Why is Being an Involved Parent Noteworthy?

by TTMK on January 9, 2014 · 10 comments

involved fatherGender stereotypes are interesting.

Another reminder of this came via an interesting article I saw regarding a father who was taking care of his kids.  There was a huge fuss over a picture – which went viral – of a father brushing his daughter’s hair while holding his other, younger child at the same time.  The article on Yahoo where I came across this story showed the picture and discussed the topic as well.

What’s interesting to me is that there is a reaction to this, and then that many people (including me) are reacting to the reaction.  After all, it’s simply a picture of a parent taking care of kids.  This happens every day all over the world.  Every second of the day, parents somewhere are caring for their kids.

In this case, the visual of a man taking care of two kids – and brushing his daughter’s hair – is apparently remarkable to some people.  The article discussed how this went viral quickly, getting over 5,000 comments and 190,000 likes – along with some nasty comments too, for good (bad?) measure.

This is where I find stereotypes so fascinating.  Sticking to the topic of gender as it relates to this, if this were a picture a mother doing this, do you think there would be a big deal made of it?  She probably wouldn’t get much credit for it, because – in the eyes of society – this is the type of thing that mothers do.

But when a father does this, he becomes a hero.  As in, “it’s great to see a man stepping up”, or “good for him, nice to see an involved father”.  I thought fathers were supposed to take care of kids.  What’s the big deal?

It brings to mind a lunch I had with a few people a few years back, with 2 other guys.  All 3 of us were Dads, 2 of us had a daughter and the other guy had a son.  We were somehow on the topic of kids, and I joked that I spent some time the past weekend playing with Barbie with my daughter.  Yes, I really have done this when asked to.

The guy without a daughter nearly coughed up his food and started laughing.  “THAT sucks!” he said.

I was startled.  I’m as much of a regular guy as the next dude, but I think I’ve evolved past the Neanderthal stage.  It’s okay for a father to actually play with his daughter for an hour, instead of grunting like a caveman and going out to hunt some beast to feed the family.

The guy who also had a daughter chimed in, and told the other guy “Umm, I play with my daughter too, not gonna lie”.  He even relayed a story about one of his friends who got had to get off the phone because he was “being summoned to play Barbie” with his kid.  This guy was apparently about as tough as they come, according to my coworker who described him as a massive dude and former stud on the gridiron.

The other guy just looked at us perplexed, with a half smirk, then brushed it off with a “whatever!” type of reaction.  I went from at first being surprised, to then briefly irritated, then fascinated with this different viewpoint.

Admittedly, it’s easier for me to relate to playing catch or things like that, as I would do with my son.  My mind works that way, as I’m wired to have those interests.  I was totally sports-obsessed as a kid, and outside all day being active.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m not responsible to play with my daughter, or that I can’t do it.

Anyway, I’m sure this type of stereotyping impacts mothers too.  As in, a mom playing catch with her son, or even – gasp – going to work and having kids in day care.  We’ve talked about double standards for working mothers before.  We have also discussed the topic of paternity leave, and whether or not it’s important.

As you can tell, the idea of gender stereotypes and societal expectations is kind of interesting to me 🙂  Really though, I think that there should be nothing remarkable or unusual about a father caring for kids or sharing equally in household responsibilities.  Or, for a mother sharing equally in bringing home income and financially providing for the family.  Or vice-versa.

Do whatever works for you, right? It’s all good.

My Questions for You

Why do you think that such a big deal is made out of examples like this, which go against gender stereotypes?

Do you agree that there is no reason to pigeonhole people into tasks like this based on gender, or do you see it differently?

Have you encountered any example of gender stereotyping in your own life?  If so, what happened and how did you approach it?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick @ Step Away from the Mall January 9, 2014 at 5:21 am

I’ve certainly encountered gender stereotyping in my own life – and I’ve even fought accepting it myself, trying to hold myself out to a standard that I did not accept as right, just because I was the man or whatever. Then I began getting more comfortable in my own skin, not needing to be the “tough guy” when other people where watching – or even when whey were not.

I’m much happier after throwing the stereotypes out and just pursuing what I feel right. I’m myself now.

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TTMK January 10, 2014 at 10:04 am

Nick – that seems like a great approach that you’re taking. Being comfortable in one’s own skin and being yourself are ways to live with less stress and more authenticity. Good stuff!

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Holly@ClubThrifty January 10, 2014 at 7:15 am

I saw that picture and article as well and I don’t get it. Males in my family are very hands-on so that’s just something that I’m used to. When my kids were babies, my husband was the one who got up for all the late night feedings while I slept. He also does our girl’s hair, picks out their outfits, and trims their fingernails! =)

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TTMK January 10, 2014 at 10:06 am

Seems like we see it the same way. You know, my first instinct when reading your comment was to say “good for him”, but then I would be falling into that stereotype trap too 🙂 Anyway, I can relate.

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Money Beagle January 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm

It’s not about what you’re doing, it’s that you’re spending the time and making it quality time. That’s what your kids will remember and that’s what you’ll have as a parent when one day (and the day will come sooner than we all think) that they have no interest in playing with you anymore. I feel bad for the dad that laughs. He has no idea that he’s missing out. But he is.

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TTMK January 16, 2014 at 10:00 am

Yeah, that guy doesn’t get it. While he might play with his own kid, I think it’s the thought of a Dad playing with a daughter that he found “unmanly” or something. Weird.

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Little House January 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I think the gender stereotypes are definitely fading away in this generation and will continue to blur even more in the coming generations. As for the guy with the son, I’d say he might change his view if he has a daughter. All of a sudden playing Barbies might not seem so peculiar.

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TTMK January 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

Exactly! That’s sort of how it was for me, or at least in terms of doing something that I never could have imagined. Admittedly, my mind isn’t wired to naturally play that way. After all, as a boy I was interested in sports, action figures, etc. You know, boy things. But as a parent, one has to move past such natural preferences from our own childhood, and engage in play with each kid regardless of gender.

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SuburbanFinance January 13, 2014 at 7:08 pm

The fact that it went viral is so sad to me. It shows that people don’t expect fathers to be involved, because when they are, a huge fuss is made out of it. If it was a woman in that picture, nothing would have been made of it.

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TTMK January 16, 2014 at 10:03 am

I know what you mean. Double standards are interesting.

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