8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to Dads

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As Father’s Day approaches, dads all over the country are being asked what we want as a gift. Most of us say something along the lines of “I don’t need anything because I’ve got you and the kids and that’s all I need.”

Screw that.

I’m asking for something this year. Something specific. And I’m not just requesting this gift for myself, but on behalf of involved dads everywhere. Basically, I want you to stop making us insane by saying (mostly unintentionally) stupid, thoughtless, and insulting crap that makes us crazy.

Please read this list and take it to heart, because sometimes it’s the people we’re closest to who are the biggest offenders. The best part is this gift is free, it’ll lower our blood pressure, and it’ll stop us from secretly hating you every time you open your mouth.

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8. “You’re SUCH a good dad.”
Wait…what? Is he really complaining about people COMPLIMENTING dads? Yes, he is. And I’ll tell you why. When I’ve received this compliment, I’ve never been doing anything extraordinary. I didn’t just save my boys from oncoming traffic or rescue them by fending off a rampaging grizzly. I was just out and about with them being a dad. Sometimes I wasn’t even alone, my wife was right with me. And therein lies the rub — no one would ever give that compliment to a mom. As a dad seeking to be an equal partner in parenting, that means no special treatment. If you wouldn’t compliment a mom just for doing her job as a parent, don’t do it for dads either. We shouldn’t get praise simply for doing what we’re supposed to do.

7. “Looks like dad dressed the baby.”
I’ll admit, I don’t have what most people would call “fashion sense.” I think purple and orange are complimentary colors, stripes and plaids go together just fine, and “dressing up” means the jeans with no holes. So when it’s my turn to get the baby dressed, I’m much more concerned about simply dressing for the weather than the runway in Milan. It doesn’t freaking matter that the kid’s pants don’t go with the onesie, and matching socks on a baby are a moot point since they take them off anyway. Is the baby warm enough if it’s cold? Cool enough if it’s hot? Are all the parts that are supposed to be covered, covered? Then mission accomplished. Besides, what kind of weirdo is judging a little kid on his/her fashion sense?

6. “What do you do all day?”
I’m not a stay-at-home dad, but this one is for all the guys who have made the fundamentally awesome decision to raise their kids full time. The people who ask this question offer it up not out of an insatiable curiosity to gain insight, but rather to passive-aggressively render judgment. And the answer, according to most of the SAHDs I know, is “more than you think and more than you do” most of the time. Full-time dads are every bit the parents full-time moms are. That means they’re cooking meals, changing diapers, doing the laundry, and running around with the kids all day. Modern masculinity is changing, so I suggest you start adapting too.

5. “Don’t worry sweetie, mommy will be back soon.”
When I’m out with the kids alone and Will starts whining while Sam throws a fit, it can get ugly. But what makes it even uglier are the people (yes, this has happened multiple times) who come up with a condescending smile and say to my kids “Ohhhhh, don’t worry. Mommy will be back soon.” Huh? Are you kidding me?? First of all, kids have tantrums no matter which parent is there. Second, don’t tell my kids mommy will be back when she’s not there. Hell, mommy might not even be in the picture. Maybe I’m a single parent. Maybe I’m gay. The point is, you have no idea what my situation is and when you put your foot in your mouth like that you’re more apt to choke on it.

4. “You’re doing it wrong. Here’s how I did it…”
This one stings because a lot of the times we hear it from our spouses. And sure, sometimes we do the wrong thing. Who hasn’t put a diaper or onesie on backward? But other times — like with how we’re holding the baby or how we choose to discipline — it seems like the “wrong way” really means not doing it “your way.” And that’s not cool. Parenting is trial by fire and eventually we’ll figure out what works — just like you did. But we need that opportunity and we don’t need to be told we’re doing it wrong just because we’re not doing it like you do. Let go of the reins a little and you might find dads come up with an even better method or idea.

3. “Oh my. You’re brave.”
Again, this is said to me simply because I’m a dad out with my two kids. And to be fair, it’s usually uttered by someone older who is part of a different generation. But still, it’s not like I’m not fighting in a battle or traversing a field of landmines with my kids. I’m just out at Target. Are moms “brave” for taking their kids on errands? Of course not. You expect that from moms. So if you’re not willing to pin a medal of honor on her simply for being a parent and going grocery shopping, don’t bother with one for dads either.

