Mr. Mom vs. Mom – Double Standard?

I got a letter from a reader who was up in the middle of the night stewing over praise heaped on men when they are seen to be caring for their children.  Her frustration practically leaps off the screen as she insists mothers don’t get the same public empathy fathers do.  This is what she says:

If you see an exasperated mother with her kids in the grocery store, exhausted, overwhelmed from a full day’s work, picking up dinner, scolding her children for acting out–what opinion do you form? Is it positive? I think probably not. Would she encounter hostility or rolling eyes? Maybe. Probably. “Why didn’t she plan ahead?”  you’d wonder.  “Maybe she shouldn’t be working if…..”

 BUT, if you subtract the mother and put the father in her place…..isn’t he glorified? “What a hero..he must be exhausted…..I feel so badly for him.  Where is the wife…..shouldn’t she have dinner ready?…blah blah blah.”  Doesn’t it seem like a father and a mother can perform an identical caregiving task, but be perceived and judged on totally different levels? According to completely opposite standards? 

 What are the things that a mother “should” do? And why is it that people have such ingrained ideas and opinions regarding what “those things” are? Are there such “things”?  And who decides this? More importantly, why are we, as mothers, crucified if we are perceived as not measuring up? To whose standards, anyways? And why is our society so hard on its mothers?  Am I not being a good enough mother because I don’t make lunches everyday or do laundry 24/7 like June Cleaver?

Well, readers, what do you think?  Can you help my insomniac friend?  Is her perception accurate?  Is it fair?  Can it be changed?  Leave your comments below, or write me directly at

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

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  • Nicole Johns

    The perception is unfortunately accurate. However, I see that we women/mothers share a good portion of the blame for the persistence of these idealized stereotypes of motherhood. We are the ones who judge other mothers over their various choices and behaviors (breastfeeding vs. formula, home birth vs. hospital birth, working vs, staying at home, etc.). It’s maddening! We should offer help and support to each other, but in general, in the larger social context, we don’t. We are still socialized to think we have to do it all on our own. We can’t blame the men for the praise they receive; half the time it is other women/mothers praising our partners, not other men. The perceptions will change when we change our own thinking. As long as I keep acting as if my partner is “doing me a favor” when he takes the primary role in care-taking, well I am part of the problem not part of the solution.

  • christy myers baxter

    I wrote this as a response to my friend Nicole Johns sharing this on FB, but wanted to share it here too:

    I find that I hear a lot of women — some who are normally sensible souls! — going gaga over their husband / partner do the most BASIC thing! It used to make me wonder if they were employing a “praise them to be what you want them to be” model of organizational behavior. But lately I’ve started thinking that is goes further than that — the gushing is akin to how adults praise a toddler — WAY too enthusiastic for such a small effort ; ). And, since men are adults, I don’t know that infantilizing them is the best way to go…toddlers add new skills and build on praise behavior. Adults seem to keep their actions limited to what they are congratulated for, so no more medals for changing a diaper, I say! Moms, we are partly responsible for this cycle!

  • christy myers baxter

    and yes — the blame, guilt, and judging that we women subject each other to is just short of criminal…

  • LindaJ

    Part of the back story of mothers judging other mothers is that the choices we mothers are forced to make are not necessarily the choices we would make, given other options. For example, we have to make a choice regarding working once we have children, but for most mothers, cutting back hours or going part-time as some might hope to do when our babies are very young, is not a viable option. We lose the chance for proportional advancement, benefits and pay. If we return to full time work quickly, are flex options available for those inevitable times when it’s heartbreaking to not be there for a child’s illness or other family circumstance without penalty? If those options were available, it would be a different ball game. Since the choices are not optimal, once we’ve made whatever choices we’ve made, we defend against the opposite choice so we feel justified in our choice. In many cases, it’s a defense mechanism so we feel better about our choices and helps handle the guilt about the negative aspects of our less than optimal options. We have to keep in mind that any choice made, especially around workforce participation, could be temporary due to changed circumstances, a layoff, an illness, etc. that causes us to leave or re-enter the workforce as needed – assuming you can find a job in this economy. We are in this together and Valerie Young does a great job in pointing out how all mothers (and other caregivers too) can benefit from changes in policy and culture to support the care of our families that is essential – for the economy, for children, for families, and for each and every one of us.

  • Jennifer Gleason Minear

    There’s a lot of food for thought here, in the post and the comments.

    What strikes me is that the entire concept of judging a mother is predicated on the entitlement of any one person to pass judgment on another.

    This is an elementary concept, right?—to refrain from passing judgment on another until you’ve walked in their shoes. Well, walking in someone else’s shoes is impossible, isn’t it?

    Temperaments, personalities and life experiences collectively contribute to who a person is at any given time in her life—and that unique, dynamic equation is hers, and hers alone, like a fingerprint—no one else’s. But still—from the sidelines, behind backs, in the minds of others—we hear, or perhaps don’t hear: “She doesn’t make her children’s lunches!” or “Her daughter’s hair wasn’t brushed today!”

    And if she does make her children’s lunches or brush her daughter’s hair, a mother is doing what she “should”. A father makes lunches or brushes his daughter’s hair, and a hero is born! “What an amazing father!”

    Ok, he may be an amazing father. (I’m married to one, and there are a ton of others out there.) But he’s not an amazing father because he made lunch or brushed hair. That’s being a parent.

    Anyone in possession of a discerning mind has to acknowledge the double standard here, and if they don’t, they probably aren’t mothers.

    Because for those of us who are mothers, whether or not we’re guilty of judging one of our own, whether or not we’re guilty of perpetuating the lopsided cycle of parental praise and criticism—so many of us ALREADY question everything we do, and more often than not, we guilt ourselves over the head for not measuring up. We certainly don’t need to be vilified by anyone else.