Let’s Get Edumacated

Wednesdays are my day off, and with MJ taking some time off from work it’s been nice for the whole family to hang out together.

In an effort to be “good parents,” we went to a kids playgroup today in Hyannis so Will could play with other kids. He didn’t do so well playing with others at daycare. His provider said he is shy and introverted, preferring to take a toy and play by himself rather than mix it up with the other kids. When he is forced to interact, it’s not pretty. He usually cries and screams until someone picks him up and removes him from the situation. So obviously that needs to be fixed.

So we get there and there’s 4-5 other kids around Will’s age. And as I anticipated, I was the only father in attendance. We introduced ourselves and put Will down to play. As expected, he just sat by himself with one toy. We constantly tried to push him into the circle of babies but he wasn’t really having any of it.

MJ left at one point to go make him up a bottle while I sat and continued to try to get him to play with the other kids. He was turning his back on the group and constantly trying to climb up my leg. So I spun him around, picked him up and plopped him right in the middle of the circle. He did not take well to that and the whining quickly ensued. But I didn’t care because he has to learn to play with others, so I left him there.

“Oh no,” said one of the other women there. “It’s OK, mommy will be back soon.”

Excuse me?

If I hadn’t been so stunned at her comment, perhaps I could’ve thought of a proper reply. Just think about how insulting that is. Basically she’s saying — without ever having met me or Will — that 1) my baby must cry whenever left alone with me and 2) I’m incapable of taking care of him.

I shouldn’t have been shocked by this. Despite the fact that I strive to be an involved dad, there’s a societal prejudice when it comes to how fathers are perceived. We are breadwinners. We live to work and children are nothing but a necessary annoyance we simply condone. Sure we might change a diaper if we’re nagged enough, but we do it clumsily. When we feed our babies it’s a disaster, with food flung about the room. Then mom comes in, flashes her amused smile, pats us on the head and cleans everything up.

Basically dads are reduced to an amalgamation of all the sitcom stereotyped dads we’ve ever seen.

And I’m partially to blame for some of this. I fall into the trap of acting like a “Dumb Dad” sometimes. For instance, I should’ve said something to that know-it-all mommy. But instead I just laughed as I watched all of the women there try to conjure up guesses as to why a father was actually attending one of these groups. I almost felt like I was invading or trespassing on their turf.

And that pisses me off because I hear so many moms talk about how they want their husbands/boyfriends more involved in their kids’ lives. Show up more, help out more…but then when we do show up we’re often subject to ridicule, accusatory glances and snide comments, however unintentional they might be.

So to combat this kind of ignorance, I’m going to start a new segment of Daddy Files. Each month, I’m going to trade e-mails with or interview a different parenting expert. I’ll talk to dads, moms, other parent bloggers and hopefully some experts in the field. And before I interview them, I’ll let you know who has agreed to speak with me and I’ll list their credentials and areas of expertise. Then, you’ll have the opportunity to send me some topics you’d like them to tackle or some questions you’d like answered. And I promise I’ll work it into the interview. Then I’ll post the whole thing on here and we’ll talk about it.

See? it’s not all poop stories and me bitching about not being able to watch The Three Stooges. You might actually learn something (God forbid) and I’ll feel like I’m doing something productive instead of just making a fool of myself on the Internet.

I’m trying to line up our first guest speaker right now, and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s worked out. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions I’m all ears.

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22 thoughts on “Let’s Get Edumacated

  1. Wait? His daycare provider was telling you he is introverted and shy???????????

    He’s EIGHT MONTHS OLD!! Children aren’t expected to do anything but play side by side until they are around 2.5-3 years old….give the kid a break!

  2. Meri is absolutely right – babies do not play with each other, they play NEAR each other. Jeesh. You are allowed to worry and push when he’s 4 and has no friends….not that that will happen :)

    By the way, I absolutely love your blog. My husband always knows what I’m reading because I’m usually laughing at you (or is it with you??) Thanks for the entertainment!

  3. I’m with Meri & Moo – kids that age are supposed to be doing parallel play, not interacting. I think your daycare provider has a bigger problem than Will!