2. “Oh look at you playing Mr. Mom today.”
Calling dads “Mr. Mom” is a cardinal sin in the dad world, and when you say it to an involved father you’re taking a metaphorical dump all over them. Fatherhood isn’t a version of motherhood, and dads aren’t playing the part of a mom. That implies parenting is some sort of womens’ work and we’re not having that. In fact, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 25 years and even working dads are focusing more on work/life balance because there’s a renewed focus on shared parenting and being present. That’s why, as articles like this one point out, it’s time to retire an antiquated term that is harmful to both dads and moms.

1. “Dad must be babysitting today, huh?”
If you follow even one of these pieces of advice, make it this one. Please, for the love of all things holy, stop referring to fathers as babysitters. YOU CAN’T BABYSIT YOUR OWN KIDS!!! We’re fathers, not paid caretakers. People would never look at a mom with her kids and ask if she was babysitting. Yet when a dad is out with his kids, so many people automatically and without thinking about it call it babysitting. Hell, even some dads refer to it that way because it’s so accepted. So just remember — dads don’t babysit. Ever.

Did I miss any?

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43 thoughts on “8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to Dads

  1. You nailed it, brother. If I hear one more person ask me if I’m babysitting or “playing nanny” to my kids, I will cut their arms off. Why arms? No idea, just makes sense to me.
    Nick Browne recently posted..A Weekend of FirstsMy Profile

  2. You got the big ones.

    I would add to the “Mommy will be back soon”, “Oh, you must miss your Mommy!” Ugh. My husband (SAHD) just wants to punch someone. I’m sure she does miss me, but she’s mad because he took the cell phone away from her, not because her Mommy isn’t there.

    And my husband is better at matching her clothes than I am. So that’s not even a dad vs. mom thing. I want her to look cute, but I’m more like you…does it fit? Is she comfortable? More than once we’ve had to change her outfit because what was I thinking putting her in those pants with that top? 🙂

    Thanks for your great blog! My husband is usually too busy at home doing all the things listed in #6 to read it regularly so I make sure to keep him up-to-date. I have more free time at my office job.

  3. I’m with you on most of these, but I’ll tell ya that moms do get #8 and #3. Still obnoxious, but at least they’re not isolated to dads.

  4. Regarding number 7 – I never have that issue. The kids dress themselves if they are able to. The preschooler picks out his clothes and I help him. My response if I ever hear those words is “No, the kid got dressed on his (or her) own.”

    I have several stories about number 4. Oh man, the hate that brings up…

  5. When people ask me if I am babysitting I always tell them that I am collecting kids and that I found these at the mall.

    It is even more fun when you say it in a monotone and stare off into the distance.
    Jack recently posted..A Father Describes ParentingMy Profile

  6. Yeah, I’ve gotten “Where’s Mom?” Which is such a weird question, when you think about it. Once, when asked that, I just shrugged and said, “Maybe in the shower?” The couple looked really confused. I’ve never heard No. 5 in those words, but now if someone does tell my kids that Mommy will be back soon, I think I’ll just glare and say, “Are you telling them that you can bring her back?” See what that does.

  7. Nah, you got it . Dads are not fools, bumbling idiots. Some of us are better with our kids than others – just like moms.
    Plenty of us can manage our kids just fine and are happy to thrilled to spend time with them. It’s not a chore.
    Larry recently posted..To Journey Without An EndMy Profile

  8. Haha great read thanks.
    Ps had to comeback and repost my comment cause I didn’t answer security question. I’d move the captcha above the submit button. I’m a web guy so hit me up if you need help.

  9. Oh please! So typical of people today who want to be “recognized” for thinking they’re doing something special that’s not special at all. I too spend a lot of time “parenting” my daughter. No, it’s not the norm. And someone isn’t stupid or insensitive because they say some of these things. It’s simply a reflection that most Dads ares still stuck on being what a Dad used to be. Chest pumpin, fist bumpin Dad is just locker room guy wanting kudos for doing something completely normal which says exactly the opposite of what this is really about. We’re Dads who spend a lot of time with our kids. Ain’t no big deal.

  10. When our children were small and I would be out alone and the kids were with Dad I would get asked if my husband was babysitting. I would look the person in the eye and ask if they were implying that he was not their father. I don’t babysit them and neither does he. We are parents not sitters. I got quite a laugh out of the reactions to my comment! 🙂

  11. Great article as always Aaron. I’ve never heard some of these, and I’m appalled that people would even think to say them!

