But they’re still seen as special cases when they do. In his memoir, Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon talks about how women would come up to him in the grocery store and gush over what a great father he is. Not because he was doing anything special, but just because he was with his kids at all doing a simple everyday task.
Stranger’s reactions aren’t always so positive. In a moving essay on Transparental, Michel – who gave birth to two daughters before beginning his transition to manhood – writes about being confronted by a woman in a cafe who took him to be a Dangerous Stranger with his girls, until the little one called him “Mommy”. After a decade of parenting as a woman, he’s seeing the other side of this sexist coin.
This is something I never think about when I’m out in public with my kids. I assume that people will think the children are mine, and that I’m responsible for them. Turns out a lot of my guy friends don’t. They shared some coping strategies they’ve developed over the years, like always addressing their kids by name when they approach them in a public place, and using body language to signal both intimacy and safety.
I never worry about that. But I do worry that people will judge me if my kids misbehave, or if I seem at all short-tempered with them. I have a variety of coping strategies for signaling that I’m a Good Mother, who is In Control Of The Little Brats and Loves Her Perfect Babies Perfectly.
This is a worry those same guy friends don’t have. Once they’ve convinced the stewardesses and librarians and little old ladies in cafes that the kids are theirs, they’re home free. They’re seen as heroes just for deigning to spend the afternoon with their children. Where I’d get a hiss and a glare for “letting” my child melt down on an airplane, they get sympathy and free cookies.
So, anecdote is not data, but it sure is interesting. Let’s collect some more anecdotes. Does your gender affect how people treat you when you’re parenting in public? If you have a differently gendered co-parent, do they get treated very differently than you do when they’re out and about with your kids?
More by Sierra Black: