By Sheila Wray Gregoire
This Mother's Day many of you will be greeted in bed with awful coffee, cold toast and soggy cereal. Having been forced many times to eat the "Breakfast of Champions" after it has congealed into a solid mass, I find it hard to decide if we "breakfast in bed" moms are the lucky ones, or if the ones who prepared their own coffee are more fortunate. But nevertheless, Mother's Day is our day.
And I think we need it. In fact, I think we need a lot more pampering, because being a mom is awfully hard. Part of the reason is that you're not just a mother. You're also a psychologist, a manager, a nurse, a maid, a chauffeur, a teacher, an activities coordinator, a referee, a cook, and, somewhere in your spare time, perhaps even a wife.
Society, though, does recognize the effort motherhood takes, and this explains the large displays of roses, chocolate truffles, and $1.99 jewellery that pop up in early May. People like pampering Mom.
What perplexes me is that the same consideration is not necessarily given to Dad when his holiday comes around. We may buy cards and ugly ties, but not always with the same fervour. Father's Day is more like an affirmative action concession for men. I've been in far too many conversations, I must admit, where the focus has been on how pathetic our husbands are when it comes to certain basic chores. "He went to dress Sarah yesterday, and he put an orange shirt with a purple plaid skirt! I almost died!"
With all this criticism it must be hard to be a dad. Some men, of course, may deserve it: men who are never home, men who have no relationship with their kids, or men who have left altogether. But many men, I think, do try. They just don't measure up to our expectations.
And we have expectations galore. We don't just want someone who brings home a paycheque; we want a Hero, someone who is as comfortable confronting that bully's father as he is cleaning a toilet and, GASP, actually replacing the toilet paper roll. Yet men simply were not raised to be fairytale fathers. While women of my generation were raised to do it all, to balance being a mother with a career - most men were not. It's hard for them to suddenly become Mr. Enlightened.
Besides, what if this view that men need to shape up and be more like women isn't even true? God, after all, created us quite differently, and designed the family so that we would both have influence on our children's lives. Psychologist David Popenoe has shown that fathers and mothers contribute differently to children's development. Moms tend to nurture and provide a safe environment to learn, while dads encourage goal-setting and independence. Kids do best with both. When women take the kids out, for instance, they have a safe learning time, because we're prepared for every contingency. We pack approximately 82.5 pounds worth of stuff per child, including three extra sets of clothes, sunhats, cereal, a booster seat, a potty, and probably the kitchen sink. If we're lucky, men grab an extra diaper. But the kids make do anyway. That's part of the fun of being with dad: learning to improvise and have fun.
Indeed, kids who have good relationships with their dads have higher self-esteem, do better in school, and do better in life, even if the dads can't pick out a colour-coordinated outfit or mop a floor while balancing a baby the way moms can.
This year, let's not consider Father's Day the lesser of the two holidays. For those who are blessed to have a partner in the parenting process, let's encourage that relationship and be grateful for it. The kids certainly are.
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