    #8: I do say this to both dads and moms. Why? Because I have had the VERY unfortunate experience of working with parents who are NOT good parents at all. So I say kudos to all my friends (moms and dads) when I see them doing such a great job with their kids. And I tell them that I aspire to be like them when I finally have my own. I don’t walk up to perfect strangers and say that, although I do tend to think in my head, “man, that is such good parenting!” while smiling brightly at them.

    #1: There are dads/moms, and then there are “babysitters” who claim to be dads/moms. My ex, he has 6 kids. 1 of which he gets every other weekend (others are all grown). He isn’t being a dad, he’s being a babysitter. His idea of spending time with (and parenting) his kid (and in the past, his youngest son as well) is to pawn her off on his latest fling while he galivants about, paying her little attention unless it’s an opportunity for him to say “see how good of a dad I am?” Not a dad. A babysitter. A dad is one that wants to spend time with their kids and be actively involved in raising that child. Being a dad is not when the kid is just an accessory or a way to pick up a woman.

    Definitely passing this one on to my dad friends though, I’m sure they’d have a couple to add to the list!

  12. Aaron – I usually enjoy your writing, and you seem like a great guy that I could sit down and drink a few beers with while sharing some laughs. However, you seem to post on this topic – men who aren’t given credit as fathers – quite a bit. After awhile, it isn’t as witty or funny as it is whiny. I get it – there is a lot of truth to it…just like there is truth that women don’t get credit for being able to do a multitude of things that are traditionally deemed ‘for men.’ I’m not trying to offend, just offering some words of caution – the chip on your shoulder seems to be taking over, and threatening to take over your entire arm.

  13. Tracy: Did you actually read this? Because I’m saying people should STOP automatically giving credit to dads just for being dads and doing ordinary parenting tasks. So…the complete opposite of what you’re saying.

    But you’re right in that I tackle the topic of fatherhood a lot, including the treatment of dads in the media and the importance of promoting involved fatherhood. Which makes sense since, you know, this is a website devoted to fatherhood. I’m kind of wondering what else you expect from a site that is admittedly all about being a dad. I don’t mind criticism but this particular one is like going to a food blogger and telling him/her there’s just too much stuff about recipes.

    I do have a chip on my shoulder about this topic, and I don’t view that as a negative. I understand not everyone will care or deem it important enough to bring up as much as I do. And that’s fine — we all have varied interests. But criticizing a dad blogger who runs a site devoted to all things fatherhood for talking about being a dad too much just seems…odd.
    Daddy Files recently posted..8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to DadsMy Profile

  14. Yes, I read it…and again, I get it. I also re-read my comment, because I don’t recall criticizing you about blogging about fatherhood. That is the reason I read your blog – I enjoy reading multiple parenting blogs (several authored by men), and I enjoy getting different perspectives on parenting topics. I never said you talk about being a dad too much, so your comparison me criticizing a food blogger about too many recipes is incorrect. It would be more like if I read a food blog and criticized the male author if he repeatedly got on his ‘Woe is me…the world doesn’t respect male cooks’ soap box. I don’t disagree that there is some disparity regarding the treatment of genders in the role of parenting – just like there is still sexism and racism. It does exist! It’s just that sometimes the degree with which you address this particular topic is off-putting. Sorry – again, I enjoy your humor on most topics, just can’t help but feel a little like this is getting shoved down the reader’s throat.

  15. Tracy: I’m sorry you feel it’s whiny and being shoved down your throat. That’s not the intent. But it is a core issue for many dads, including myself, and I’d be lying if I said it’s not going to be addressed again. Writers can’t please everyone though so if you don’t want to read certain posts it’s unfortunate, but I get it.
    Daddy Files recently posted..8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to DadsMy Profile

  16. Aaron, I think this is a great list. Although my girls are teenagers now, I’ve been hit with a few of these in the past.

    I responded once to “daddy must have dressed the baby” with “hey, I gave the baby 30 minutes to pick out her own clothes.”

    I’m curious if you or anyone else had any funny retorts to the people that say these things to you?

  17. Bra-F’in-o! You nailed it with this list. My wife and I often argue of small things just because I’m doing something different than her….blah blah.

