When it comes to parenting, the division of labor is often unequal. Society’s preconceived expectations for “mom jobs” and “dad jobs,” may appear innocent. But they can lead to arguments down the line, when dad’s job gets rained out, so he drinks a cold one and watches mom do all of her jobs instead.
But beyond that, assigning tasks based on gender stereotypes is just wrong, plain and simple. My wife taught me that there are no “girl jobs” versus “boy jobs.” There are just tasks to be done, and if you know they need doing, then you’re the one who should be doing them.
We made a pretty good team. When I cooked, she did dishes, and vice versa. We did have a couple of jobs that fell into the gender stereotypes — I was on garbage patrol, for example — but we did a decent job of dividing labor according to workload, not gender. It was about doing what needed to be done.
Single parents don’t have the luxury of this division. Before I became a widower, I remember looking at single moms and thinking, “How do they do it?” Now, as a single dad, I find the bar set for men performing parenting jobs is set amazingly low. I have to do all the same stuff that any single mom has to do, yet I often find myself applauded for doing even the most basic parental chore.
Single men … are we all this pathetic? Are women just that much better at being parents? Or do we as a society set up expectations for women and mothers that their male counterparts are never expected to live up to?
Below are nine ways in which the expectations people place on me as a single father are totally different to those placed on single moms:
1. Waking the kids up
Expectation of Mom: Wake the kids with a gentle kiss. Smooth the hair back from their faces. Whisper “Time to get up, sleepy head.” Have breakfast on the table for them. Clean the dishes and scrub down the kitchen counter. Lay something out to thaw for a nice home-cooked dinner that night.
Expectation of Dad: Let the alarm wake up the kids. Hand them a pop tart on a paper plate on their way to the bus. Jot a note on the table to order pizza that night.
2. Being involved at school
Expectation of Mom: Sign up for PTA. Attend the meetings and volunteer to be classroom mom. Make treats for birthdays. Schedule a meeting with teachers to discuss quarterly performance and then address.
Expectation of Dad: Write down homeroom teacher’s name in case you need to email them if your child is sick.
3. Knowing your kids’ friends
Expectation of Mom: Meet your children’s friends. Set up play dates. Invite the parents over for dinner. Offer to give rides to and from practices and events.
Expectation of Dad: Try not to confuse the one with the braces and the one whose dad was in a band. Make a note to try to work on names.
4. Doing laundry
Expectation of Mom: Stay on top of the laundry at least weekly, if not daily. Iron shirts as soon as they’re out of the dryer. Fold and put away clothes to avoid wrinkling them.
Expectation of Dad: Anything that passes the sniff test is a waste of water. The laundry doesn’t need to be done until the stack on top of the hamper collapses under its own weight. If it wrinkles, hang it in the bathroom, run the shower really hot, and close the door.
5. Cleaning the house
Expectation of Mom: Vacuum and dust weekly. Climb on top of the bed to reach the overhead fan. Remove books and lamps from bedside tables. Dust the table, then dust the object before replacing it.
Expectation of Dad: What dust? Why are we dusting?
6. Teaching your kids good social etiquette
Expectation of Mom: Play psychologist for your children’s school dramas. Discuss how they could have or should have behaved. Call the parents of the other child involved and discuss solutions.
Expectation of Dad: Teach them how to make a proper fist. Offer the following council: “The next time he tries that, you punch him right in the face.”
7. Taking care of pets
Expectation of Mom: Stay on top of your children’s pet care. Assist in cleaning out the litter box daily, and change out the litter weekly. The water dish should always have water in it and the food bowl should be cleaned prior to each feeding.
Expectation of Dad: When the litter box smells bad enough, carry the whole thing to the garbage and buy a new one.
8. Cleaning the bathroom
Expectation of Mom: Clean toilets and showers each week. Tilex for calcium deposits and Lysol for the tub and toilet. Fixtures should gleam!
Expectation of Dad: Wipe the seat. Good as new!
9. Feeding the kids
Expectation of Mom: Research healthy meals. Shop for fresh organic ingredients. Watch tutorial on proper preparation and adopt that trendy French technique the internet was buzzing about. Cook meal incorporating the appropriate ratio of protein, vegetables, starches, fruits, and fats.
Expectation of Dad: Who wants grilled cheese?
I remember that some time after my wife passed away, some friends showed up at the house early in the morning. They were dressed for hard labor — trucks, boots, gloves. They were there to pull weeds, mulch the yard, and trim the trees.
My wife had set it up from her hospital bed, months prior. She knew that all the “parent jobs” would fall exclusively to me, so she organized help. Six weeks after she’d passed, she was still taking better care of the family then I was. That’s parenting.
All things considered, I do a pretty decent job of cooking, cleaning, and generally taking care of my kids. And while the bar does seem to be set ridiculously low for dads — think “performs satisfactorily” on a job review — sometimes it’s only because women have set the bar ridiculously high by comparison.
Jim Walter is the author of , where he chronicles his adventures as a single dad of two daughters, one of whom has autism. You can follow him on .