Impossibly High Standards Moms Are Held To That Dads Aren’t
If you’ve seen the movie “Marriage Story” then you may have been struck by the absolute truth and disarmingly genuine moment in the speech Scarlett Johansson’s character’s lawyer (played by Laura Dern) gives her about motherhood. It’s a speech about the way our society views mothers, and the things we expect of them that we just don’t expect of fathers. Though her character can be at times very “LA Fake” and a little superficial, there is something so real about her speech on motherhood. You can almost feel the female writers of this film reaching out to you through this speech. If you haven’t seen the movie, see it just for that speech alone.
Moms catch no breaks. For some reason that fact seems unchangeable—immovable. Perhaps society started it but we as women continued it: these immeasurable pressures on mothers. If you’re a mom, then you know that nobody is as hard on you as you are on yourself. And that says a lot, because everyone else is pretty damn hard on you. There have been some truly unjust and damaging practices that went on for so long in our society, that it may take another century to truly dislodge them from our psyches. One such practice—or rather idea—is the notion that parenthood is for moms. I think that since the first time a human man and woman created a child, out came this idea that it is primarily the mother’s responsibility to rear the kid. When you hear that outloud, it sounds so antiquated. There’s no way we still think like that, right? Well, look around. I think it’s quite clear that we do. Here are impossible standards mothers are held to that dads just aren’t.
The home should be immaculate
Walk into the home of a single mother, and it had better be spick and span. It better be a home too, with all the trappings of a warm, child-friendly environment. Hand-knitted blankets, soft throw pillows, adorable baskets containing loads of toys, pantries full of the perfect kid snacks. Doesn’t it just seem like people are appalled if a mother’s house isn’t full from wall to ceiling with those motherly touches?
A dad can have some crayons
Single dads can buy some crayons and mac and cheese and receive an award. The very fact that they make one or two changes to make their home slightly accommodating for children makes them dad of the freaking year. “Aaw, he has one of the kid’s paintings on the fridge. He’s the best dad ever!” Or “Aw, he bought one of the kid’s favorite board games, what a champion.” A dad’s home can be pretty much a bachelor pad with a box of crayons and he’s a winner of a father.
The meals should be perfect
Mothers are expected to make nutritionally perfect meals, all of the time. You see a mother at a fast food place with her kids and she gets scoffs and stares. It never crosses anyone’s mind that perhaps she makes those kids the healthiest homemade meals 364 days out of the year, and this is their one special occasion to get fast food.
If a man makes one thing from scratch
Wow. Everyone is blown away. When a father makes food for his kids—packs their lunches or prepares breakfast—he gets a parade. Honestly, if he gives them Luncheables but he adds just one homemade item, he’s the best. Any amount of effort above zero when it comes to making food for the kids is, like, astounding.
All patience, all the time
If a mother is stern, she’s mean. If she has anything less than total care, love, and sweetness in her voice, she’s a monster. People accuse her of not being very motherly—of not having maternal instincts. A mom is to speak to her child at all times as if he’s life’s little miracle who only makes her day shine.
A dad can be stern
If a dad is stern, that’s a good dad. If he firmly tells his child to cut that out, put that away, stop that, or be quiet, he’s “Disciplining the child.” And, when he should, on a rare occasion, speak to the kid in a baby voice and be all cutesy, everyone thinks it’s soooo cute. Meanwhile, that’s the only acceptable way for a mother to interact with her child.
Be up to date on every safety concern
Lord forbid a mom not get the update that came out five minutes ago that this super popular child’s toy is actually a safety hazard or that this viral children’s cartoon is actually sending subliminal and inappropriate messages. The scandal. How could she not know? If a mom is a little bit behind on these safety updates, she’s practically accused of trying to kill her child.
Dads get props for trying
If a group of parents witness a dad struggling to install a car seat, everyone rushes around him. They applaud him for even trying. They think it’s so sweet that he…doesn’t want the child to die in a car accident? The mere fact that he’s over there struggling is “awe-inspiring.” Nobody gives him a hard time for not knowing how to install the car seat. But that’s just what a mom would face.
Be perfectly on time
A mother who is ten minutes late to pick up her child from school, from the play date, or from band practice clearly doesn’t even want her child anymore, right? Moms have the ability to control traffic and time and space so, there’s no acceptable reason for them to ever be even the tiniest bit late, correct? That’s what it seems like.
Dads get a range
So long as a dad shows up sometime near when he said he would, he’s a good dad. If he’s a few minutes late, everyone just thinks, “Wow, he’s clearly so busy—it’s so nice he even made the time to pick up the kid at all!” Oh, and if he’s early—prepare the praise and accolades. Meanwhile, early is the only acceptable thing for a mother to be.
Volunteer at everything
Moms must be involved…with everything. They need to take a day of the carpool. They need to make homemade goods for the bake sale. They need to serve hot lunch at the school at least one day a week. They need to make the snacks for the soccer game. If they’re only involved in one or two of these things, people speak about them as if they’ve totally disappeared.
Wow. A dad in the PTA
If a father takes time out of his life to substitute for his wife while she’s sick or working, he gets more credit and praise for stepping in that one time than the mother gets for being there on a regular basis. And if a father is a regular volunteer in some regard, the other parents tell stories about this “great dad” who serves the hot lunch. It’s something of note.
Be in the know
Moms need to know who has a crush on whom, who is allergic to nuts, whose parents are getting a divorce so they’re splitting time between houses, who hurt her wrist at soccer practice, and who got detention for cursing. Moms need to somehow have access to the invisible newsletter of what’s happening with every child in their child’s life.
Dads can be clueless
It’s cute when a dad is clueless—not negligent. If he has no idea that Timmy has a crush on Cynthia, everyone practically rubs his head like he’s a cute little knucklehead for not knowing these things. He isn’t in trouble. He isn’t accused of not paying attention or not caring.
Moms can only be moms
Any time a mom expresses the other parts of her identity—career woman, artist, partier, adventurer—she’s just seen as failing as a mother. It’s not great that she has those other sides of her. It’s a problem. Meanwhile, dads are expected to have full identities outside of fatherhood, and when they dip their toes into being a parent, it makes the news.