Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yes He Can Braid Hair - It's Not Weird

There's a lot of articles zinging around cyberspace right now about "10 things never to say to parents of an only child" and "... to multi-child families", etc.  Cultural insensitivity is rampant, and we all (myself included) say and do stupid things when faced with other people's life choices.  Sometimes we don't even mean to be malicious - some stereotypes are woven into the fabric of our society, to the point that our reactions are almost involuntary.

As most of my readers know, I work full time (plus extra), and my husband stays home full time with the children.  Like many families in recent years, this was a conscious choice.  With two advanced degrees and a well established career in a [relatively] stable industry, my earning potential trumps his.  Furthermore, with several younger siblings and growing up in a home daycare run by his mother, my husband had much more experience with children when we became parents.  Add to the mix that his temperament is better suited to not working, and that the cost of daycare can easily swallow one parent's entire salary - it was an easy choice.

A choice that twice as many fathers are making in the last decade.  The number of stay at home dads has doubled in the last 15 years.  (Excellent summary here).  The number of male primary caregivers is now 16%, compared to 10% only 10 years ago.  Furthermore, while this increase has been partially fueled by job loss in the recession of 2008-2010, the ranks of stay at home dads are being disproportionally swelled by college-educated dads that choose to stay home, rather than are forced to by unemployment.

I would imagine that most people are nodding at this point (if you're still reading).  All makes sense, right? Especially where we live in a relatively liberal part of the country, the Jedi isn't the only dad on the playground.  I rarely ever get comments made to me about my choice to work outside the home (like I did even five years ago).  I don't often get accused of being an unnatural mother for working, nor does my husband feel particularly judged as less of a man for not bringing home the bacon.  Yet we still feel the bias against our family situation.

When my children were babies, my husband got a huge amount of unsolicited advice from people whenever he went out shopping, who (wrongly) assumed that he was a lost and confused dad sent out to the grocery store by his exhausted wife.  Now that the kids are older, he gets comments from moms who, after seeing him braid our daughter's waist-long blonde hair, tell him that its amazing he can do her hair because their husbands can't even do a ponytail.  Really?  Is the bar for fatherhood so low that the ability to do a simple braid elevates a man to praise-worthy status?  Such that it warrants comments from strangers?

My husband likens this particular variety of condescension to the discrimination women face in the workplace.  The parenting abilities of stay at home fathers (or fathers in general!) are often assumed to be less than their female counterparts, simply by virtue of their gender.  Even when it is their primary profession.  

Maybe they were right.  Look what happened to them....

Overall though, the biggest obstacle we feel as a family is "the weirdness factor".  Although the movie When Harry Met Sally clearly states that a man and a woman can be friends if they are both married, my husband does not feel comfortable soliciting plans for playdates or other social situations from the moms of my kids friends, if I'm not there to chaperone.  Not because he is some sort of predator looking to seduce the Wisteria Lane housewives, but "it just feels weird to ask".  Likewise, my female friends confirm that it would "feel weird" to have the Jedi and my kids over in my absence.  I can't blame them, though I wish it were different.  It does, however, leave me in the awkward role of social coordinator - squeezing in events with certain friends only on weekends, when I can take vacation, or worse - never.  Which is too bad, because it ends up being the kids that miss out on seeing their friends.

So what about the other stay at home dad families, you ask?  Good question.  Unfortunately, another social stereotype proves true in this case - men generally aren't as gregarious as women.  I'm very sure that in most cases, my husband's included, the gene to plan social events resided firmly on that second X chromosome.  The Jedi is fabulous about taking the kids out for events and activities in the area.  By virtue of a small town and my kids being in preschool and elementary, it's almost inevitable that they run into some kid they know from somewhere.  Thus a playdate coalesces, with no planning required.  That works fine.

As I sit my computer screen at work, the summer pastimes roll by in my newsfeed.  Pool dates, trips to berry pick, beach afternoons and hiking outings.  I'm often painfully conscious of what I miss.  (Just as my husband, like any stay at home parent, is painfully jealous of my quiet cube with free coffee).  I wonder if it occurred to my friends to include my kids, or if it was dismissed because I work and thus my kids are unavailable, even as they sit at home during the day.  I wistfully think that I'll have to try to get the kids out to X location on the weekend.  Or I think that I should make my husband a Facebook account and somehow manually connect him to the other couple of SAHDs I know are out there in our area.  Sadly, forcing anything in a social situation rarely works.  This is a no-fault situation. 

Maybe When Harry Met Sally will have a sequel that will show our culture how to be more modern on our thinking and our reactions about "reverse-breadwinner" families.  That would help alleviate the "weirdness" factor.  I hope so.  Realistically, cultural acceptance of gender roles is woven deep into all of us, and it's not likely to change before my kids are too old to need parent-supervised playdates.  So we'll keep on looking for friends at the library and the grocery store, on the playground and at the park.  The beauty of kids is that they makes friends wherever they go.

But don't be that impressed if you see my husband braid hair.  Or if you are, imagine what you'd feel like as mom if someone remarked on your ability to do so.  It's not weird.  It's being a parent.

1 comment:

Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! said...

Great post! My husband is the primary hair-do-er in our household. I'm just not good at it, don't have the patience for it. He's the one who did the first day of Kindergarten braids, for example. He definitely doesn't have the making plans gene, and if he were a SAHD I'm certain wouldn't be coordinating with others.

And being a FT working mom, I hear you on the missing out. I wish I could do all these activities with my kids. I don't wish i didn't work, I just wish I either had double the time or that there were two of me. ;)

But there's something about the playdates and outings that in my experience ends up being more about the moms than the kids in a lot of cases. When I do make plans with friends on the weekend, I seek out other moms with whom I have a connection so that I am having a social event for myself - that connection, that adult conversation. I never think to ask a dad with a kid to do something with me and my kids.

Interesting to think about!

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