  4. Well, they beat me to it, and they’re right. It’s still a great idea to take him to places like that, though, just so he’s around a lot of kids in different places, not just at daycare.

    My husband always took my son to places where only the mommies would hang, but he just used it as an opportunity to get them for customers for his business. They loved him, and he cleaned up! Mommies are a tough crowd, though, even for me ;)

  5. Mommies can be so pigheaded! It was a great idea for you to bring Will to hang with kids. He will be better for it.

    Thanks for stopping by to see me!! Holding Will for 10 minutes made my whole day!

  6. I’m not quite sure I’d jump to the conclusion that she was being snide…forgive me if I am wrong here, but I feel like she is being judged just as bad, if not worse you feel you were.

    How do we know she’s not thinking “Why did I say that? His Dad is right there, I hope he didn’t take offense…” Maybe she just felt bad for the baby and it was second nature for her to say that because she IS a Mommy…

    Also, I don’t think we need to assume that all Mommies think Daddies are useless farts who don’t like to do things. I just think that Mommies know what’s best and that most people know that. I know many, many Dads who are the best Dads they can possibly be. My husband is SO involved in their lives and for a lot of the times watches the two of them alone for as much time that I do…but he knows, humbly, that both the baby and the three year old, are most comforted by mommy. It’s not that they love me more, or that he’s completely useless, but it’s because I carried them in my womb for 9 months and then feed them with my body and I am just their mommy.

    I understand your frustration, as there are a LOT of dads out there that don’t do what you and my hubby do and that ruins it for guys like you. But I wouldn’t take it to heart. It might have just been a relfex what she said.

    Who knows if she went home and went…”I’m such an idiot…”

  7. So I just want to make sure I’ve got this…

    Mommies always know what’s best. Some Daddies are the best that they can be… but they just can’t possibly measure up to the deity that is Mommy.

  8. Sorry Meri, I have to agree with Confused here.

    I know you and I know you’re a good person. Just like that mom who said the comment to me is probably a good person too. But that’s EXACTLY the kind of warped thinking I’m talking about. The fact that most moms out there truly believe that while Dads can be good caretakers, they’ll never be the omnipotent and all-knowing parent that a mom can be, is just blatantly untrue.

    Don’t take offense, but your statement is precisely the kind of opinion that we need to overcome. Mommies don’t always know best just because they incubated a baby. That would be like me saying I’m the one who can care best for Will’s health because I’m a man and we share common body parts. One has nothing to do with the other.

  9. Theodore Kaczynski didn’t play well with other when he was a baby either. Sleep with one eye open.

    I would have asked that woman which baby was hers then conspicuously moved Will away from him or her.

  10. Meri…That’s like saying I’m not a racist, I have black friends, but deep down society knows white people are just better. LOL!! If your way of thinking were true then single dads wouldn’t have a prayer at raising healthy children and all mothers would be loved an adored.

    Oedipus comes to mind, lol.

  11. Aaron, I agree that’s a shitty comment she made. A lot of people don’t think before they speak…which is how most misunderstanding happen. You know you’re a good father, MJ knows you’re a good father, Will knows you’re a good father, and that’s really all that matters.

    I read this blog on Glamour.com. Yesterday’s entry made your whole arguement go out the window. I actually sent this to Rick (he is also an excellent hands on father) and THANKED him for being so amazing.

    I think you will get a kick out of this.
    http://www.glamour.com/sex-love-life/blogs/storked/2008/12/about-two-years-ago-my.html