    I also hate when someone asks my what I do and I say I’m a stay-at-home dad and they just get quiet; end of conversation. They act like it’s a sentence or something. NO, it’s by choice and I’m proud!

    Thanks for the list; it’s going on the fridge!

    Oh, and purple and orange are complimentary, don’t let anyone say otherwise!
    RC @ Going Dad recently posted..Is Caffeine in Breast Milk Bad?My Profile

  18. How about, “Oh, it must be your weekend with the boys” when I am alone with my three boys.

    Or, “wow, three boys, you have your hands full.”

  19. Thanks to my dad who gave me gray hair at an early age (genetics.) I always loved “Out with your grandfather today?” My kids always answered that one with a “he’s my dad!”

    Then I asked for the senior discout. Shame is a wonderful thing.

  20. Wonderful article – thanks! And I’m a non-bio lesbian mom 🙂

    Another annoying one is when men ‘wear’ babies in an Ergo or Moby and it’s referred to on ‘mommy’ blogs and Facebook pages at “mommy porn.” Ew.

    If your male partner doing basic, bottom line parenting turns you on, I weep for your relationship.

  21. Love it Aaron. My husband got hit with #7 before he left in an extended work trip. Our oldest daughter dressed herself in boot with mismatched knee high socks, jeans under a skirt, Mario brothers shirt with bowser on it, and a sparkly tiara holding a cowboy hat. She then her dressed her little sister in a plaid shirt with jeans and sandals with light up fairies. Lol. He was walking around, helping our oldest, almost 4, get stuff off a shopping list when I was walking towards them with mine. A woman in her early-mid 30 tell Liz sorry Daddy dressed her so weird, mommy will fix it. He kept his cool but in a very low/tight, jaw clenched through the teeth was told her not to squish our daughters creativity with her presumptions and imply that he can’t dress a child without embarrassing her. He then politely thanked her for insulting her in front of his children, implying he was inept at the same time and walked away. He was wonderful reassuring Liz that she did a good job choosing the outfits, but some people don’t understand toddler creativity.
    For all you Dads, happy father’s day. I really hope American society will catch up and realize that you gentleman are amazing at what you do and don’t need women hovering. Stay involved and being amazing Dads.

  22. Funny thing … I hate these kind of lists and stuff. My life is so different in so many ways, yet this is spot on for me, in a whole different world than you (single father of two severely disabled kids).

    Great, and true list. You have a new follower …

  23. I’m the father of two, a 7 year old and a 10 year old. My oldest has Asperger’s and though he is intellectually around 12, he is socially/emotionally about 6. He has a hard time with socialization rules (or even why it is important) and can get so frustrated that he has what appear to be “temper tantrums.” More than once I’ve had to drag my big kid out of a store while he screams the whole way. You can imagine the looks I’ve gotten. (Thankfully, no “helpful folks” have tried commenting on my parenting abilities during these times.)

    The most recent incident occurred on Father’s Day. We needed to buy some cards while out but both my boys just couldn’t be still for five minutes and kept touching things they shouldn’t. I finally decided it was time to remove them from the situation and let me wife get the cards in peace.

    I took them out of the card store and to a nearby mall seating area where I told them to sit down. I got quite the look from one woman as my kids continued to misbehave and I had to scold them. Part of me wanted to tell her “my kids aren’t usually this bad” but quite honestly I didn’t care about her opinion.

    One big lesson I’ve learned over the years is that there are very few people in this world whose opinions you should care about. Ignore the rest of the people. If this woman thought that I was the worst dad ever and my kids were little monsters, let her. Of course, if she tried interjecting with some helpful “mommy will be back soon” or “maybe mom can handle this better” advice, though, she would have likely gotten an earful from me. 😉

  24. I have asked that if anyone ever tells myt daughter “don’t worry mum,my will be back soon” or anyhting simmilar, he inform them that I am dead.
    That aught to prevent it from happening again.

  25. Just stumbled on this post. Love it. I am a work-at-home dad, and I modeled my career around being able to stay home with my son (now 2 years old). It drives me nuts when I hear any of this stuff because I bust my butt to work during nap times, evenings, weekends, and whenever I can get a chance.

    The worst is when people ask (indirectly usually) how I am with my wife being the breadwinner. I just smile and tell them I work too, not telling them that I actually make more than she does.

