I noticed it for the first time at the climbing gym. Andy would walk through the gym, toting Carter, and everyone, but especially women, would smile and Awwwww as he walked by. What a great father, their expressions doted. How sweet to share this with your son; you must be so devoted and caring.
But when I walked through the gym with Carter, people – men and women – looked at me like I was an insane psychopath. Why are you endangering your child by bringing him to the climbing gym, their eyes glared. You should be home taking care of him, not here selfishly risking his life. They were free in their commentary as well.
Then, Andy would take a turn, and everyone would smile again. Let’s be clear: I’m the rock climbing regular (or was in a previous, childless lifetime), not Andy. We made it a game, switching off and walking around, watching peoples’ reactions, then comparing notes. Happened every time.
We also noticed this double standard on airplanes. A recent New York Times article, “Fear of Crying: The Problem of Babies and Airplanes,” advises people to “give the kid to his father. People smile at men holding babies – even crying babies – on airplanes. Flight attendants offer them assistance.” It then goes on to quote parenting manual, “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children”:
A father traveling with a screaming baby is presumed to be a widower who is devoting himself to the welfare of his poor babes…A mother traveling with a screaming baby is presumed to be a slovenly person whose husband was driven away by her neglect of discipline and the resulting bad behavior of the children.”
Andy with baby in the bike seat = Fun dad. Me with baby in the bike seat = crazy, irresponsible woman.
Andy hiking with baby in a carrier = adventurous daddy exposing baby to the world’s wonders. Me hiking with baby in a carrier = mom with no common sense inflicting irreparable harm on baby’s health and safety.
Andy in his sweatpants, frazzled at the grocery store with an overtired baby = brave, courageous soul giving it his all. Me in my sweatpants, frazzled at the grocery store with an overtired baby = hot mess pathetic excuse for a mom.
I’ve also noticed that some people feel a great deal of freedom dispensing unsolicited advice, passive aggressive judgment or straight-up insults about my parenting. Strangers have spoken to me more frequently since I become a mother – both with sweetness and nastiness.
An older woman yelled that I was endangering Carter’s life when I rollerbladed with him in a stroller. When I – I swear I tried to be kind – thanked her for her opinion, she turned around and screamed IDIOT! as she biked by.
When I stopped to pick up food Carter had thrown on the floor in the middle of a narrow Costco aisle, man at Costco stopped me and asked rudely, “Sweetie, why do you stop your cart in the middle of the aisle?” When I tried to explain, he interrupted with a huff, waved me off with his arm and walked away. ?!@#!
Once – also at Costco – a woman honked her horn at me, rolled down her window and yelled B—-! when I was buckling Carter into his car seat. I can only assume that she thought I intentionally took too long putting him in his seat and getting out of my parking spot.
This stuff never happens to Andy.
And that’s just the light stuff. I’m not even talking systemic inequities of parenting like no changing tables in men’s rooms, maternity leave, workplace structures, hiring, pay or role expectations. But, I think the microaggressive attitudes displayed in these encounters feed the inequitable structures of our society.
Parents are constantly attempting to make the best decisions for their kids. If you don’t know my story, my family, my name, don’t judge. And if you’re gonna judge – because we’re human – I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your thoughts and glares to yourself. If I want your opinion, I will ask.
Unless you have something nice to say. Or you have smiles to give.
Then, I’m all yours.