  12. Okay, I have to defend Meri now. While it’s true that it’s not really okay to generalize that all Mommy types have the comforting touch while all Daddy types do not, in many cases, especially when there is breastfeeding involved, there is a biologically based thing happening here that is a factor. Please don’t misconstrue what I’m talking about here. I’m not saying Mommy’s are biologically better parents. I’m saying that in my case, my son knows that I make the magic milk, that my body has a special kind of comfort available for him, and that Daddy is great but doesn’t smell like the snack bar. I can’t speak at all for formula-fed relationships, so I make no grand generalizations here around feeding and attachment. I’m just saying that I have one particular tool for comforting my baby that my husband doesn’t have. I also spend more time with my baby than my husband does. Baby really is more accustomed to being comforted by me. That is still the norm in our culture right now. I applaud you wholeheartedly for bucking that trend, and for speaking out about it, but I think we can give Meri a break for acknowledging that there are many cultural, biological and historical factors in the mix and that playgroup mommy is not Satan for assuming that Daddy is a little out of his element with the child. You could have turned to her in a friendly manner and let her know that, as a matter of fact, Will is usually quite happy with Daddy and was just having a bad time in a new situation. Then she probably would have been pleasantly surprised at your level of involvement and encouraged that the times are a changing. I am sorry if other mommies don’t always make you feel as welcome as they should in the playgroup setting. I find that when there are fathers around at the kids’ activities I attend, and this is happening more and more often by the way, the dads do look and probably feel a little out of place. It’s not because the mommies don’t welcome them. We just don’t have all the unspoken conversational groundwork already in place. There are a couple of boundaries in the way to the relatively easy comraderie between mothers of children the same age. It’s just a bit harder to break into uninvited comments about poopy diapers and that day’s adventure in trying a new variety of babyfood. I hope there are one day as many dads as moms at the afternoon playgroup, ballet or soccer practice, and that all conversational blocks other than the inevitable fear of being perceived as flirtatious can be broken down. Before you start feeling too sorry for yourself, consider the other side of this coin and think about whether you’d rather be seen as more out of place in the romper room or the board room, then get back to me.

  13. Granted, the Dad in that article sounded a little lost and lazy at first. But I don’t think the whole argument goes out the window. It takes two to tango and for everything he was doing wrong, I’m sure she was guilty of a few infractions too. But all we hear about is how HE had to be fixed in order to become a good dad, while she was apparently born a perfect mother. I don’t think that’s reality.

    Hell, that’s why I try to encourage MJ to write on here because it provides balance and the other side of the story.

    And Lolama, I’d rather be told I don’t belong in the boardroom. No joke. Sure I want to be successful, but I have NEVER wanted to be in business and my goal in life is to avoid a job where I have to wear a shirt and tie everyday. I’m much rather be out of place in the executive suite than in a playgroup. I feel that being a dad is the job I’m best at, and as much as I love being a journalist I’d give it up without ever looking back if I had to choose.

  14. Aaron, you are absolutely right. As a dad with a flexible schedule, I brought my son to and from daycare eight out of the ten pickup/drop-offs per week. I would notice that when I wore my suit and tie to the daycare center, the moms were a lot more pleasant to me. When I appeared in casual clothes, the mothers would gawk; make comments under their breath without knowing my work schedule, my wife’s schedule, and without knowing our son. A pre-school mother actually asked me how long I was out of work for. I was treated like a homeless guy walking into the Four Seasons.

    It is just assumed in our society the mothers are responsible for all aspects of child rearing and the fathers are still Ward Cleaver, smoking a pipe, wearing cardigan after a day at the office or deadbeats who aren’t part of their child’s life.

    Pull into any supermarket or parking lot and next to the handicapped spots you will find a sign that says “Parking for Mother with Infants” or something to the like. Apparently, I can’t park there when I take the kids food shopping.

    I can proudly say that I have a toddler seat and infant seat permanently fixed in my car as well as a travel pack of diapers, baby wipes, and emergency binkies in my trunk at all times.

  15. I see a lot of dads (in real life and online) struggle against society’s assumption that they can’t do it like the mamas.

  16. “It’s not that they love me more, or that he’s completely useless, but it’s because I carried them in my womb for 9 months and then feed them with my body and I am just their mommy.”

    Wow, so let me get this right: Top tier parents: You. Second tier: Biological mothers who don’t/can’t breastfeed. Third tier: Primates. Fourth tier: Adoptive parents. Fifth tier: Dads.

