Is praising moms the same as dissing dads?

Home is where the mom is: Cardstore Mother's Day CardI’ve been thinking for a while about this interesting new meme that is increasingly circulating any time there’s an ad, a video, an article acknowledging the hard work of mothers: The idea that thanking mothers is necessarily putting dads down.

(Moms rule, dads drool?)

This week, on the Cool Mom Picks Facebook page, we shared a wonderfully clever video salute to “the world’s toughest job” which, well, you can guess who they’re referring to what with Mother’s Day coming up and all.  We linked to the video knowing darn well that someone would at some point call out the video for not acknowledging dads, who also work very hard at being dads. And that’s just what happened.

So, yes. Those people are right. Great dads are great dads and deserve to be told as much. When you’ve felt marginalized in any way for a long time, it’s understandable that you become sensitive to any perceived slight and seek to correct it. There is also a marked rise of single fatherhood in this country, and marketers need to acknowledge its existence. Not just for the dads, but for their kids.

I think about this every time I see some damn standardized test prep homework question describing how your mother gives you $1 and asks you to go to the store… and have to wonder what happens when the little boy from Sage’s kindergarten who is being raised only by his terrific father comes across that in a few years. Will he see it for what it’s worth, as a question with a fill-in-the-blank generic character that could easily say “Grandma” or “Tom” or  “the weird guy at the aquarium?” Or will it sting for him to read it knowing that he cannot put himself in those shoes?

Feeling left out is a valid emotion. We’ve all been there. But the question for me is, are we confusing not being included with exclusion?

Also, is it so bad to just step back and allow moms, who often feel undervalued and underappreciated and exhausted as a whole, to get a little pat on the back from the world? And beyond that, can’t they just get that pat on the back without someone having to add, “oh and dads? You’re pretty swell too.”

It reminds me very much of how my kids try and play this same game with me.

For example. I’ll tell Sage that I’m so impressed with the book on penguins that she wrote in school. Thalia will overhear it, jump in and ask, “what about me? How was my homework? Did I do a good job too?” I have learned not to say “you’re great too, honey!” all the time. But instead, to explain that I love them both and they both do things well, but that I am entitled to compliment one without complimenting the other at every instance.

It doesn’t mean I love any one less or more than the other; just that there are times to give praise, times to receive it, and times to sit back and listen and just feel happy for your sister.

Equity over equality.

(They don’t understand that at all right now, but eh. One day.)

I have been a vocal advocate of positive portrayals of fathers in advertising. I recognize that they too are undervalued and misrepresented in their own way, and I will continue to support more progress towards inclusiveness. But inclusiveness isn’t the same as all-inclusiveness. And that’s where I think we’re starting to go off the rails a bit.

With Mother’s Day coming up. I want to be able to say, “yo, moms! Way to go. Keep it up!” without the fear of criticism that I’m somehow leaving fatherhood out.

Otherwise, where does it end? Are we just going start saying Happy Human’s Day! once a year and leave it at that?

It’s my hope that sometimes we can thank moms for the jobs they do. Other times, we can thank dads for the jobs they do. We can say “Grandmas rock” without Grandpas world over taking up with pitchforks and torches and storming the headquarters of American Greetings. We can say, “Dad you’re the best” and not presume that means that Mom is second best.

And when Father’s Day rolls around in June, I really hope we say just that. Whether or not we’re selling soap or cards or razors, or just saying it because, at that moment, that’s exactly how we feel.


27 thoughts on “Is praising moms the same as dissing dads?”

  1. Excellent question. I think in this case it just reflects a transition during which people are more sensitive. The same way women complained (I think rightly) when they were not included in examples or word problems in other than stereotypical roles. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and he still has to correct other men who refer to watching their own children as “babysitting” and remind them that what they are doing is called “parenting.”

    I find it encouraging, for the most part, that dads are essentially asking to be included, even if in some cases it feels awkward or needlessly pushy right now. Down the line I expect that to help the status of all parents.

    1. Korinthia, I remember writing a defense of stay at home dads in 2006, suggesting people don’t call them the babysitter. I wonder how far we’ve come when I hear that. I like what you said about dads asking to be included. As I said on Facebook (where people prefer to comment these days it seems), that indicates a level of progress in itself. But then, I think about the times when I was single and lonely and Valentine’s Day made me a little batty. Not sure if it’s the perfect analogy, but I didn’t get angry at everyone who supported, promoted, or acknowledged Valentine’s Day just because it didn’t include me in the same way. I just made the day work for me best I could–or ignored it. And tried to be happy for the women at work who always got huge vases filled with red roses while my desk was empty. I wasn’t always happy, of course. But I tried.

  2. I’ve had this conversation for about forever, give or take, with various parent types on the Internets, and I don’t understand why some think you can/should only support moms or dads. Just support people, people.

    Obviously I’m in the business of encouraging brands to portray dads in a more positive light, but that doesn’t mean taking it from moms or otherwise putting them down. It’s not a competition.

    Think of the children.

  3. Yes, just yes. I will thank my dad and love my husband in june. May is for me and my mom. Having said that, I am not a huge fan of hallmark holidays in general. I’m just not so sentimental about those days. But i agree that there is a huge difference between not includingand excluding. If only the great wide Internets could grasp nuance. 🙂

  4. I have similar feelings every time I read a book with the traditional nuclear family. Currently, yes, my two children have both Mom and Dad in the same home, but our marriage has had its struggles. Sometimes I think about what it would be like if I was a single mom and how it would irritate the heck out of me if every book we opened was nauseatingly Ozzie and Harrietish. As a society and for the sake of all children, we all need to be more open-minded to all angles of parenthood.

    1. Thanks for this Susanna. I think of this too. I was a cohabitating, unmarried mother who spent years being asked about “my husband” or being called by my ex’s last name–and now, as a single mom, there are still presumptions. But you know? It doesn’t make me angry. It just makes me more sensitive and aware to other ways of living. When I’m editing a post on my site, I look out for phrases like “so you and your husband can….” and think of other ways to state it.

      As I said, when you’ve been marginalized a lot, you become more sensitive. So I get the frustration that other single parents I know have. But I also recognize that the world is not about me, and that I am not the majority. A Mother’s Day card with HEY MOM! REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU AND DAD BLAH BLAH BLAH on the cover isn’t there to “offend me.” I just see it as there for other people.

      So thank you for wanting to be more open-minded. I think that creates more inclusion by default.

  5. Great post! I think about this a lot, too. I wonder if it comes from our general “trophy culture,” where everyone wins and no one gets left out. Seems to have permeated the adult world too, huh?

    Just as I believe it’s silly to give every kid on the soccer team a trophy and give every birthday party attendee an elaborate “goody bag,” I think it’s silly to be offended when a certain segment of the population has a special day all to themselves. Let the moms enjoy their day. Let the dads enjoy their day. AMEN.

  6. When people open their mouths to complain about the lack of focus on fathers on Mother’s Day, I get confused. I mean…isn’t that what Father’s Day is for?

    I just really don’t like the “But what about ME?” mentality that rears up any time someone is recognized for anything. Take last month, when Gloria Steinem was everywhere, and there was that small whisper of “But what about Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Was she not pretty enough?” Hells bells, people, she wasn’t the one turning 80. (Because she was dead.)

  7. In the past, there was a legitimate distinction between the roles of men and women and Moms and Dads. Moms stayed home and did the lions share of the parenting and Dads were the financial providers. Therefore it seemed appropriate to celebrate Moms and Dads on different days as they in essence were different. Now, parenting and providing are a more equal responsibility. Both Moms and Dads are involved in all aspects of the family life. Some Dads go to work, some Moms go to work and often both go to work. Same goes for taking care of the kids. Point is, to have separate days for Moms and Dads makes less and less sense. Today it is just “parenting” and maybe it would be more appropriate to have a “Parents” day. This way everyone feels appreciated, no one is left out and society starts portraying this as team effort. Although I am quite sure Hallmark would never let this happen 😉

    1. Hi Bryan, I think you’re making some big assumptions. There are so many different types of families. And I don’t think having a separate day for both moms and dads means their roles have to be radically different. It’s simply giving them each a day to celebrate all they each do for the family. Should we eliminate birthdays and have one world birthday day, too? 😉

    2. I’ve been thinking about this comment for a couple of days now Bryan, and I have to say I like being “Mom” and not “Parent.” I like identifying with a community of moms within the subset of parents. If you read parent blogs (I do say parent blogs, so there’s your inclusiveness, ha) I think you’ll see that both dads and moms blog about their kids very very differently and relate to one another differently too. I don’t think that dads are moms with penises–we bring different things to the party based on experience, biology, social and cultural norms, and the way we operate in the world. What you are describing would suggest that we are no more than the sum of our responsibilities at home, and I think on a human level, if nothing else, that bears more thought.

      There’s something special about moms. There’s something special about dads. I know my kids get really excited about celebrating both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And on a personal level, it would make me said to be “Parent” to my kids. Just my emotional response to your suggestion.

    3. I think you have an unrealistic view of the parenting world. Yes, many more fathers are participating in their childrens’ lives than in prior generations. It’s still not common to have an equal share in childrearing and childcare between parents.

      I speak with dozens of parents every week. It’s still mom and the kids for the majority. Even when both parents work, dads don’t split the housework or actively participate with the children except when it’s convenient. I wish it were different. There are lots of scholarly studies looking at the uneven strain on mothers versus fathers.

      I am an advocate of positive portrayals of both parents. We don’t watch TV shows with nagging moms or dopey dads. I promote excellent examples of active fathering, such as Whit (above) and his cohorts.

      I agree with Liz that each parent has a special place. Not all parents are mothers or fathers, but lumping it all into “parents day” takes away from the childrens’ opportunity to celebrate one parent at time.

  8. Oh my god people need to stop drinking the kale smoothies and get some balls or steel ovaries already.

  9. I saw that video and thought it was hilarious. Mind you, before the “reveal”, I thought it was just a prank to see what people would do to get a job.
    My husband, who does a lot of the stay at home parenting, was a bit annoyed. I can understand that feeling because I hate it when every single housecleaning ad has the women doing the cleaning, even if that is probably still the norm. Overall, it was funny and I don’t like to be overly political correct about these things. I like to say Merry Christmas even if it’s more correct to say Happy Holidays. And sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge the hard job of motherhood without feeling like we have to include dads and other caregivers.

  10. That there are dads who feel that praising moms slights them is not just silly; it’s indicative of a certain type of entitlement, that of upper middle class white guys who just have to constantly make everything about them, who create “issues” and are oblivious to real problems and struggles. I guess the only thing I feel these days when seeing the Hallmark Card Universe of ads aimed at parents – moms and dads alike – is that the narrative is completely skewed towards the comfortable stereotype of “traditional” parents, not necessarily moms, or even dads (car ads featuring white bearded hipster young dads and their shiny new Jettas bug the shit out of me). When I say “traditional”, I’m talking about the focus on the privileged – upper middle class white straight married couples. (And I’ll fully cop to the fact that even though I’m a single dad and it’s tough, I’m a single WHITE dad, and so I’m playing with a stacked deck compared to many others.) The world of The TV Commercial Parent is not my reality, and it’s not the reality of a lot of people. So when Internet Dads get upset because they feel like they’re being slighted, I can’t help but feel embarrassed for them.

  11. I work with a lot of moms and dads. It’s usually the mom who hires me and the dad almost seems to be there under threat or something (haha). But I understand why he’s rarely into my coaching initially, it’s because he’s the “fixer”. Men don’t like asking for direction with driving OR parenting, it’s like they’ve failed. Once they know that I understand and appreciate them, they’re right on board. They feel just as much stress and concern over their children as moms, they just don’t express it as feel like a failure if they do. It’s a whole male ego thing and I really sympathize with them having to suffer in silence. Believe me, once I get ahold of them, they open right up as all they’re looking for is someone to listen without judgement … and help them FIX things.

  12. As someone who was raised by a single Dad I was irritated. Not in the way you describe, not because I think you can’t praise Moms without also praising Dads. I was irked because the video poised this stupid job description…and the answer to the question “Who does this job?” was “Moms!” So – I’m not irritated that Moms got praise and Dads didn’t, I’m irritated because there were multiple answers to the question and only one got credit.

    There’s a difference. If BOTH of my kids cleaned the house, and I knew that, and rewarded only ONE of them, then I’m ignoring the fact that one of them did it completely. And therefore they have the right to be irritated.

    It’s not about being able to praise Moms and Dads separately and equally, it’s about posing the stupid question this video poses: “Who would do this tireless job for no pay?” and the ONLY answer they gave was, “Moms!”

    And yes, it’s a Mother’s Day thing…but they don’t reveal that until the end. When you realize it’s a gimmick for a card company. At that point? I was already beyond irritated. So, yeah, I get it. Stupid gimmick for a stupid greeting card company tricking my emotions. But my problem is there was MORE than one answer to that “Who does this job for no pay?” thing…and by leaving out the answer, “Dads” then I was officially irritated.

    1. This is an excellent point! My husband is the primary caretaker of our kids, and he was annoyed by this commercial, too, for the reasons you described.

      Further–and I realize I may catch hell for this–being a parent (mom or dad!) is important. And it’s hard. But so is working. So is not being a parent. So the thing that bothers me most about this commercial is that it sets it up like being a mom (only) is so entirely all-consuming that you never rest or have any time for yourself, and that’s just not true. Literally. How about getting over the hyperbole and the Suffering Competition (“This job is THE HARDEST. EVER.”) and just focus on doing what we do, whatever that is, well?

