The Pros & Cons of Complimenting Parents in Public

compliments
photo credit: Eres hermos@ via photopin (license)

 

***I have partnered with Similac for this piece.

People need to have more support for moms and fewer empty compliments for dads.

If you’re familiar with my writing and my unyielding advocacy of involved fatherhood, that sentence probably left you blinking in disbelief. “Did the guy who will never shut up about the importance of dads just say people need to compliment mothers more while praising dads less?” Yes. That’s what I’m saying. And no, I’m not crazy and this isn’t an impostor. Just hear me out.

When I’m out alone with my boys at the playground or a store, I am bombarded with compliments from total strangers. I’ll admit, it felt really good at first. So many people were coming up to me and telling me what a good dad I was, I felt like Superman. I don’t care who you are, it’s nice to hear a compliment. And when they come in waves and involve your children and parenting skills, it’s that much sweeter.

And then one day I saw her.

I was at a playground with Will (Sam wasn’t born yet) and was the only dad there. As usual, I was basking in the glow of all the compliments from the moms telling me what a good dad I was for being out with my kid by myself. Then I saw two kids, maybe 5 and 3 respectively, bolt by me and chase each other around the base of the playground. I could tell they were brother and sister immediately because of the bickering, which was growing louder by the second.

I looked over at the park bench and saw a clearly exasperated mom craning her neck to see where her two bickering progeny had gone. She had her hands full at the time because she was trying desperately to get her baby to latch for a mid-morning snack. Meanwhile her two oldest reached a fever pitch across the playground over the toy they both wanted, and it culminated with the older brother pushing his sister. She fell to the ground unhurt but crying, with the brother shouting at her to stop crying because they’d both get in trouble.

The mom was red-faced and hissing the names of her two kids in an effort to get them to stop. Meanwhile the jostled baby was having trouble feeding, and he/she (I couldn’t tell and it doesn’t really matter) also began wailing. I remember the “I’m at the end of my rope” look of temporary helplessness on the look of the mom. I also recall the other moms raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes, as if to silently say “Geez, get control of your kids lady.” I remember wanting to go over there and offer to help her, or at least tell her we’ve all been there and she’s doing a great job. But for some reason, I didn’t. And now I’ll always remember regretting that.

That day made me realize something important, which is all the compliments I received from strangers regarding my parenting were actually anything but.

I’m not doing anything special when I’m out with my kids. I’m literally just walking around, getting my errands done, and hoping they can play without killing themselves or each other — same as every other parent. The reason I’m complimented is solely because I’m a dad out with his kids alone, and therefore kind of a novelty. And that sucks. It sucks for dads AND moms.

While I’m 100% confident no one has any ill will when complimenting me, I have NEVER seen a mom in the same situation with her kids receive similar kind words. Why? Because parenting their kids is what moms are expected to do.

If we truly want to move toward being equal partners in parenting, that has to change.

Dads shouldn’t be singled out for praise simply for basic parenting 101. If we accept those compliments while mothers get no public support for the same tasks, we’re automatically erasing the level playing field. We’re saying raising kids is a mom job that dad helps out with every once in a while. We’re patting dads on the head for nothing more than completing the basic job requirements of parenting. That belittles fathers and ignores mothers — a dual disservice.

That’s why now, when I see any parent struggling to keep up with their brood, I take the time to stop and tell them we’ve all been there. There are good and bad days. But either way, they’re doing a helluva job.

It’s not much and it takes so little effort, but sometimes a kind word and some reassurance — even from a stranger — is enough of a lift to get through the day. Small actions often have gargantuan positive repercussions, so next time you’re out and you see someone struggling, throw her a compliment.

And while complimenting a dad with just cause is always worthwhile, please stop doing it just because we’re out with our kids. Despite your best intentions, it ultimately comes off as patronizing and does a disservice to dads and moms.

Let’s work to support all parents, because you never know when a random kind word will make all the difference.

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ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_250x151I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign (#SisterhoodUnite), 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. You can visit Similac’s website or go to its Facebook page to learn more.

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