All Parents Can Meet This Standard

When faced with a double standard—and there are so many for parents—we have a choice: Do we eliminate the standard or do we apply it equally? One we’ve been talking about here recently is the way that ​mothers are expected to make kids central to their lives and their identity​ (personally and professionally) while fathers so often are not.

Evelyn McDonnell in her book The World According to Joan Didion points out that Didion’s author and press photos often included her daughter Quintana while her husband, the novelist John Gregory Dunne never did. Some of this was Didion’s choice but a lot of it was publicists, publishers and photo editors—they wanted to send one message with Mom and another with Dad, even though they both had the same job. In ​a recent book review in the Washington Post, Kimberly Harrington notices a female author’s very intentional choice to introduce her children and their feelings about her extremely personal book in the first pages. “[The author] feels the need to detail how much she loves her children and loves being a mother, even on the worst days,” Harrington notes. “I’ve come to think of this as the Mother Tax of memoir writing, a levy that never seems to come due for men.”

It’s true, ​Hemingway would never take the time to explain where his kids were​ while he was off having the adventures he details in one of his books. Male movie directors are rarely asked if they missed their family while they were crafting their masterpiece. But is that the standard we should hold (artist) parents to? Or should we expect them both to do better?

We’ve talked a lot here about how fathers can do a better job making it clear what their most important job is. ​Having a family is not a second, secret life—it is your life. Talk about it. Don’t hide it. Prioritize it. We expect mothers to do this for good reason. Isn’t it time that we accept as fathers that having kids is important, maybe the most important thing you will ever do?

And that’s why, as we’ve talked about before, ​labeling parenting a calling instead of a job is perhaps most appropriate.​Because a calling, whether that’s starting a business or developing a craft like writing or woodworking, isn’t something you choose—it chooses you. The same goes for parenting. You were designed, by millions of years of biology and evolution, to be a parent. And not just anyone’s parent—your child’s parent.

Don’t hide this. Embrace it. Make it part of your identity. Strive to live up to it. Hold yourself to its impossible standards, whatever your gender, whatever your culture, whatever your profession.

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