About Me

My photo
I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


About a mile from our house, there’s a community center that offers playgroups several days a week. Before my son was in school, I took him there often, and now I take my 1-year-old daughter. It’s close, it’s cheap, and it provides valuable socialization for my daycare-less kids.

The community center is where I’ve met about 90% of the men and women (mostly women) in my network of stay-at-home parents. It’s also where I’ve encountered countless absurd comments that could inspire legions of blog posts. But that’s not what I’m going to write about today. Rather, I’m going to write about the painful lack of absurd comments—or any comments, for that matter. I’m going to write about silence. Undisguised, unmistakable silence.

It happens all the time. There I am, the dad, walking into the playgroup room with a child in my arm and a diaper bag over my shoulder. There she is, some random mom, sitting at the snack table, reading a magazine or looking at her phone, glancing at her kid every once in a while. I nod and say hello as I enter. She gives a polite smile and, without a word, goes back to what she was doing.

OK, I think. Not everyone has to jump out of their seats at the sight of another parent. She’s here to sit for a while and let her kid play, just like I am. Like I said, it’s the kids who are there to socialize, not the parents.

So we sit in silence for a few minutes. Then, in walks another mom with her kid. And another with her kids. And another. They greet each other, they settle in, their kids play. The buzz of conversation slowly begins, and soon the room is humming with children frolicking and moms chatting and laughing about bedtimes, feeding routines and discipline strategies. Some of them clearly know each other, but others are definitely strangers, as I overhear several introductions. (“I’m Katie, and this is my daughter Indigo.” “Hi, Katie. I’m Sarah, and this is Maxton.”)

Wait a minute, I think. What’s happening? I thought the lady reading the magazine just wasn’t social, and now she’s yammering on with two other women about the best overnight diapers and which brand of sippy cup is BPA-free. And there I sit, in a chair designed for a 3-year-old, looking like the new kid in school. Or just the kid everyone avoids because he always smells like cat pee.

I realize it takes time to be accepted into any new group. That’s cool. And, to be clear, I’ve met plenty of personable moms who have accepted me immediately. As for the ones who don’t, I’m a big boy and I can take it. It’s just that it fascinates me how blatant it can sometimes be.

For instance, some moms were sitting around one week talking about laundry detergent. I know it sounds cliché, but I speak the truth. When moms get together—the moms I witness anyway—they talk about laundry detergent and baby shampoo. I’m all for breaking down stereotypes (that’s the whole point of this blog), but damned if I don’t overhear a conversation about which brand of cleanser won’t scratch the bathtub or some such domestic matter every time I show up to playgroup. It’s like being on the other side of the glass during a Procter & Gamble focus group.

This particular week, as I said, it was laundry detergent. Do you pay the extra money for name brand, or is the store brand just as good? Liquid or powder? Scented or unscented? And don’t even get me started on dryer sheets.

I sat in my seat apart from the group, listening for a few minutes before weighing in. I figured, if they won’t ask for my opinion, I’ll take the initiative and offer it unsolicited. Then they’ll see I’m one of them, and I’ll be accepted.

“My son has eczema,” I said. “So we’ve switched to unscented everything.”

They all stopped speaking and turned to look at me.

“Unscented body wash, unscented detergent, unscented dryer sheets,” I continued. “We use All Free Clear. It works just as well, and his skin has really improved.”

There was a moment of silence from both sides. Probably a second or two, but it seemed like much longer. Then, slowly, they all turned back to one another, shook off whatever it was that had just happened, and picked up their discussion where they had left off.

And that was that. My attempt to join the party had failed. They carried on conversing, and I went back to keeping my mouth shut.

About a half hour later, I discovered that my contribution to the laundry detergent forum did break the ice a bit. As I was preparing to leave, a mom who was packing up her stuff alongside me started making some chit-chat.

“So you, like, do the laundry and stuff?” she asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, clearly interested but not really knowing what else to say.

Silence followed as we zipped shut our diaper bags and grabbed our kids.

“OK, have a good day then,” I said. And we parted ways.

Another playgroup, another hour of awkward silence, I thought on my way home. As I considered this lady’s question, however, it occurred to me that I had stumbled on a possible revelation. Maybe I had an answer as to why these moms don’t include me in their domestic discussions.

See, I assume all stay-at-home parents do the bulk of the housework. They’re the ones home during the day, so it just makes sense that they would handle the laundry, grocery shopping, and what not. But, if this lady’s question is any indication, these moms assume I don’t do these things. “So you, like, do the laundry and stuff?” the lady had asked. The notion had never occurred to her, so she didn’t even think to include me in the discussion.

These moms weren’t necessarily ignoring me because I gave them the creeps (although I still kept that open as a possibility); they were ignoring me because they figured I wouldn’t have any interest or input in what they were talking about. It’s akin to a bunch of men sitting around talking about football while ignoring the one or two women in the room.

As anyone with a partially open mind can understand, that’s not really fair. Still, it happens to both sexes all the time. Just as some men assume sports talk is a boys-only club, certain women assume child-rearing chat is girls-only territory, and they’re protective of it. No boys allowed.

To a certain extent, I’ve got it coming. Everyone knows sexism almost always hurts women, not men. Women are the ones who get talked down to by mechanics. They’re the ones whose gender is used as an insult—nobody ever disparages a kid by saying, “You throw like a boy.” They’re the ones who—in 2014, for god’s sake—get paid 77 cents to the man’s dollar for doing the same damn job.

One thing women have on men, however, is parenting. Moms, not dads, are still seen as the family nurturers. They’re the experts in raising children and managing households. So I can imagine their confusion and possible resentment when I strut in, trying to talk about unscented laundry detergent. Men have taken away enough from women over the years, and here I am trying to horn in on something they’re universally seen as better at.

Ah, the hell with it. Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe I really do just give them the creeps. I suppose the next time I go to a playgroup, I should wear pants.

No comments:

Post a Comment