Thursday, February 3, 2011

Please Stop Mothering Me!

This is a guest post from Stewart, aka "Papa":

More than once, parents in the workforce have told me that they bet I am secretly happy to have an office to go to that allows me to escape “dealing” with my baby all day. Apparently they feel that way, and I must admit that on some tough parenting days the thought has certainly crossed my mind.

But generally speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. As we gay dads like to say, we can’t have kids by accident, but only through what is usually a long, involved process that is not for the faint of heart. So if we have kids, it is likely because we ardently wanted to become parents. It would make no sense to then look to “escape” that role once our dream finally comes true. Instead, I take parenting Max very seriously, both by maximizing the quality of the time that I get to spend with him each day – playtime, chowtime, bathtime, bedtime -- and by continuing to provide for him even when we aren’t together – by buying him food, diapers, wipes, toys, books and clothing.

So it is a little frustrating that the billion-dollar baby product industry likes to pretend that actively parenting dads don’t exist. Here are some examples of what I am talking about: 
  • When Max was a newborn and I was on paternity leave, I found myself running out to Babies R Us and back multiple times a day as we learned just how rapidly an infant can blaze through diapers, burp clothes, bips, onesies and a whole host of other baby products. I decided to save some money by signing up for the Babies R Us rewards card. Lo and behold, less than a week later our mailbox became deluged with coupons, flyers and catalogues from every baby product company on the planet. One of the items was the May 2010 issue of BabyTalk magazine. I was very happy to see it, being eager, especially in those early, insecure days, to absorb as much information about babies and parenting as I could. Then I noticed the cover. The tagline for BabyTalk magazine is “Straight Talk for New Moms.” The articles inside, as described on the cover, included: “Oh, Sweet Sleep, Moms Dish on What Really Works”; “Moms Who Rock!”; and “Help for Moms with Multiples.” I also received a letter from “Parenting Magazine” that purported to offer a special subscription to “Mr. W. Stewart Wallace only.” Forgive me for casting a skeptical eye at that claim, because in that same letter the magazine described itself as “The Resource for Moms with Young Kids!”
  • A few months later, I spent untold hours researching the perfect jumperoo (out of seemingly thousands) for Max: what the important safety features were, which ones folded easily for storage, whether the different bells and whistles they came with were worth the cost, etc. I finally chose a jumperoo, and ordered it online. When it arrived at our apartment, the box touted that I had made a wise choice, because this jumperoo was not only “Better for Baby” but also “Better for Mom.”
  • You may have heard of the online store where I bought this jumperoo: a little e-retailer named Amazon. In September, Amazon rolled out a new promotion for parents – if you agree to buy a certain amount of your baby products from Amazon, they will give you additional discounts off of the retail price for those products. The promotion is called “Amazon Mom.”
  • And finally, multiple times a day, every day, for the past 8 months, I have found myself face to face with a huge tub of Enfamil powder formula on the kitchen counter that Jacob and I scoop into baby bottles full of water to make Max’s feedings. Sometimes these encounters occur at 3 a.m. with Max bawling in my sluggish arms. And while I am muttering under my breath, what does the annoyingly perky yellow tub of Enfamil tell me? Why, of course, that it is not only “Trusted by Pediatricians”, but it is also “Trusted by Moms.”

Hmmm, notice a trend? A certain 3 letter palindrome beginning with “M”? 

I’m not trying to make a federal case out of the fact that baby product manufacturers cater to moms – they are entitled, and I’m man enough to read BabyTalk on the subway no matter who the cover stories claim to be directed towards. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s right, or that I have to like it. Let’s face it: these campaigns are disrespectful to the many actively engaged dads out there. Are parenting magazines really only a “resource for moms”? Is the jumperoo not “better” for dads too? Am I really the only “Amazon Dad”? And would I feed Max Enfamil all day, every day, if I didn’t trust it as much as moms do? I worked hard to join this club called parenthood, and I’ve worked hard to be a good parent. And yet many of the products, magazines and websites that I associate with in an attempt to be a good parent essentially tell me: “You’ve made a mistake.” “You aren’t for us.” “Look elsewhere.” “Why are you spending time looking at me when should be escaping to the office?” “Send your wife over instead, she’s the one we want to talk to.”  Frankly, it’s discouraging.

Is this really the message we want to send to dads? To boys growing up around these products who will become dads one day? Not only do dads have every right to make the mundane everyday parenting decisions for their children, but as a society we should be encouraging them – not discouraging them -- to do so.

