We will always struggle to make child-rearing a calling that men feel comfortable to answer, or women feel comfortable to ignore, when we use gender exclusive terms to refer to things that any parent can participate in.
I’ve dreamed of being a father for a long time and a lot of my career choices, in hindsight, helped me train for my new role (I was a teacher in my early twenties before taking a job as a private chef in Europe for a Dutch family with two small children). I’m also no stranger to being in the minority. I was one of only three male teachers in a department of 25. And when I resigned as a writer for a multi-national yoga-wear company, to stay at home with my daughter, the ratio was about the same.
Even so, I was unprepared for the inherent sexism I’ve encountered being at home with my daughter. I was especially surprised by how little the language around the role of caregiver has developed and how these words still paint parenting as a role for women only. ‘Maternal’ is the most common way to describe someone who’s good with children (by contrast, the business world adopted the term ‘Chairperson’ in 1971).
How’s It Going?
It’s a big change for me, going from being the primary breadwinner to being the primary caregiver. And it’s only natural that friends want to know how things are going (for the record, it’s going great) but they have difficulty finding the right words to ask.
For most new moms, the question goes something like, “How’s it going being a mom?” And that’s a perfectly valid question because, for a lot of moms, the transition from office to home coincides with becoming a mom. But being a dad, for me, is old news. People asked me, “How’s it going being a dad?” a year ago.
So, now I get asked, “How’s it going being Mr. Mom?” (One family member even asked me how I was enjoying being the wife. Last time I checked, I still had all my bits.) No-one would dare call my wife “Mrs. Dad” because she’s the breadwinner and takes the trash out but, despite the increasing number of men in my neighbourhood who look after children during the week, child-rearing is still indelibly linked in people’s mind to being a women because of the words we use.
Just Call Me…
I’ve been playing around with words to try to find something that fits. For a while, I told people I was on SaDadical. It made them laugh (great for dispelling any awkwardness) but I stopped because it implies that I’ll go back to my “real job” at some stage. I tried for a while to resurrect the term “Home Maker”. I like its gender-neutral clarity and that it goes beyond children. Plus, I don’t have to stick “stay-at-home” in front of it. But at the end of the day (and sometimes in the middle of the night) I’m a dad, a father, a parent. Just call me that. It doesn’t really matter if I do it from home, at work, on weekdays or weekends. And whatever you do, don’t call me Mr. Mom.
Guest blogger is Michael Robertson (@reasonableguy on twitter), submitted by Toddler Trunk, one of the momstown Top 13 online businesses. Toddlertrunk.com is a marketplace dedicated to parents. It's a forum to buy and sell your new and gently used items so they can live on and help many more families!