Bad Dads

There are a lot of smart observations in this Darcy Lockman piece on, essentially, why parental work is disproportionately performed by Moms to what is often (and not unreasonably) considered an absurd degree. So you should read it.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a very helpful assessment of the situation. It ultimately offers Moms no advice at all, and only one piece of advice for Dads — do what Mom would do, when she would do it, the way she would do it. That’s not reasonable advice for any human being (“be this other person”), and it’s not reasonable here — yet the article makes no attempt to get to the bottom of:

  • why there is such a different set of expectations and values around housework between Moms and Dads (in the article, the idea that a task could be done less often than Mom feels is necessary, or not at all, is dismissed out of hand as “unreasonable”)
  • the role of workaholic culture in driving increased expectations for constant parental “hustle”, and how that particularly affects women with demanding jobs who come home to what feels like effectively a second office
  • the role of society and social pressure that “blames” Moms for kids being sloppily dressed, poorly behaved, groomed, or anything else that is obviously the shared responsibility of both parents
    • the corollary here — how Moms and Dads can talk and align their expectations; if Dad doesn’t care what the PTA parents think about the way their kid dresses, why is that, is it a good/bad reason, etc.
  • whether there is any correlation between the way we perform parenting tasks (high effort, low effort, frequency, emotional state, stress, personal interest, etc.) and their effectiveness as a part of raising children
  • whether Moms and Dads in different scenarios really do have different levels of autonomy

That last one is a particularly egregious miss by Lockman in this piece, as she directly quotes Dads asking for autonomy and simply Mom-splains it away.

But this isn’t “maternal gatekeeping,” the theory that men want to help but women disparage their capabilities and push them out. Instead these seem to be situations that necessitate the intervention of a reasonable adult.

A mother in California said: “It’s important to me that my sons are not falling asleep in class and that they’re not late for school. My husband does not share those priorities, so I do bedtime and school drop-off.”

The dad in Vermont explained: “I do laundry when I need it. When it comes to the kids’ laundry, I could be more proactive, but instead I operate on my time scale. So my wife does most of their laundry. Let me do it my way and I’m happy to do it, but if you’re going to tell me how to do it, go ahead and do it yourself.”

– the New York Times

Leaving aside the confusing switch between different sets of parents (why are we hearing from a mother in California, and then an unconnected dad in Vermont about a completely different issue?), this whole section reeks of cherry-picking. In an article about “good” Dads, are you telling me the California mother is dealing with a father who doesn’t care if his kids “fall asleep in class” or miss school? If that’s true, he actually sounds like a totally shitty Dad! What’s much more likely is that he also shares these priorities, but doesn’t agree with Mom about which tactics and tasks are necessary to protect these priorities. And maybe he’s totally wrong! But we don’t explore that at all — it’s just that Mom cares, and Dad doesn’t — according to Mom. Yeah… this seems productive.

Laundry Dad doesn’t really get a response, either. Is he right? Is he wrong? Is Mom interested in some kind of scenario where Dad simply takes care of the laundry issue and Mom removes it from her brain? Is Dad bluffing and actually wants things done to Mom’s standards, just not by him?

These are all possibilities that go completely unexplored, because for all it’s thought-provoking, this really is a deeply, deeply cynical article. Moms are miserable and shouldn’t change a thing. Good Dads are actually Manipulative, Game-Playing Bad Dads, but for some reason we think they will unilaterally disarm and accept the domestic values and priorities of Moms (who, by the way, are apparently miserable) when presented with what is essentially a “shame on you” in the New York Times.

In reality, this article — and this way of thinking — will change absolutely nothing. It simply extends the “I could be happy if would you would just… ” myth that plagues relationships of all kinds, from marriages to the office to the basketball court. A bunch of Dads will read it and feel like doing better is impossible, because it involves submitting completely to domestic values they don’t believe in, and a bunch of Moms will forward it to other Moms and say “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO RIGHT”, or maybe send it to a Dad in the hopes that they’ll snap out of The Dad Matrix and realize it matters whether the kids take a bath today or tomorrow, and that the correct answer is obviously ___________.

My advice is that if your plan to improve a relationship relies entirely on the other person suddenly seeing things your way from now on, come up with a different plan, or get out of said relationship.