The parenting double standard I'm done being quiet about
I’ll give it to you straight: I’m a tired mother of two. My days end and begin the same—an infinite loop of to-dos, errands, and emotional labor I may or may not want to deal with. My 7- and 12-year-olds are my only constants, pulling me in every possible direction, and I’m expected to perform my responsibilities without cracking under the pressure. Being “Mom” means doing so much more than providing the basics (food, shelter, clothing); it means laying the foundation on which my children will become future adults who (hopefully) contribute to society in meaningful ways. Being “Mom” means having the hard talks, doling out the difficult consequences for broken rules, and loving them unconditionally, no matter how tired I am, how depleted my soul, or how dire our circumstances.
There’s a double standard when it comes to parenting. It’s clear such a standard exists because of how much I’m expected to do and be—a working mother with an incredibly full planner—while my husband (from whom I am separated), the father of my two children, is allowed to put his needs first and care for his kids second, yet still receives praise for his minimal efforts. Let me be clear: not all fathers are like this. Some share responsibilities equally or take it all on without complaint, and some of them don’t get the recognition they deserve.
But having grown up with a single mother and now being a single mother myself, I am directly familiar with a general truth: Mothers carry more than they should, while fathers are forgiven for doing far less.
Back in the days when each of our children rested happily in a swing, unable to run around or talk back, my husband was mostly hands-on as long as he wasn’t at his full-time job. He was the swaddle king, the instant soother, the compassionate figure that calmed me and our children with one gentle whisper. It didn’t matter that his time with each of them was much shorter than my time as a stay-at-home parent—my time was apparently assumed while his was a blessing. But why? Why are moms expected to assume responsibility while dads’ contributions are treated like a bonus?
In the early days of our parenting lives, it seemed like everyone stopped to take notice of what a wonderful father my kids had. They weren’t wrong, but where was my praise for doing the exact same things after carrying those babies to term, struggling through postpartum depression, and battling mental illness while still maintaining the “Mom” status quo? Mothers are expected to do so much more but receive so much less in return for their effort. Is it so unheard of for a man to be a present parent that we must stop the presses when they do the bare minimum? This says a lot about societal standards, and how little we’ve progressed towards equality.
Men continue to be placed on pedestals after women built those pedestals for them to stand on.
Now my children are watching me navigate the terribly difficult separation process thrust upon all three of us, and I’m noticing the same exhausting trend. While I’m the parent who has remained at home, caring for our children and feeding them emotionally, physically, and spiritually, their father is praised for simply showing up to see them. Cool.
All parents should be recognized for their efforts, regardless of the situation, but these different expectations are dangerous and unfair. Mothers are out here killing themselves to get everything done, to make everyone happy, to become some version of great, and it’s all at the expense of losing our greatest commodity: our sense of self. Mothers get little to no credit for bringing life into the world, for being the ones who (mostly) are left to tend to the children after divorce with little regard for our mental health and happiness. Mothers are (typically) the ones who do everything on the to-do lists, and then some, only to see the fathers of their children be treated as heroic for doing the bare minimum. Our culture must be better than that.
You’re the life force of every circle, the anchor for your children’s storms. That doesn’t make it easy, and it hurts like hell when your children’s father does far less but more people take notice. I don’t have all the answers, and I still fall short in my own parenting. But my hope is that one day—no matter what happens between me and their father, or them and their father—they’ll recognize the truth of what was, and how mothers are treated. And I’ll hear them say, “Thank you for all you did, Mom,” because moms are unlikely to hear it elsewhere. If you are mom, I hope your children will do the same.