      1. MW thanks for your comment. I’ve seen a similar argument around, about the martyr thing or the “suffering competition” and I want to address that. It’s the marketer here nudging you to give your mom a little love; it’s not an ad featuring mothers asking to be praised for what they do at all. In fact, isn’t the whole point of the copy? That moms don’t ask for thanks or raises or time off, so we (the brand) are doing it on their behalf?

        In any, case I totally get your husband’s pov. It’s hard being ahead of the curve, and SAHDs really still are. Kudos to both of you for doing what works for your family.

        1. Agreed that it’s the marketers. But I also feel that we are the marketers!

          It’s sort of like TV news. Everyone hates that TV news focuses on the bad things. But they focus on the bad things because that’s what sells. I think in this case, the marketers are taking advantage of our (society’s) tendency to play the suffering competition.

          In the same way, we want marketers to stop utilizing scantily clad booth babes and stop showing young girls with “sexy” across the butt of their panties, I think it’s fair game to say, “no, marketers, this isn’t going to work in selling your greeting cards!

          1. I hear your point MW (and I am a marketer, for real). But I guess it’s debatable whether a description of hard-working mothers is such an egregious premise that it requires a widespread indignant response or boycott from consumers. (I do have a little trouble comparing this with the exploitation of women at trade shows who are not recognized for what they do, but how they look.)

            I totally get that you hate it. You are entitled! You are entitled to burn your entire laptop in effigy. Just bear in mind that I’m seeing thousands of shares on my Facebook page from women and men alike, saying things like, “this made me cry” and “this made me call my mother right away because I never remember to thank her.” Not because they think their mothers are hard-suffering slaves to child-rearing, but because it brought to mind their own specific experiences. Doubtful they remember their mom doing 135 hour weeks of work with no breaks when they were babies; but maybe they think of a mother who gave up a career to raise them, or who worked two jobs to put them through college, or who simply just loved them and supported them when they needed it most. It’s a general premise leading to a specific emotional response.

            In the end, I think they’re just asking you to thank your mother on Mother’s Day for whatever it is she’s done for you.

            And maybe it reminds all those children of single dads to thank them too.

            That doesn’t negate your own opinion of course, and you are not alone. But in my own opinion, I think that there are far more awful portrayals of women and men in marketing out there.

            Thanks for engaging! I really do appreciate hearing other perspectives.

    2. Thanks Zoot, I think that’s a fair point about a single answer to the question and I hadn’t seen it that way. You learned me!

      That said, I still saw it as a whole as hyperbole, making a pretty basic point: “be nice to your mom, she doesn’t get a lot of credit for the stuff she’s done for you.”

      One thing I’ve learned about all this is that a big part of the Internets (or maybe the outspoken part, or the bloggers or media critics) have issues with deliberate misleads in ads. I’m probably more with the huddled masses who like them when the payoff is worth it, and this one happened to work for me. But you make very clear and fair arguments about why it didn’t work for you.

  13. There’s a Mother’s Day card I’ve seen that really rubs me the wrong way. It reads, “The best Mothers get promoted to Grandmothers.” My choosing to be childless should not impinge on my own mother’s greatness, and I realize I’m probably still a wee bit more sensitive to the subject than I thought, but seriously? The only way to achieve greatness as a mother is to coerce your offspring to procreate? Gross.

    1. Uh yeah, I could see where that message irks Lysa. Totally.

      But then, I also think about the way cards work: There are zillions. They are specific, not general, and the idea is that one is just right for you. I mean, do you know how hard it is to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t mention mowing the lawn, drinking beer, commanding the remote control, teaching you to drive, and golf? Usually ALL at the same time? And you’d think every single grandfather goes fishing. My kids’ Grandpa would sooner be found in a James Beard cooking class learning how to prepare fish–not catch one.

  14. The first generation of “everyone gets a medal; everyone wins!” comes of age and doesn’t understand how anything cannot be wholly and inclusively about “everybody!” It’s refreshing to hear how you differentiate equity from equality. More of that in this world, please!

  15. I didn’t take “offense” to the video/discussion at all. The campaign is clearly about Mother’s Day. It wasn’t a “Parent’s Day” video. And there could easily be another video released for Father’s Day. That being said – I did notice that everything the mentioned in the video applies/can apply to Dads as well. And to a small degree felt “excluded.” But again – the ad isn’t about parenting. It’s about celebrating Moms for Mother’s Day. As you pointed out – just because you praise one child doesn’t mean you’re dissing the other.

Comments are closed.