Something unusual happens at our weekly mommy-and-me class, and I wonder if it happens at others. Whenever a dad comes, we clap. On days when a dad graces us with his presence, the teacher points
it out to everyone.
"We have a daddy with us today," she says, while clapping and gesticulating at the moms to join her in applause. I clapped along
with everyone else the first time a dad visited our group.
But the next time it
happened, and the time after that, I caught myself wondering, "Why
are we clapping at all?"
The room is filled
with moms—and grandmothers and aunts—who are there week after
week. We could be at Sephora right now. But we're not. We're sitting
on tiny chairs guiding our toddlers as they push shapes into wooden
boxes or make masterpieces with stamps carved from potatoes. We watch
out for each other's kids. We quash conflicts (usually arising from
lack of sharing). We pack healthy snacks and then wipe up the crumbs.
I made play doh from scratch and cooked it on a hot plate in the
classroom. I'm committed, as is every other woman in the room.
We could be at Sephora right now. But we're not.
I genuinely enjoy
our class, and I'm not even saying we deserve an applause for being
moms (nah, we totally do). What I'm saying is that it's preposterous
to praise dads for doing what moms do all the time. It's not fair to
dads either. Dads shouldn't have to feel like being in a class with
his kid makes him some counter-culture revolutionary. And no, he's
not filling in for mom—he's being a dad.
This has happened in
other ways too. A cashier remarked to my husband that she thought it
was so sweet for him to be out grocery shopping with her. My husband
was praised by family for changing diapers and getting up at night
when she was a newborn.
When I do those things, it's unremarkable. When he does them, he's a saint.
I probably wouldn't mind if moms got equal praise in other ways. But when moms become the primary income earners in their families, they don't get the same
kind of fanfare. No one is saying, "Jane came into the office today
despite having a baby at home, let's all clap for her!" If
anything, many working moms face judgment for their their perceived
lack of professional commitment. Meanwhile, hardly anyone asks men
how they balance work and family. And on top of all that, they get praised for showing up to mommy-and-me?
I'll clap for every one of us, or none of us. But I won't clap just for some.