The other day, not for the first time, my husband returned home from grocery shopping with our son and told me that he had been fawned over by elderly ladies in the check-out lane.
“What a great dad you are, getting groceries with your cute little baby!”
“Your wife is one lucky woman!”
“How nice of you to babysit and give your wife a break!”
I believe these are all well-intentioned compliments that shed light on a more insidious cultural narrative lurking beneath. I personally have never received these compliments, and I don’t know any other mothers who have either. For women, it’s simply an expectation that we care for our children, take them with us to run errands, give our husbands a break after work.
The latest “compliment” I received at a grocery store was, “Oh goodness you are glowing! When are you due?” I’m not pregnant. I was sick and bloated, sweating from the exertion of being out when I felt like garbage. For the record, my husband is an incredible parent. I just think that complimenting him for getting groceries undermines the things he does that are actually amazing. If only that grocery store peanut gallery could be present in our home to see him go above and beyond the responsibilities of parenting (which, for the record, apply to both of us equally).
He gets up with our toddler first in the night, so that I can have that extra half hour of sleep. He wakes up and showers as our toddler is waking up, and then takes care of bottle and breakfast time so that I can shower and get ready at my own pace before he leaves for work. He notices when I’m overwhelmed and takes the day off work so that I can rest. He sends me away when he gets home from work and then makes dinner so that I can have a breather.
In our house, my husband is considered the lucky one because he gets to be the one who goes to work. He recognizes the enormous effort required to be at home with a toddler all day, and is grateful that he gets to miss the lion’s share of that hard work. When he gets home, he understands that we are both tired, and the workload is shared accordingly. We strive to strike a balance that recognizes the work that we both do, and allows us to both get the amount of rest we need to show up in our lives. That balance is based on mutual respect of the work we both do, even if the work is completely different.
So please, stop complimenting my husband for being a parent. It’s the 21st century. We know that child-rearing is too colossal a task for any one person to take on alone and that gender does not dictate the household roles a person takes on.
We can, and should, do better.