In my opinion, there is no more obnoxious humor than men-bashing. Quips and jabs about how stupid men are, how slow they are, how simple they are – first of all, are not all that funny, and secondly, give me the heebie-jeebies. That our culture finds this public emasculation socially acceptable is an indication of how pathetically reluctant we all are to grow up.
Take, for instance, just about every sitcom on television these days. Somehow between the genesis of the situation comedy and now, it became the norm for television families to berate Dad. “Look, kids!” says the fictional mother, popping a sassy hip and rolling her eyes with thinly-veiled contempt. “Look how stupid Dad is!” [Canned laughter.] “Yeah!” say the kids, “Dad’s a real idiot!” [Canned laughter.] And all the while, TV Dad sits in his recliner with his beer and remote control with a stunned, moronic look on his face. Really hilarious.
While I was pregnant with Seabass, Jake and I took a six-week birthing class with a wonderful instructor named Kathy. Every week, Kathy distributed photocopied articles that she thought might help us to prepare not only for birth but for everything that comes after. I’ll be honest: So much of that information went in one ear and out the other. But one article stuck with me. It was about letting dads be themselves, letting them play and contribute to the care of the baby, even if it means that the style is different than that of the mother.
In theory, this doesn’t sound too difficult. But in practice, it means letting Jake dangle Seabass by one leg over his shoulder when I’m terrified he’ll drop him. It means watching the baby thrash and fuss while Jake’s trying teaching him how to crawl. And it means standing aside to let Jake dress the boy like a circus freak – camo shorts, black socks, a turtleneck and a jester’s cap – no matter how ludicrous I find his fashion choices for our son to be. I’m not saying I succeed at giving Jake total autonomy all the time, but I’m certainly working on it.
Reading that article made me hyper aware of my friends’ interactions with their husbands and kids. I started to notice how crazy controlling some of my fellow moms are. One mother (don’t worry, she doesn’t read the blog…at least I don’t think…) got in a tussle over the father letting baby put a *clean* restaurant spoon in his mouth. (“We don’t know where that’s been!” she spat through her teeth.) Another snapped at her husband for giving the baby zerberts on the belly. “You’ll scare her!!” she barked. “You don’t stay home with her all day but I do. And I know that kind of thing really freaks her out.”
I’ll admit it’s very tempting to make these kinds of remarks to Jake. And sometimes I honestly do know better. But I try really hard to let go because I want Jake to parent Seabass in the way that’s most comfortable to him. If I interfere and control every little facet of that relationship, chances are Jake will give up and shut down.
This theory is reinforced by a piece on MSNBC from earlier this year entitled “When Moms Criticize, Dads Back Off of Baby Care,” in which researchers found that nagging, persnickety mothers preclude distant father-child relationships. In a nutshell, if I want Jake to be involved in the raising of our Seabass, I need to let him discover his own style, because if I don’t, he’ll tend to stop trying altogether.
Taking this train of thought to its logical conclusion, if Jake never develops his own relationship with Seabass, I’ll inevitably become that pathetic mocking martyr of a housewife on TV. “Why can’t you be more involved? You don’t even try to parent our children. You come home from work and turn on the game and tune everyone out. I have to do everything around here.”
And why? Because I wouldn’t let him dress Seabass in camo shorts at six months of age.
But enough outta me. What do you think? Is it important to let Dad do his own thing with children, even if Mom is sure she knows best? How hard is it for you moms to back off?