Sunday, May 23, 2010

Daddy Dearest

I’ve been accused more than once of being too politically correct. I have wondered if perhaps people are right; am I oversensitive? Do I have no sense of humor? Do jokes that we make about generalizations aimed at us ease our hurt feelings? Should I just lighten up?

I don’t think so – especially because I’m now a parent to a little girl with a very impressionable mind. I think humor like this is really damaging because our children absorb it as truth, and in our adult years we often find ourselves questioning the legitimacy of these generalizations.

The latest example I’d like to share has to do with a show on Disney that my daughter has become fond of, “Good Luck Charlie.” The premise of the show is that a couple who already have three older children unexpectedly have a new baby. The older sister makes videos to share with the baby, Charlie, when she gets older. Each video ends with the wish, “Good Luck, Charlie.”

In the episode in question, the mother is returning to work for the first time since the baby was born. She is a nurse and will be working nights, and the father will be responsible for the baby when the mother is at work in the evening. The teenage daughter has conflict with her mother because she wants to go study with a boy at the library that night, and the mother reminds her of the rule – all of the children must stay in the house to help the father take care of the baby. The father is not to be left to this responsibility himself.

Joke after joke roll off the tongues of the family members implying the father’s ineptitude. Years ago, my friend Cristi stopped watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” for this very reason, because what was being asserted was that the wife runs the household on her own. She is smart and competent, and this (Cristi, I’ll steal your words)“booger-eatin’-moron” to whom she is married wouldn’t be able to put his pants on without her direction, let alone be trusted to manage any parenting tasks. Well, he can make play-doh animals with his toddler sons, but you have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t try to eat the “doh” or stick it up his nose.

I took the opportunity to pause “Good Luck Charlie” to explain to Maddie what was wrong with the plot of the show. I told her that the people who made the show were trying to be funny, but they had failed, because what they created was a hurtful message, and one that is too easy to be accepted as “at least a little true” by too many people.

Why do we do this? Why do we think fathers are clueless buffoons who we just hope can manage with a child in the mother’s absence? Well, my guess is that it comes from that ages-old assumption that a woman is naturally a better parent. We perpetuate the problem of prescribed gender roles. These gender stereotypes we claim we want to change, but we are not taking the responsibility to move forward in this change.

How often do we see marital strain emerge after the birth of a child? In hearing these couples speak, we hear accusations from both sides – she says that she’s doing everything herself without substantial help from the child’s father. We hear him say that he’s backed off because every time he’s made an effort to participate in parenting, he’s scolded because he isn’t doing something right. She counters that if she doesn’t do something, it just isn’t going to get done…he takes no initiative in his parenting role and leaves things up to her. She argues that he doesn’t even wake up at night when the baby cries.

I read a study not long ago that when “allowed” to be an active parent, and man develops his own parenting instincts equally strong to the esteemed “maternal instinct.”

I’m not saying it’s our entire fault, ladies. This message has been engrained into the minds of men and women alike. I think it’s time to eradicate it, though. It might seem surprising to read a blog like this from me, as someone who has never experienced co-parenting. Most of you know I’ve been on my own with Maddie since day one, entirely. I think, however, that maybe I have become more prone to try to observe how the other half live! And of equal importance, I’ve watched some single fathers in action and have been very impressed. I’ve noticed how some fathers have more patience than I; some nurture their children as well or better than I. Mothers can be effective disciplinarians, good providers, killers of spiders and fixers of whatnots.

The short of this blog is this: We need to pay close attention to the messages our children receive in the books they read, games they play, and what they watch on television. We need to be on the lookout for more than sex and violence. Often damaging messages come in much more subtle form.

Posted by Jennifer

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