We certainly live in interesting times, don’t we? At this point I could refer to our political climate, and you may be expecting me to, but I am not.
What I am talking about is our social relationship with responsibility, especially when it comes to parenting. But before I arrive at parenting, or rather, how parents of young kids parent, I need to talk about how we were parented.
As the oldest, and a girl, in a family of six children I often served as a third parent. The end result was, despite my tumultuous teenage years that were spent resenting the responsibility laid at my feet, me being a relatively responsible person and relatively “old hat” when it came to dealing with a variety of parenting situations. I knew how to run a household: plan meals, get the chores done, make sure papers were signed for school, and more. I know many women who, then they were girls, were parented in this way. We were equipped to be managers, whether our parents realized it or not.
Nateanite had very little he was responsible for, despite also being the oldest in his family. He started doing his own laundry at 13 because he didn’t want his mom in his room. In all things, he was free to be his own person. I know many men who, when they were boys, were parented in this way. This way of parents leaves the male of the species well equipped to be entrepreneurial, but that doesn’t always “make bank.”
Now, as adults, we see people of our parents’ generation saying that it’s terrible women are leaving their children to work outside the home. We see this group of people talking about how unmotivated our young men are, that they’d rather play video games than offer to shovel their neighbor’s sidewalks to earn a little extra money. I want to scream “But you made us!”
But this lack of responsibility manifests in another strange way. I am talking about fathers as babysitters. I literally cannot imagine a realistic scenario where someone would say to a mother “Oh, so you’re on babysitting duty, eh?” with a sympathetic smile. And yet, I know Nateanite has had this exact experience because he’s told me.
When you are a parent, you are always a parent. You aren’t babysitting until the “real” parent comes back. You are both the real parents!
This attitude that men are not, and ultimately cannot, be responsible hurts everyone. It hurts our marriages because one person assumes all the responsibility (and if you’re like me, all the resentment). It hurts our communities in a way that can only happen when people are angry because nobody is assuming any real responsibility. It hurts our society because we haven’t cultivated those important skills that would help everyone at the table.
So, the next time you look at a mom with little kids and her toddler has just slapped her, don’t silently or vocally judge her. Offer to help. And if you see a dad in the exact same situation don’t say “OMG, babysitting duty, am I right?” and then offer to help. In both cases tell the parent they are doing a great job of parenting and then offer to help if you can.