If you’ve ever seen a dad with a child and felt the urge to approach and comment, these words are for you. Even if you are the child’s mom.
Father’s Day brought several posts and comments on a phenomenon known as Dad Shaming. Mom’s experience it all the time, and apparently had little sympathy for the dads who are just coming into their own. Random strangers who feel free to comment or complain about something you are doing with your child—shaming you or correcting you, whichever.
The problem with the comment section under the inspirational blog I read on Father’s Day was that over two thirds of the shaming comes from family members, not the random stranger at the playground. The grandparents and twice as many partners were the culprit in the study cited.
I teach regularly about the phenomenon known as gatekeeping—where mom approaches dad to explain that he’s doing it wrong, just because he does whatever it is differently from the way she would do it. It comes from the considerable pressure a new mom feels to be the expert in the home on parenting and the idea that her knowledge comes from intuition rather than training. Both are new at the job of parenting, but everyone feels the pressure to get it right.
Moms making comments about the research were full of stories about the crazy things that fathers did while their children were in their presence. Leaving a 2-year-old on the playground while walking across the street to a store wasn’t the smartest thing noted. Her conclusion? Dads don’t know how to parent. That was a little harsh. And wildly unfair to the rest of us.
Do strangers have the right to approach and destroy the methods of dads—or moms? Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated. I remember listening to Dr. Jim Fay describe how tempting it was to approach a parent at a busy airport by explaining that he is a parenting expert. He chose not to. If he shouldn’t, there’s no way I should!
We live in a dangerous world. One dad expressed shock at the woman who approached his daughter while she rode around the store on his shoulders to ask if the toddler was okay and whether she knew him or not. Needless to say, the child was traumatized. But the next comment shamed any complaints about this interference by explaining the critic was just doing her civic duty! It would not cross my mind to approach a mom in this manner!
Is it shaming or constructive criticism? Don’t critics genuinely have a desire to help and protect innocent children? Protect them from a loving parent who has them under their watchful care at the store or the park? Why not compliment dad for spending time with his child instead of nit-picking something he should do differently? But THAT is also the subject of criticism because we give dad credit for showing up while mom has no admirers for her considerable efforts.
Genuine curiosity might be received better than confident instructions about what should be done. Asking rather than telling seems a better approach. “Would you mind if I ask a silly question? Conventional wisdom when I was parenting said I shouldn’t throw my infant up in the air and catch them. Did I get the wrong advice?”
The shaming is the problem. Critics aren’t experts. Approaching anyone with unsolicited advice should be considered risky behavior. If you feel silly asking, maybe that’s the clue that commenting on the weather would be more acceptable than what you are about to say.