    Aaron, I agree with you here completely. A couple that we are friends with have a baby boy a couple months younger than our boys (I’m from April BBC, btw), and the dad commented that since his son was born, he realizes that every commercial and tv show out there portrays men as bumbling morons who are lucky to hit the toilet when they pee. They can only drink beer, watch sports, try to have sex with their wives and would starve to death if she wasn’t there, rolling her eyes in the background, to feed him. It’s the “Everybody Loves Raymond” scenario all over the place. In my house, my hubby works full-time, cooks all the meals, does the laundry and helps with our son. I work part time, do the “grunt” parenting work (baths, night duty, etc.) but that’s because it allows him to do what he wants. But when he walks in the door, Declan lights up like a Christmas tree. He LOVES his daddy and no one makes him happier.

    “I find that when there are fathers around at the kids’ activities I attend, and this is happening more and more often by the way, the dads do look and probably feel a little out of place. It’s not because the mommies don’t welcome them. We just don’t have all the unspoken conversational groundwork already in place.”

    I know that groundwork. It’s man-bashing. In all honesty, a good portion of conversation at my moms’ group activities revolve around shitty husbands and the martrydom that we as mothers have to deal with. That’s shit, and I do it myself. That’s why the women don’t want dads there, they want to malebash without interruption!!!

  17. WOAH WOAH WOAH!!!
    When did this come about MAN bashing?!

    I do have to apologize for what seemed to be a “generalized” comment on “Mommy knows best…” but when I meant was that Mommies THINK that because of the biological factors.

    Yes, there are GREAT and wonderful parents aren’t there, and NO, not ALL parents who give birth or carry a baby in their womb are going to be the best for them, when another care provider is more capable.

    I am always bragging about my husband and there are some things my husband can do better than I. But when it comes to comfort, in MY experience, my children want MOMMY. And in MY experience A LOT of children, when in the need of comfort want Mommy.

    Aaron, youre a great Dad from what I’ve read, but I don’t know MJ’s take on these things.

    I would also like to mention that I am a great friend to a Dad who is raising his children and thank goodness for that. Their mom is a doctor and does not have the patience it requires to raise two young, gifted girls. He is the caretaker, the nurturer and the one who is always there for them…and she is rarely around and when she is, they fight…and yet, when something is wrong-they want their Mommy.

    Aaron, I think it’s great that you are getting experts on this because I don’t think it’s black or white- and YES, I resent that comment on “I am not a racist, I have black friends…” What I am saying is not ignorant or blind to what Aaron has posted. I was just merely suggesting that what he said was also judgemental-how does he know exactly what she’s thinking by one stupid comment?

    I know if I said that-I’d be thinking-“WHAT was I thinking when I said that?!” But it’s not like I’ve never said anything that I wish I hadn’t…no one else here has ever said anything they regret-PLEASE…

  18. “I know that groundwork. It’s man-bashing. In all honesty, a good portion of conversation at my moms’ group activities revolve around shitty husbands and the martrydom that we as mothers have to deal with.”

    Sometimes.
    I wonder if men, in groups, ever talk about women?

    I do want to make one thing really clear here, though. I WANT more men to take on childcare roles. I desperately want that. The sooner the majority of people stop thinking that only women can care for children the sooner the majority of people will stop considering a woman’s family as a liability in the workplace. The sooner more men take on childcare roles, the sooner childcare as a whole will be given greater respect and priority in our society. What Aaron and other hands-on dads are doing is wonderful, to be commended and desired.

    I am glad I read this blog posting. I’m going to think a little bit more about my unspoken and spoken attitudes toward dads.

  19. Lolama I was thinking the same thing-I was also thinking about how sometimes “us crazy women” are sometimes categorized in certain ways as well;)

    I wonder though-if there are partial truths to both of these generalizations that we speak of…

    I just asked my husband who the kids want more when they need comfort through a text message-he wrote back mommy-I asked him why-he wrote back “boobs”. :)

  20. Excuse me but when I was a child when I wanted comfort I always wanted DADDY! (I still do!) And my mom was a stay-at-home mom.

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