It’s a common complaint I hear from moms. Not every mom, of course, because not every dad is like this, but often I hear moms complaining about the lack of household chores their male spouse completes. I hear them talk about how taking a day away to be with friends hardly feels worth it when they come home to find the place in a shambles. It’s such a common theme that we can’t even count the number of sitcom episodes that have been based on the presumption of a dad’s messiness and inattention to household details.
I am really not trying to feed into the inept “mr. mom” stereotype. I think most often our men get a bad rap. They are not the bumbling fools media likes to pretend they are. Many men are even better at, and more motivated for, household chores than their female counterparts. However, there were many years of co-parenting with my loveable husband in which I felt the same raging frustration that I hear from other women.
My husband has always taken his role as daddy very importantly. He’s so invested and hands-on that he asked to be the stay at home parent after our second child was born. And he was the primary caregiver while I was working for several years.
And yet, it took me months of him being home before I was able to simply acquiesce to the disorganization and mess that our house became. He isn’t a slob, but he generally wouldn’t be cleaning throughout the day. He wouldn’t notice when a child was growing out of one size of clothing and the next size would need to be pulled out of the attic. He wouldn’t be clearing out the toy box to make room for new toys. He wouldn’t sort through the mail, discard the junk, and file away the other stuff where it belonged. Bikes and scooters and little tykes cars would be left strewn throughout the yard.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I was growing resentful and angry. And we had several arguments because of it. Until one day it dawned on me. I was viewing my husband’s behaviors all wrong. He wasn’t being lazy or maliciously disorganized. He was being a better parent than I often am.
It happened one weekend. The kids had been entertaining themselves for most of the morning, and our youngest came up and asked to play with me. I came up with some excuse or another about how I was in the middle of some chore or something. The kid walked away with a sad look on his face. Jon, who was supposed to be doing some other chore or something, set it down, got down on the floor and engaged in a spectacular creative play session lasting far longer than I ever would have the patience for. There was giggling and storytelling and wrestling and creativity and running around. There was love. There was mindful presence with our child.
I realized in that moment, that my husband isn’t neglecting the household . . . he’s attending to our children. He gets down at their level and engages full-force. They get all of him. He is right there without any other thing pulling his mind away. He is loving our children without hesitation and without distraction. He is giving our kids exactly what I know they need, what every person needs, to be seen and feel valued.
Of course, I’m not saying we should always drop everything for our kids. I’m not saying we should neglect our other obligations. And, please don’t think I’m saying the world should revolve around our kids. I am saying, that my husband, and I’d argue many dads, have this parenting thing nailed. Watching him, I’ve realized just how often I put my kids off, or I cut play time short to run off and finish something else up, or I am only half-heartedly engaged in their play while my mind thinks of the five hundred and fifty-two million other things that are going on.
So, here’s to the hands-on dads! Here’s to the ones who leave the dirty dishes on the counter. Here’s to the piles of laundry in the baskets. Here’s to the popsicle-smeared sticky toddler faces that haven’t been washed off. Here’s to the tumbleweed of doghair rolling across the wood floors. Here’s to the dads who are taking their children’s needs to heart. Here’s to the best one I know and have the privilege of parenting with . . . and here’s to hoping I can be more like you.