“Saw you took your kids to the beach. How did THAT go?”
I got several variations of that slightly incredulous, mostly curious comment soon after returning from a vacation to Ocean City, N.J. last summer.
We had flooded our social media profiles with photos from the trip, because, well, why else are we going on a trip? The whole point is to make people jealous with your adorable family, duh. Oh, and to make memories.
I’d reply that our trip was great but exhausting — invariably, any vacation with kids leaves you feeling a little like you need a vacation from your vacation—and that our toddler and twin infant girls (1-year-old at the time) loved it. Plus, our daughter Hannah got a year’s supply of sand consumed in just five minutes, because she’s nothing if not efficient.
The three-kids-3-and-under thing meant a lot of people wonder how my wife and I accomplish just about anything. The answer: Patience, a lot of planning and snacks.
I don’t care who you are, if someone puts fruit snacks in front of you, you are going to be happier.
But there’s another set of comments I heard (and still hear!) a lot when I’m out with the kids on my own. In the four years I’ve been a dad, I’ve heard it again and again, and it always makes me either chuckle or shake my head. It’s this sentiment:
The aforementioned trip was no different, especially on walks by the beach. I had our 1-year-old girls in the double stroller with our 3-year-old boy seated at the front of it. With the warm sea air brushing our faces and the comforting low rumble of pushing wheels over boardwalk planks placating our ears, it’s a nice way to spend an hour. Just a dad out with his three kids on vacation.
Admittedly, when most of the boardwalk is filled with runners, bikers and single-baby strollers, we stand out. I’d probably do a double-take, too, and it never gets old to have people say your kids are cute. That’s the kind of friendly gesture that helps balance out those moments when they aren’t being so cute; I’m not a murderer, but my babies have essentially accused me as much when I put them in their car seats. Death by safety buckle!
So you’ve got the scene in your head. A dad pushing his kids down the boardwalk. You’d think people have never seen a dad spending alone time with his own children out in public.
A sample of what I was told:
“God give you strength.”
“I remember those days. Giving the wife a break, eh?”
“Best of luck.”
“Good for you.”
“Wow … need another one?”
All comments with good intentions, all said with a smile, all meant to be complimentary.
Switch it around, though, and it’s a different sentiment. Imagine it’s my wife walking with the kids. How many times do you think she’d hear, “Giving the dad a break, eh?” or “Good for you” about her ability to be out with the kids on her own.
There are definitely times when I go out of my way to take all the kids out of the house so my wife can have some time alone without someone pulling on her leg. But she also does the same for me. We approach it as co-parenting. Together. They are our kids. I rely on my wife a tremendous amount, and every day I am so thankful to have her with me to tackle the crazy world of parenting (her patience is unbelievable).
And she relies on me.
Strangers wouldn’t know how much we try to share parenting. They just see a dad out with his kids, like the time at a department store checkout, after my wife left early to go get the car, the cashier commenting how brave I was for shopping alone with the kids. I asked my wife if she’d ever gotten that kind of comment. (The answer was ‘No’. A million columns could be written about all the passive aggressive/condescending/rude comments moms hear from strangers daily.)
Who is to blame for seeing a guy out with his kids and assuming he’s taking a risk by watching all his kids at once or that the only reason he’s doing it is as a brief respite for the mom? No one in particular. Pop culture says dads can’t handle babies. History says dads aren’t as involved as moms. I get it! Until recently, we didn’t hear much about dads being involved parents.
But I’m going to take a good guess that more and more men want to get to the point that dads aren’t viewed as an accessory to parenthood. They want to be viewed as a core component. Not because they want credit like a co-worker craving attention from a boss on a work project. Not because of some ego boost (because that assumes they are doing something extra special). But because once everyone starts assuming dads should be as involved as moms, the standard increases for fathers and people will have less tolerance for guys who think it’s just the mom’s job to raise their kids. It’s a culture shift, and a needed one, at that.
And the way that happens is one dad at a time taking care of his kids at home, in public, at the beach, and everywhere in between, for as much time as allowed, just the same way moms do so often (and are expected to, on many levels).
Because dads don’t babysit, as the hugely popular National At-Home Dads Network T-shirt says.