There’s an undercurrent of judgement in the way parents talk to each other that I’m really starting to hate. Here’s one example. It’s small and stupid and I’m almost embarrassed to share it, but it’s recent, so here it is.
Me, the wife and our three boys — they’re all younger than five — were out for breakfast. Because I’m at work all week, the kids fight for my attention. One insists I get him out of the car. There is a battle to see who sits in my lap. Dance moves are broken out. That kind of thing. It’s a happy kind of chaos.
We’re in the middle of all this when the waitress comes. A fellow parent, she starts a conversation with my wife. I’m half listening, pulled in and out by the kids. My wife makes a comment about how the boys glom onto me when I’m around. And that’s when the waitress says, eyes lighting up, “Oh. You have a ‘Daddy Good Times.'”
And just like that, I’m totally pissed.
Dads are said to be more involved than ever. Stay-at-home dads are usually the proof in that particular pudding. Then there are dads like me, the ones with day jobs. Daddy Good Times. I’m little more than a pal. A permanent play date.
As slights go, I know this is minor. I held my tongue and didn’t say anything — really, am I going to defend my parental involvement in the middle of pancakes? — there are plenty who don’t. Or can’t.
But with so much slighting going on among parents, my radar is a little over-sensitive. Is a mom blogger entitled to be pissed off because a stay-at-home dad makes the cover of her local paper? Is a stay-at-home dad allowed to tweet and post angrily at brands that don’t market to dads? Is there a reason for the ever-escalating nasty between stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home?
Maybe. But here's a truth: nobody knows anyone else's truth.
If you take the job of parenting seriously — and it is a job, make no mistake about that — then you probably do what needs doing to the best of your time and abilities. It’s natural to crave acknowledgment or recognition for what we do. But that’s not the job of parenting, unfortunately.
So maybe we can just give each other a break. Just because one kind of parent — be it a stay-at-home mom or a working dad or a gay dad blogger or a single mom or a sock puppet parent or whatever — gets a shout-out or a pat on the back, it doesn’t mean every other parent just got insulted or invalidated. Parenting isn’t a competition. We only win when our kids win, not when we prove ourselves to be better than someone else.
This means we have to cut ourselves a break, too. Because the waitress, she probably meant nothing. But her comment brushed against one of “The Great Fears.”
That I’m not doing enough for my kids. I’m not a good enough example. I’m not teaching them enough. Not equipping them enough. That I’m screwing them up in some spectacular, disastrous way that will take years of expensive therapy to correct. That I am lacking.
If we can call a truce on this — the self-war of parenting — I think all the other parenting wars will fade away.