My daughter is a performer and can’t get on stage enough. I have attended many a recital and seen more than a few ‘dancing dads’. Recital organizers will sometimes ask dancers’ dads if they want to learn an easy routine and perform it in the recital to add a bit of comedy. These acts are cute and show a dad’s involvement, cool. But, there’s always a but.
These dances operate with a man/woman binary, right away excluding families living outside of cis heteronormativity. It also sends the message that dads are the fun ones. Listen, I am totally fun. I am a fucking hoot. I get jealous that as a mom I don’t get to let loose. I am not allowed to be comfortable enough with my body to look foolish. I am expected to move gracefully and with ease. People would more likely evaluate the size of my belly before cheering me on. It is assumed that as a ‘good mother’ I am already involved, I don’t need any prodding. There is this assumption that when fathers parent it is a treat to be celebrated and rewarded. It is assumed that Dad will be goofy and mess it up, leaving a mess for Mom, which she will merrily clean up. This isn’t good messaging. Also, men dancing are supposed to be hilarious because dancing is girly and frivolous, that’s really not good messaging.
What if the dancing dads act is open to everyone? Would it be assumed to be a mom’s job? Would it add more labour for Mom and take away a socially acceptable way to join in for Dad? This issue is a symptom of gender binaries and patriarchal motherhood.
Back to how I am not allowed to be hilarious. You know, the real meat of this issue. Comedian Louis CK, an affluent white man, gets on stage, calls his kid a ‘cunt’, and is showered in approval and cash. If I did that I would not be a ‘good mother’. If I did that there would be a fucking petition going around and perhaps an awareness raising hashtag. I just want to swear and be asked to dance.
From girlhood, women are socialized to be competitive with one another.
That’s why being “one of the guys” in high school sounds so cool and avant-garde even though so many of us have said it. It is so ingrained in us that we are taught not only to hate other women and girls, but ourselves for falling under that category. Some say it is because we are so uncomfortable with ourselves, by nature, that even though we aren’t naturally competitive, we can get to be. Others say women are naturally competitive, especially when it comes to getting the guy. In reality, it’s a tool to keep heteronormative gender norms in check. Women need to be focused on the home, so that – as the primary consumer – they buy stuff to fill it with. We are supposed to buy beautifying products so that we outshine one another and buy the best stuff for our families. If women weren’t trained to be competitive we may just feel comfortable in our own skin; but how would capitalism thrive?! What stories could the media tell when two women were spotted together? Unfortunately, it isn’t so obvious that money is what it all boils down to and so we are easily swayed to cut each other down. This only accelerates when it comes to motherhood. We compete with who loves their kids more, through Pinterest inspired crafts and up-to-date toys.
Working moms versus stay-at-home moms; childless women versus mothers; and everyone versus single moms. Are you married (aka did you spend money on a wedding?) Are you heterosexual? Did you adopt? One and done? Home or hospital birth? Which hospital? Drugs or no drugs? All these questions, and so many more, are part of the Better Mother Checklist. And it changes depending on whom you speak with.
The stress of raising a super child is unhealthy for a parent, as well as for the child who has to live up to such expectations. I was at a breakfast with a group of women, including one who I’m not exactly fond of. I only mention this un-fondness because I actually felt bad for her when she said she has to do everything she sees on Pinterest. If she doesn’t she feels like she’s not doing enough. That’s a fast way to burn out, and not a pressure she made up out of nowhere. It is all part of the script we are given as moms born into a consumer culture.
My daughter’s teacher seems to be obsessed with the fact that I’m not a stay-at-home mom. Granted, she isn’t particularly nice to any of the students or parents, so I’ve heard from anyone who has dealt with her. Her personality may not be popular but her sentiments are well shared. My partner is who drops the kiddo off at school, because he drives and the school is far. Teacher has commented several times to my partner and the daycare worker who picks the wee one up from school about how I must be too busy. She has even told my daughter I must be too busy for her. She says this because of my freelance work and my full-time student status. She neglects the fact that I’m the first to sign up for field trip help, go through every page of P’s journal to correct spelling errors, and am the reason my kiddo’s writing has become much neater (She’s 7, this stuff is big scholarly stuff at the point) Frustratingly enough, when I talk to stay-at-home moms, they tell me how they are told they do nothing all day. There’s no winning.
I want to tell you that know whatever you are doing, if it is done through your heart and parental instinct, is being done right; because I believe this. But I know it is hard. Even I – she who is confident she has the best daughter in the world – feel inadequate at times. A way we can stop this is by challenging ourselves. Is that other mother really the enemy? Or are we feeling insecure because we live in a system that profits from insecurity. Who should we really be mad at? There’s a lot of un-learning and re-learning to be done here. But if we stop competing amongst each other, everyone can calm the fuck down. We may even become friends with each other.