Content Notice: Parts of the below scenarios focus on traditional, heterosexual, cis-gender roles/norms. I did incorporate a non-binary, LGBTQ focus too but I recognize I am not the ideal person to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ and/or non-binary community and I apologize for that. Also, these posts are intentionally taking an absurd approach on directives for straight, cis dads to exemplify what straight, cis moms currently go through. My true wish is that there would be genuine, nonjudgmental encouragement for all parents to equally partake in parenting.
Imagine if society put as much pressure on dads as it did on moms. Imagine if cis, straight men faced the same impossible standards and catch-22s as cis, straight women do when it comes to parenthood. And imagine if our parenting culture (books, guidelines, social groups) was more inclusive to LGBTQ and non-binary folks. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m putting my imagination to the test. Here are some of the ways that could play out…
Reality: Women are identified as the only gender capable of becoming pregnant and giving birth. There is no acknowledgment that some pregnant people may identify as male or neither male nor female. Women are given strict guidelines about what they can and cannot do if they are trying to become pregnant and especially if they are pregnant. They are told of all the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy but not given much concrete support to cope with them. People who do not identify as women but are pregnant are not even acknowledged on a societal level.
Now imagine: Pregnancy is recognized as an experience that people of all genders and sexual orientations may have. Guidelines are given to expectant parents along with encouragement around all the things they still can do. There is much support and non-judgment given to expectant parents about how to cope with pregnancy discomforts. The partners of expectant parents are given tasks to do to make the experience better for the expectant parent. Our culture is able to support expectant parents’ challenges while also being sensitive to the experiences of people trying to conceive or who have lost a pregnancy or baby (because believe me, losing a pregnancy is horrible, it is hard fucking shit and I’m really done with my pregnancy-related heartburn).
In cis, straight relationships, men are told they must care for the mother of their unborn child. They must assume the majority of household tasks so their partner can be comfortable “as she is carrying your baby twenty-four/seven.” This directive is given with the understanding that pregnant people are not incapable of doing things but because their comfort is of utmost importance.
Reality: New moms are encouraged pressured to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. And when I say breastfeed, I mean literally breastfeed – no pumping, no bottles. Moms are told to take care of themselves with little guidance on how exactly to do this when also being told to be a 24/7 milk dispenser. Very little encouragement is given to fathers to be involved in this process. As of yet, I have come across no acknowledgement that people may be single parents or co-parenting with someone who is not a cis male. Nor have I seen any acknowledgment that not all breastfeeding parents identify as female.
Now imagine: In cis, straight relationships, new moms are non-judgmentally given information on options for feeding a newborn. New moms are given support and validation for whichever option they choose. If a new mom chooses to breastfeed, much focus and scrutiny will then be placed on dad. Providers will tell him, “You really need to take of your baby’s mother. She is solely providing all the nutrition to your infant. You need to wake up with her in the night and make sure she is fed and hydrated. She is going to need company so she isn’t lonely and the baby needs to bond with both of you. You’re going to need to be in charge of all diaper changes and burping and getting baby back down. Your baby’s mom is going to be tired and need to rest so she can be in the best possible shape when she needs to again feed your baby in an hour. In the morning, you’re going to need to get up and go to work. She is going to need to take leave from her job in order to feed your baby. You need to be the one to keep the paycheck coming in. Remember she is going to be feeding your baby all day long. When you get home, you need to cook and clean. She is not going to have time to do that when she has been feeding your baby all day.”
(Note – we can also take this situation one step further, it is imagination after all, and imagine both parents get to take paid leave so dads really have no excuse for not waking up with moms).
There would also be just as much support and focus for parents who are not straight and/or not cisgender. There would be nonjudgmental encouragement given to parents regardless of if they are in a relationship, who they are in a relationship with and what gender they identify as. They would be gently encouraged to equally share parenting tasks or in the case of single parents, find a friend or loved one to help support them.
Reality: Work-life balance focus is primarily on straight, cisgender moms. Moms are the ones expected to decide whether or not to return to work and face criticism regardless of what they choose. If they do return to work (whether by choice or need), they are typically in charge of arranging childcare, staying home with sick children and scheduling/attending doctor appointments (among a whole smorgasbord of other tasks). Working moms are seen as unreliable and often lose money while their straight, cis male counterparts enjoy raises. Breastfeeding laws and protections, while unintentionally contributing to the pressure to breastfeed, are focused on cisgender women. Even the dreaded Mommy Wars, while terribly unfortunate, are exclusive in their own way as they discount the experiences of people who are not straight, cis women.
Now imagine: Work-life balance is inclusive to all parents. Cis, straight men are told to be 50/50 in taking time off from work for sick kids and doctor appointments, among other tasks. After all, you do not need breasts or a uterus to go to a pediatrician’s office. Society engages in a long reflection of all the ways it still sees women as inferior and how this oppressive view especially rears its ugly head during parenthood. Any parent who goes back to work is viewed as competent and worthy of good pay.
So there ya go, there are three current realities imagined differently. And there are countless more we could explore.
Happy Mother’s Day!