There are several reasons I consider myself a fairly successful stay at home dad: My children have excellent manners; I don't dread taking them to grocery stores or restaurants; neither child has ever bitten me in retaliation for making them go to school; and they both enjoy the musical stylings of The Pogues.
Perhaps it's this knowledge that has inoculated me from worrying about the things people say to me when they find out I've spent the last eight years as a SAHD. Interestingly, it's not the haters I notice or remember—it's the people who are trying to be nice and supportive but somehow miss the mark who leave an impression. I'm not offended by these failed compliments or niceties, but they make me feel awkward because they reveal too much about the person I'm talking to and it makes me uncomfortable. With that in mind, I've collected a short list of the most common well intentioned comments that make stay-at-home dads cringe.
"Somebody's on babysitting duty today!" If you're a dude out in public with your kids you've heard this gem at least once or twice. It's not an accusation, and no one is trying to get me kicked out of the Old Country Buffet by saying this. They're just trying to make pleasant conversation while we wait for our turn at the mashed potato station. But the statement implies that the only context we have for a man spending time with his kids is by comparing it to babysitting. Babysitters don't love the kids they watch like parents do. Am I simply a place-holder until the "real parent" gets back? Are children merely a job for fathers, as they are for babysitters? More than offending me, that comment says so much about the speaker's childhood that it makes me want to put down my spoon and give her a hug. In other words, don't make cutesy jokes about dads being babysitters or I'll assume your dad was distant and emotionally unavailable and he treated you more like a chore than person who needed his love.
"I don't know how you do it. I could never handle spending all day with my kids." Speaking of chores, I've gotten this one from several dads who work a lot. It's always said in such a depressing way. I get that they are complimenting me on my patience and they're acknowledging that I'm doing some heavy lifting; but c'mon dude, you could handle this! In fact, someday you might find yourself in a position where you don't have a choice. Is spending a large amount of time with your kids that emotionally or physically draining for you? Is making sure they're clothed and fed before you spend the afternoon at the park that much of hassle? No doubt, kids are a lot of work, but it should be work that is incredibly fulfilling to you at the end of the day. And if your kids pick up on the fact that you think spending the day with them is a bummer, you better believe they'll make sure it's just that—a giant, tantrum-filled, food-throwing, shoe-removing, other-child-kicking bummer.
"You're such a great father!" Dads out in public with their kids hear this one from complete strangers. Don't get me wrong: There are times where this compliment is totally warranted; for instance, if I have thrown myself in front of a swarm of angry bees after my children accidentally destroyed their hive with a plastic light saber, by all means, shower me in compliments about my fathering prowess before bringing me an EpiPen and some ice cubes. But if I'm just sitting on the bus with my kid staring off into space thinking about ham steak and where Carmen Electra is now, then maybe hold back on the "World's Greatest Dad" declarations. Because I'm a good enough dad, with enough experience under my belt, to know when I have off moments, days, and weeks. When a stranger tells me that I'm a "great dad" when I'm just being an average dad, or even a crummy dad, they're basically implying that simply showing up is good enough. And that sets the bar dangerously low for men when it comes to parenting. So please, if you're a stranger, don't go out of your way to tell me that I'm a good father unless I deserve it.
"Stay-at-home dad? How'd you pull that off?" This one comes from married guys, and I get it—they're making a "funny" joke about how they're jealous of my situation and wanna know how I "conned my wife into agreeing to that." Putting aside the weird insinuation about manipulating my partner into letting me stay home, the biggest implication is that I've hustled my way into a life on easy street. As any stay-at-home parent knows, that's not exactly true. Sure, I love my kids in a way I never loved Larry from Shipping while I was working outside the home; but stay-at-home parents have just as many stresses as the breadwinner; they just look a little different from the kind you find at the office. When you make this joke, you're basically telling me that you don't communicate honestly with your partner and you fail to recognize the serious and time-consuming contributions made by parents operating in the domestic sphere. Read your Melinda Gates, brother!
"Doesn't it make you mad when people bring up Mr. Mom?" Other stay at home dads and dudes who are trying to show solidarity with me often bust out this little chestnut. Let me be clear: I don't care. I sometimes think of myself as Mr. Mom. BTW, Mr. Mom is a fascinating movie that was decades ahead of its time, and you should go back and re-watch it. Look, the world changes fast, I grew up at a time where the work I'm doing now was exclusively done by my mom. Because of that, I sometimes have trouble not thinking of that work in gendered terms. When people talk about Mr. Mom they're trying to put a name on something that up until recently didn't have a name; they're trying to find a familiar point of reference in an effort to get comfortable with the idea and be able to communicate about it. And frankly, if the worst thing someone calls me all day is Mr. Mom, then I consider myself lucky.