One of the things I hear from time to time when I talk with someone about the fact that I am the at-home parent is, "Well, you're just as good as your wife, right?"
What comments like these are trying to get at is the commonly held idea that dads are as good as moms and that men can do anything women can do when it comes to caring for the kids. Writer Joseph Schatz captured this view in his book Daddy, Where's Your Vagina? when he writes, “We can do anything they can do with the exception of gestating the baby and breast feeding.”
I have to say…..I disagree. While it is true that there are certain anatomical equipment that allow women to perform unique physical roles for the care and nurturing of their offspring, I believe it is wrong to assume that beyond those roles we men can meet every other need. Because here's the deal, while it may be true that we can, the child doesn't necessary want us to.
There is a powerful bonding experience that is intended and created between mother and child through those early months of life. The smell of mom, the taste of mom, the feel of mom, and the sounds of mom, all add up to a catalogue of early impressions for an infant in that first year that get cemented in their neurological wiring. And that wiring relays one primary message: this person meets my every need. Day or night, rain or shine, she provides for my comfort and my needs. She is soft, she is gentle, and she is always there. Those early impressions are so foundational and make such a lasting impression that mom becomes the "go-to" person when the chips are down. It's not that dads can't be there to comfort their children, or that dads can't comfort them well (virtually in every way identical to moms) it's just that at those times of crisis or distress the child reverts back to their hard-wired setting and asks for mom.
It has been my observation and experience over these many years of being in this role that this is the case. And the times when this default setting usually surfaces are in times like: when they are sick, or hurt, or scared, or in other ways distressed. They are times when comfort is needed or a very real need has surfaced. In these moments who do they ask for? Mom. It's almost automatic.
I have tried to fight this situation and have done my best on behalf of men everywhere to over-ride that circuitry with my kids in times of need and make them see that I am capable of doing anything mom can do - the Joseph Schatz model - even though they ask for mom. And while I can perform those duties and often do (and have for a decade) it is fascinating to me that "mommy" is often still the first person they still ask for. There's something to that first year of life. Something powerful. Something good. Don't take it personally men. Step up and faithfully provide love and care in the many opportunities you have, but if mom is called for and is prepared to help, there's no shame in sitting one out.