Thursday, May 19, 2011

Decline of the state of "Man" - Part One

One of the huge things that pissed me off about being at my brother's wedding was the almost blatant disregard for the fact that I've got a wife and a three month old child. 

When we were going to the rehearsal dinner, he had a fecal emergency which put us back 15 minutes.  When we got to the restaurant, it was as if the world had ended that I wasn't there on time.  Seriously, people were melting like Raiders of the Lost Ark.  (side note - remember this movie for this Saturday).  I was also five minutes late for pictures with the groom because I was taking care of the kid while my wife was pumping, and it's damn near impossible to manage to pump and look after a screaming kid at the same time.  I came downstairs and my dad scolds me like I'm three years old for being five minutes late.  It was like this basically all weekend.

This got me thinking about a few conversations I've had at work with guys who say things like, "the first three months or so aren't that bad, because your wife is breast feeding and you don't have to get up to help." 

When my son descends into hunger-insanity in the middle of the night, I will always get up with my wife.  The routine goes like this: she will generally warm up milk while I try to calm the kid down until the milk's ready.  Then I will feed him while my wife pumps.  Then I'll change him and re-swaddle him and put him down and make sure he falls asleep.  By the time he's asleep, my wife is usually done pumping, and we both go back to sleep at the same time. If I didn't help, she would be up twice as long, feeding the kid and then pumping.

I realize we have a bit of a crazy situation, because my son never figured out breastfeeding, and thus we feed him breast milk from the bottle.  Yes, this is just as terrible as it sounds - but less terrible than an infant with his scream set on "permanent".

But in the first six weeks, when we were giving breastfeeding our most valiant effort, even though my wife was trying to feed, I would still get up, help change,  swaddle and get the kid back to sleep-land.  It wasn't even really a question.  Sure I complained, and still do, but if you've made it through three months of having a kid without complaining, you deserve a medal, or at least a high five and some Cheetos.

But the thing about is, that even though I complained, it wasn't because I had to do it.  I complained because, well, after a couple really, really long nights, it just straight up sucks.  But I still did it because I have a wife who carried and then birthed my child, and a helpless child who needed me to be there for him.  It wouldn't really be fair to say to them, "hey, look - I'm kinda tired.  You mind if I go back to bed and you two figure it out?"  Not only would it be unfair, but I'd also be shirking the responsibilities I signed up for when my wife and I decided to have a child together. 

So that's why I was pissed.  Look, I'm not trying to paint myself as some saint, but I'm just trying to honestly figure out why it is that a dedication to your family first and foremost is not only looked down on by other men, but it is also seen as a kind of weakness - that this is something the wife can take care of, while the man should be asleep.  What is this, 1950 and/or the Middle East?

This rant could go on for two or three more hours, but I think it's probably best to split it up into three different posts.   I wanted to get into the Man Cave phenomenon, as well as the gender role polarization, but I figure it's gonna take forever to get all of it into one post.  Thus, the title of this post contains an insinuation of further parts.

So a serious, honest question: Am I wrong to feel this way?  I'd truly love to hear other points of view, because I'm not exposed to them. And I'm legitimately interested in how other families manage their gender roles.


  1. You are definitely not wrong. Our daughter is now 13 months, and what you described is exactly how my husband and I handled the first exhausting months. I also had breastfeeding issues, so nights involved first breastfeeding back to sleep, then pumping, which took forever. Then when she woke up again, hubby would feed her the pumped milk from a bottle and put her back down. This way we each got at least a 4 hour stretch, and I could recharge a bit before I was responsible for this tiny tyrant all by myself while the hubs was a work all day.
    We both have careers, we both wanted this amazing child, and we both care for her. Not always 50/50, we split tasks by who needs more sleep and who hates doing dishes with a passion (both me).
    I'm sure the hubs feels some of the same pressures, especially from his dad and brother (cavemen both) but he always comments that he can't understand why people think its weird that he loves taking care of his baby. Clearly there is something wrong with them - outdated mindset, insecure in their masculinity, and sexist. And they are missing out on something great because of it.
    I was going to end by congratulating you on being such a great dad and being above the other cavemen, but that kind of thing always hits a nerve - people act like a man who competently cares for his child is something amazing, and it's not. It's something beautiful and natural, just like motherhood.
    So congratulations to you and your wife on your little bundle of cute, they just keep getting better as they get older, and I wish many nights of uninterrupted sleep to you both.