Heaven knows that a lot of moms would welcome such input and relief from their other half about these decisions. Instead, these companies are essentially giving fathers a free pass to abdicate responsibility for all of the little decisions that help add up to being a parent. “ You see,” these guys can tell their wives, pointing to the way these products are advertised, “not my job.” 

And what is particularly frustrating is the seeming purposelessness behind the marketing of these products expressly to moms. Would it kill Amazon to name their promotion “Amazon Baby” instead of “Amazon Mom”? If a mom read that Enfamil formula is trusted by “Parents” instead of just “Moms” would she sniff and walk by, reaching for the Similac instead? Of course not. No mom is going to refrain from buying a baby product just because it is marketed towards parents or caregivers generally, instead of to moms specifically. Moms deserve a lot more credit than that. And I’m not even going to dwell on the fact that not all families even have a mom.

Raising kids is still a female-centric endeavor, I get that, but alienating half of the parenting population for no apparent reason seems to me to be both bad business and bad mores. Agree? Disagree? I’d love to know your thoughts.


  1. No Jay and Stewart, there are hundreds and thousands of stay at home dads who feel the same way. Start something new! Develop a website for other Gaddies and stay at home dads to chat and share advice. Never know where it will lead :)

  2. Thanks Kai, it's a great idea! I can only dream of a future in which we have the time to create and run such a site!

  3. OMG. Totally understand your frustration but just gotta say - the gathering cartoon! I'm sending to my mom! Ha!

  4. agreed! i've always found it really annoying. and i think you're right that it discourages dads from dealing with the everyday. keep up the great guest posts. xoxo

  5. Don't get me started on this! When Chloe was nursing, I ended up watching more daytime television than I ever have in my life and apparently the only ones capable of wiping or mopping a surface is a lone woman wearing a frumpy outfit. Parenting is not limited to just moms, not only does it place the burden of responsibility all on mom, but also leaves out dads who are just as capable and care just as much.

  6. Great post, Stew. Of course I agree. It does make me wonder what kind of marketing research has gone into this fixation on "mom," or whether it's just a relic. I imagine these companies are trying to speak to moms (as opposed to parents) who feel like they're doing it all by themselves, but that approach could backfire and just be, as esther said, really annoying.
    P.S. That box containing a "jumperoo" was no help to me--I had to Google to find out what one was.

  7. As a new mom raising a baby with a fantastic new dad, I've been noticing the same thing. With the exception of nursing, Dom is absolutely just as engaged as I am in taking care of our bebbe.

    Here's another example of women-centered baby service: gender-differentiation in public changing tables. First, let me note that I'm really grateful when there are changing tables in stores and restaurant bathrooms. They really help - and I do understand that they take up space and money, so the proprietors want to put them where they are most likely to be used. I'd rather then be only in the women's rooms than not at all.... BUT....

    It irks me that (at least here in Colorado), they are usually only in the women's bathrooms rooms. Dom often tries to take bebbe for a change only to come back, saying the changing table is only in the women's room. When it's a single-stall, he just uses it - no big deal. I really doubt any woman is going to give him the evil eye if he comes out with a baby.

    But when it's a multiple-stall bathroom, which it often is, he doesn't feel right going in to use the table - which is fair. We've all watched enough comedies with women screaming if a man goes in the women's room (which, as a side note, I don't understand - we have DOORS on the stalls, but whatever.) So I have to get up and bring him in to get changed. But what happens if I'm not out with them? Desmond is only 3 months old and so far our outings to restaurants/stores have mostly been whole-family trips, but that is unlikely to always be the case.

    Convenience/safety demands that we take advantage of changing-tables when they are available. But that often means that either I do a disproportionate amount of changes when out in public, or that Dom has to sneak into women's bathrooms to do it.

    The placement of the changing tables is like that marketing content you discussed. It sends a message: changing babies is women's work. It's fairly blatant: to do it, Dom has to walk into a room labled "WOMEN." The message says the mom should be the one to always interrupt her meal to change the baby.. that Dad is probably at work instead of shopping with a baby at this store.

    In reality, the way we've divided our labor really has Dom doing more of the diapering than I do. Since I'm breastfeeding - it usually comes down to me handling "input" and him handling "output." He was the one in charge of choosing the cloth diaper solutions and he still does at least 80% of the laundry with it. When bebbe wakes up for his middle-of-the-night feed - Dom is in charge of changing him and bringing him to me to nurse.

    At any rate, I'm just commenting to say - I feel ya! I think engaged daddies (gaddy or otherwise) definitely need more credit and support. Really enjoying your blog and so happy for you both!