After we sought psychological evaluation for our 4-year-old son — who was having socializing problems in school and on playdates — my wife and I met with the New York City Department of Education, and Felix will now have more one-on-one attention in his pre-K program. Half the time he’s there, he’ll be working with a Special Education Itinerant Teacher, a SEIT, or, as his school puts it, a special friend just for him. We’ve also found a play therapist who we’re excited to work with, who will have sessions with Felix and with my wife and I, on how best to handle his high anxiety. We’ve met with his teachers and principal, and everyone is working together, one team of caring adults focused on helping my son get along better with his friends. Already, in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen improvements in his behavior both in school and out.
While this undeniably seems a positive turn of events, not everyone sees it that way. In particular, my wife has found some other working moms to respond more with criticism than support. She hears a lot of, “You should have …” from other moms. As in, “You should have pushed harder for more services,” and “You should get a clinical diagnosis (even if it’s not accurate),” and “You should have had a parent advocate and not handled this yourself.” All of this, accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing. Did you ask about this? Did you tell them about that? You must feel so upset about this whole situation!
I, on the other hand, have found the parents I’ve talked to, moms and dads alike, to be fully in my corner. I thought my therapist was going to give me a hug the other day, he seemed so happy to hear the steps we’ve taken — which got my wife and I talking. Is there a difference in how people talk to moms and how they talk to dads?
I’m not a social scientist, so I can only provide you a generalization based on my experiences, but I’d say: Yes. There are the so-called Mommy Wars, but no equivalent for dads. On the Facebook dads group I belong to, I see, by and large, only supportive comments whenever guys vent about their frustrations or reveal their fears and worries. When sharing my parenting conundrums with other guys in person, we bat about ideas and the underlying if not plainly spoken message is “Hang in there, it’ll be ok.” There’s never any shame in saying how angry your wife or child make you feel sometimes, or how you wish you could be doing a better job. That’s just how dads talk with one another, when they’re talking candidly. I’ve rarely felt judged for what’s happening in my family, or for my responses to those situations.
My wife, on the other hand, reports a lot of reproach and escalation, remarks that seem to be edged with either shame or implications of guilt. She feels that because of this, many women don’t talk honestly about their feelings about motherhood, especially if those feelings are negative ones. It’s ok to say that your kid is wonderful and you love them and everything is great — Look how cute he is now! Can you believe how fast time flies? But to discuss your child’s developmental problems, or how you’re feeling grumpy because of sleeplessness, or wishing you had a weekend off — to express anything that’s real but not pretty — opens a mom up for either stress-inducing negativity and, at worse, judgmental snipes. Either way, my wife often feels worse after revealing things with mom friends, while I feel better. She finds that interactions go better if she keeps things short and sweet. “Everything’s great with Felix! How are your kids?”
Maybe this says more about her or her particular situation than it does about American moms everywhere, but certainly online I see more potshots being taken between mom bloggers than I do between dads. It’s ok not to be the perfect mom, no one is going to think any less of you. And it’s ok to have a child that’s struggling, even if that child is struggling with things that come naturally to other kids. That’s not your fault, or something to hide and be ashamed of! That’s just a part of life with kids.
There are plenty of moms writing online with frankness about their parenting lives. These women are brave, as brave as the dads out there challenging male stereotypes of being the stern, stoic, emotionally unaffected provider. The conversation about being a mom and dad is deepening, becoming more nuanced, more mature, and more real. Of course, I’m a dad, so perhaps this is just my natural optimism coming through! But hang in there, folks, and be true to yourselves. It’s going to be ok.