With Father’s Day coming, it’s a good time to think about why dads and husbands are so often the butt of our jokes.
Don’t believe me? You can see stereotypes about men’s ineptitude even on Father’s Day cards. How many cards have you noticed that make fun of dads as less competent than moms, or for being interested only in sports and beer? And think about representations of husbands and dads in pop culture. You’re not alone if the bumbling Homer Simpson was the first example that sprang to your mind.
No matter how much silly cards or “Simpsons” reruns make you laugh, they carry some pretty damning messages about men: They’re little boys at heart, just another “child” for a mom to take care of. They don’t express emotions, and they certainly don’t want to talk about them. They don’t understand women, and they don’t know how to care for kids.
All these stereotypes create barriers to men’s full engagement in their relationships, especially in their roles as fathers. In the U.S., our expectations for dads are pitifully low. Maybe you’ve always believed that guys “can’t help it” if they don’t know how to take care of a child because that is just how men are wired.
But everything we are learning about our brains shoots holes in that theory. Have you heard the term “neuroplasticity”? Our brains have an amazing ability to keep evolving throughout our lives. That means that men can improve their relationship skills and learn to nurture children (if they don’t already have these skills).
And it’s my belief that more men would become involved fathers if they were allowed to do so. Just like women, men struggle with stereotypes and expectations about who they “should” be and what they can’t do. For men, it may not be considered so “manly” to put their kids above providing for the family or pursuing a successful career. Think of how socially hard it is to be a stay-at-home dad or how many companies offer paternity leave, and you’ll see what I mean.
I believe our relationships could be so much stronger if we all had more room to be who we really are! Perhaps your low expectations haven’t given your husband room to step up as a dad, or you’ve been pushing for new behaviors, but he insists that he’s just a guy who can’t change. Either way, the following ideas should give you some inspiration for moving beyond the old stereotypes of dads and fathers.
- Learn to hold back. Do you believe your husband can’t handle being alone with their kids, so you never leave him alone with them? Remember that he can’t become competent with the kids unless you give him a chance to be alone with them and learn. So take off for a while, and give him the space to pick up some new skills.
- Don’t hover or micromanage. If your husband does something like change a diaper without prompting, don’t correct him or try to get him to do it exactly the way you do. If he asks for help, give it. If not, let him do things his way.
- Believe in him. When you’re trying to learn something new, it helps tremendously to know that your partner believes in you. Even if you have some doubts about whether he can take on something you usually handle, show him that you have faith.
- Hold him accountable. When your husband flakes out or pulls the “guy card,” call him on it. Explain that it undermines your trust when he doesn’t follow through on something he said he would do.
- Remember the big picture. Sometimes it feels easier to jump in and just handle something yourself, but in the long run, both of you will be happier if you’re both competent parents. So, push through your discomfort and allow change to take hold.
I wish you a wonderful Father’s Day. Go ahead and give your husband that funny Homer Simpson card, if you like. Just remember that he’s capable of far more than Homer is!