  26. What I hate are the swoopers. I’m with my 3 y/o daughter at a play place (indoor blow up moon bounces) and she has a meltdown because she’s a threenager. I’m standing right next to her waiting for her to finish and OPHMIE (Over Protective Helicopter Mom In Extremis) swoops in and picks her up. Now my daughter is frightened and OPHMIE is cooing saying “where’s your mommie?” I grab my daughter and as she is clinging to me I tell OPHMIE that her mommie is with her brothers and if she grabs my daughter again she will be on the floor waiting for the ambulance. I’m sure OPHMIE thought I was rude and perhaps I was but if you think “mommy tiger” is impressive you have yet to meet “daddy lion”.

  27. I agree with all of them except for #8.

    #8 is a compliment. For goodness sake, take the compliment. Doing the job can be thankless at times. It’s going to take a long time before your kids will realize what you did for them. More than likely your partner is as worn out as you are to give you a compliment.

    And should you get the compliment just for doing your job? Yes, why not. Do you know why? Because there are too many people in this world who can create a child, but don’t do crap for the child once they’re out in the world. Get some perspective. More than likely, the person complimenting you had a horrible father or a partner that didn’t help them raise the children. The longer I spend in this world the more I hear about crappy fathers.

    And do you know another reason why you should take the compliment and maybe even pass a similar compliment to your partner? Because as parents, we never are good enough in our own eyes. We have regrets and doubts. Getting a little emotional reassurance would be helpful the next time the kids all have a melt down together or you’ve had it with all of the fighting, etc.

    Take the compliment, and if you can’t stand to be complimented ever, give your partner a compliment instead.

  28. Scott: I love compliments. But without having done anything to earn one, they’re meaningless to me.

    Simply put, I’m not against compliments — I’m just against compliments for no reason. And I’m against compliments for one group of people you wouldn’t give to another. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone give my wife compliments while out at the grocery store with kids. But the few times I’ve gone? Smile and compliments and atta boys galore. Because I’m a dad alone with my kids and that’s rare. But complimenting a dad for doing what he’s supposed to do is (unintentionally) patronizing for dads, and simultaneously insulting for moms who are doing the same thing. It’s really just another way to call child-rearing women’s work.

    In the working world, it’d be like me expecting a raise just because I showed up on time and did my required work. If you want a raise (the equivalent of a compliment), you go above and beyond.

  29. I agree with your thoughts here. It’s amazing to me how differently my husband and I are treated when we’re out with the kids. The different expectations, as exemplified by these phases, are a disservice to both of us.

  30. Exactly! I pretty much raised my two boys from birth to age 10 and 5, respectively (mom is a surgeon who worked 100-hour weeks; I worked a more manageable 50-60). At parks and birthday parties, school trips and events, the comments from others came constantly. While they were couched as compliments, they really were condescension: “Wow, what a good dad!” “You spend so much time with them!” Yes, I do. Yes, sometimes it’s hard. But come on, what did you expect? Don’t treat me like a monkey that can play the piano. I’m just a father taking care of his kids.

  31. I get so irritated by these and I experience them constantly at my kids’ school. I am not a stay at home dad, but I am a professor, which means I have a much more flexible schedule than my wife who deals with long hours and a long commute. I have even had a few summers off. As a result, I am the one at the school (preschool) functions and ballet classes, etc. My wife makes all of them she can, mostly dictated by her drive, but I am at all of them.

    My two kids’ teachers know this, yet they STILL all but refuse to talk to me about upcoming events, issues, etc. even when I ask them directly. They actually just email the stuff to my wife. I have made the point to tell them my email address. I am even listed as the first contact. Our kids are in their 6th preschool and it has been the same in every place. It leads to all kinds of communication breakdowns.

    In my career, I have become accustomed to being direct so I have often thought that I must just be coming off as a D—. They usually ask what I do, so they also know that I am a psychologist and I have been teaching Developmental Psych for over a decade so I often also think that they might not want to talk to me out of fear that I will try to correct them. But then I see that other dads have the same exact problems so it has to go beyond that. Dads are not substitute parents for mom. It is time for people to realize this.

  32. Found your blog today and love it! Great articles and this one will help me hopefully to stop to consider before criticising my husband over his way of parenting. You safe us some trouble there, the baby is still in my belly 😉

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