  2. You, sir, are a champ. I hope other guys come and weigh in on this.

    Obviously, I have no experience with having kids, but I can attest that even today it is extremely hard to have non-normative gender roles because from the very beginning, you're conditioned to think a certain way. For example, just this morning I came across this post:

    Obviously you can't go crazy and not expose your kids to anything, but as soon as they start being able to process stuff, they process gender stuff. Girls are taught to be caretakers and boys are taught to be rough and tumble and macho. Even with parents' best efforts, girls and guys become conditioned to certain things, and for girls,
    one of those things is that you have to take care of your kids. Guys need to
    make the money for the family, so it's not so much an obligation for them to take care of the kids.

    In general, even though our family is pretty progressive, blah, blah, etc, I still find myself cooking many of the meals because all the Russian women in my family raised me to believe that taking care of men through meals is important, and because I somehow feel shamed by society if I admit that, as a woman, I can't cook. Something I can't de-program myself to do. I also let society kind of shame me into changing my last name, which I wrote about here:

    We always try to balance out tasks in our house; for example, last weekend we both painted a room together and I've drilled holes, moved and put together furniture, and Mr. B does the dishes, takes out the trash, and sometimes folds laundry, but it's hard sometimes not to cave to the pressure of society and those "primordial traces" we have in our brains that tell us something has to be done a certain way.

  3. Listen, David's pretty good. He cleans my floors and does the dishes and cooks dinner almost every night.

    He even watches Alex in the morning so I can sleep in on weekends. He does more than ANY other dad I know except you. My friends' husbands are way lazier.

    Still, when I had Alex it was "why can't you get that baby to sleep, I have to work in the morning, dammit!" and then he'd roll over and pretend to be asleep (or go to sleep, I don't even know) while I tiptoed around trying to silently entertain Alex in a one bedroom condo?

    When I went back to work? NOTHING CHANGED. It has always Bren my responsibility to take care of Alex in the middle of the night or when he's sick.

    David is the only father I know who has volunteered to stay home with a sick child - and he did it only once.

    I think he wants instructions for how to soothe Alex and really - they don't exist. You have to go by gut and figure out what will work in that instance. That's just not d's strong suit - he likes facts. A lot.

    So it's not really about gender roles for us it's about playing to our strengths. I was a lot less pissed off when I figured that out.

    And for the record, his family looks down on both of us for wanting to be with our kid. That's what nannies are for after all.

  4. Catching up on your blog and had to comment on this. I have been meaning to blog about this topic, but I'll say this - nothing irritates me more than when someone says, "You're so lucky to have a husband who helps out!"

    Uh, it's not "helping out" when it's your own kid. No one wants to give me a gold medal for "helping out," no matter how much I do. Yeah, he takes care of most of Ryan's needs in the morning; I take the evenings. He takes him to the doctor for half of the appointments; I take him for the other half. He does just as much for our kid as I do on a daily basis. I'm glad for this in a "we're a good team" kind of way, but I'm not grateful for every little thing he does cuz truth is that he SHOULD be doing that stuff.

  5. well, we go through this all the time. He's only gotten up a handful of times with the baby, mostly at teh beginning. But I have to say, I'm realizing that's sort of my fault. I never asked, and while I shouldn't *have* to ask, I also act like it's OK for him to continue doing that...I have never said to him, " you know, this is very unfair"...and the reason I's twofold. First, my husband is a pill to be around when he's sleep deprived. TO me it's easier to just get up and do it myself than deal with all his drama. Yes, it's pretty childish of him, but that's just how it has been. Second, i realized this just last night, he's not good at soothing and getting Luke to sleep. He always thinks crying = something is last night he got Luke up, turned the lights on, took his temp...cause he thought he was hot! He wasn't running a fever and I could tell just by touching him. Soemtimes crying = crying for no reason. Sad but true!

    Good for you getting up with your's the way it should be, but probably the way it *is* in a fraction of the households.


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