***I have partnered with Similac for this piece.
The first online parenting community I joined in 2008 almost kicked me out just for being a dad.
It was early 2008 and my wife was pregnant with Will. I didn’t even know what a dad blog was yet, and it would be several months before I’d become an official dad blogger. All I knew was I was about to become a dad and I had no information and a very small support network. So I went to BabyCenter and joined a birth board.
Finally I had a place to go online and talk with people going through the same thing due the same month. Some of them were second and third time parents as well, which allowed me to ask questions that would benefit me down the road. I jumped right in with both feet and asked questions and joined discussions, happy to have a place that finally made me feel like I wasn’t isolated.
Except I’d soon feel more alone than ever.
Suddenly there was talk of “spying” and other women who said they didn’t feel comfortable talking with a man in their presence. There was even a public debate about whether or not to hold a vote that would determine my fate in the group. Not only was I outraged, I was disappointed. The website catered to moms, sure, but it clearly said it was for “parents.” I was on the verge of telling them off once and for all and quitting the group before they could throw me out, when something pretty awesome happened.
A few of the moms contacted me privately and told me to hang in there. When I expressed how pissed I was, they said they understood but they also told me to take a breath and come at it from a different angle.
So instead of getting angry, I joined more conversations than ever. I started threads asking for help and advice, and I offered thoughtful comments when other people asked for help. In short, I made myself an active and attentive part of the community and soon most of the moms there saw that for themselves and came around to the idea of a man in their midst. Not everyone, mind you, but the overwhelming majority accepted me as an involved parent and I stayed in that group for several years.
So what’s the point? Sometimes parenting can feel like a judgmental contact sport played in the Thunder Dome.
“Oh you use disposable diapers? Well I just care about the environment too much to do that.”
“You know, most people who use formula just aren’t trying hard enough at breastfeeding.”
“I heard babies who use pacifiers have lower IQs.”
Look, this stuff is almost certainly going to happen at some point when you’re raising kids. And most involved dads can tell you more than a few stories about exclusion online, getting the stinkeye on the playground, and not being invited to playdates. But the trick I learned seven years ago still applies today, which is just keep plugging. Keep showing people you’re a dedicated parent. Keep being involved no matter what. Sure you could drop a bunch of insults and go nuclear (I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole in the past), but in the end the best comeback is killing them with kindness and making yourself look competent and positive. Eventually people will take notice and then they’ll take your side.
The proof is in the pudding.
Even seven years later, I’m still friends with a handful of moms from that birth board, and we’ve been there for one another as our kids have grown up.
And as far as dads making progress, if you watched the Super Bowl this year you probably noticed dads finally made the marketing big time and have worked our way into the larger conversation. How did that happen? Years of involved fathers publicly embracing the shifting landscape of modern masculinity, making fatherhood a priority, and positively speaking up until we began getting a seat at the table.
Take this very promotion. Similac has invited me (a dad) to take part in a campaign that’s ordinarily been mom-only. More than that, they recognized the importance of including dads by including the #ParentsFirst hashtag.
So when you find yourself in the crosshairs of parental judgment and you feel like lashing out, just remember you’re better than the people taking their insecurities out on you. And if you choose to highlight your positive traits, others will see you shine and join you.
I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign, which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy this fantastic video Similac developed that shows we’re all #ParentsFirst when it comes to raising our kids.