of a daughter.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I wandered into your blog and I just want to tell you, as a 40-ish woman WITHOUT kids, I have exactly the same complaints about what motherhood (particularly stay-at-home motherhood) does to friendships. One by one my friends fell down the baby hole, and suddenly I, the childless one, became persona non grata, despite my efforts to keep the friendships going with babysitting offers, gifts for the kiddies, and respectful listening to stories about episiotomies and breastfeeding. The fact is, I'm not in the club, and never will be. My friends who were once casual, fun, and multifaceted, turned into SUPERMOMMIES. The cliquishness, the exclusionary "secret society" attitude, and the catty remarks are also directed at women who don't fit in. As a man, just like a childless woman, you don't fit in, and there is nothing you can do about it. Women in packs can be just awful, and I'm saying that as a woman. It was brutal in jr. high and high school, got better for a few years, then (some) women seem to regress horribly. You have my sympathies.

Jenn Ciplet said...

This is an amazing post. I just linked to it for a post on my blog about father's day, and how I keep trying to get out of my husband's way... Thanks for the inspiration!

Gord said...

Yea! I feel like I need to get #1 and #13 on a t-shirt. I'd totally wear that to the park.