Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

Dad-judice Is a Thing, But Who are the Real Victims?

Dads aren't babysitters. So lets stop treating them that way.

Ashton Kutcher’s on to something.

Yup, Kelso.

“There are NEVER diaper changing stations in mens public restrooms,” Kutcher, the actor/director opined on Facebook earlier this year. “The first public men’s room that I go into that has one gets a free shout out on my FB page! #BeTheChange.”  

That something is dad-judice. And dad-judice – the assumption, whether implicit or overt, that dads are not involved caregivers –is an issue at work, at home, at the playground, on the Internet and, yes, in public restrooms.  

Kutcher doesn’t have you convinced? Consider, then, the recent groundswell of support for the Change.org and ThunderClap petitions calling on Amazon to change the name of “Amazon Mom” to “Amazon Family.” Yup, that’s dad-judice too.

These are little things, sure. But there are lots of them. 

Like when the friendly moms at the playground cast a wary eye at the new guy, wondering not whether he’s going to snatch up one of the kiddos, but where his wife is on this Wednesday afternoon. Or when a dad is seen as less committed to his job for taking paternity leave or not “playing the game” of thrice weekly after-work drinks.

These little things add up. And the net result of these subtle, even unconscious, instances of gender discrimination against dads is a perpetuation the systemic issues that stand in the way gender parity.

In short: Our dad-judice is not just undermining the abilities of men, but it’s hurting moms as well.

Our societal assumption that parenting is a woman’s responsibility stands in the way of the more equal breadwinner-caregiver dynamic that modern families are moving toward – in spite of us. From our parental leave policies all the way down to our public restrooms and Internet marketplaces, the role of fathers is consistently undervalued.

It shouldn’t be newsworthy when brands market to men using fatherhood instead of fast cars, but it is. Men shouldn’t call it babysitting when they’re home with the kids, but they do. And why don’t we ever talk about “working dads,” when we talk about “working moms” all the time?

Why aren’t more men getting upset by this? Society insulting them as parents, including the very companies they work for. If they did, then maybe it wouldn’t sound so crazy when Ashton Kutcher rants about public restrooms.

There’s great work being done by leading employers to address female retention issues by improving supports for working moms – an important step to improve gender parity in the workplace – but too many employers still overlook the struggles that men have with work-life balance.

Faced with the prospect of hurting your career by prioritizing the caregiving aspect of fatherhood, coupled with the subtle slights like the lack of changing stations in mens rooms, it becomes too easy for dads to double down at work while moms shoulder more of the load at home. In too many cases, that leads to women dropping out of the workforce.

The thing is, modern families want to share the load evenly.

Men and women are increasingly sharing the breadwinner-caregiver roles. In roughly 60 percent of families, both parents work. Dads still spend less time with their children than moms do, but they're narrowing the gap. Today, about 20 percent of dads identify as the primary caregiver of preschool-aged children when the mother is employed – and they’re doing more housework, too.

Yet here we are, in 2015, still assuming that moms are doing all the grocery shopping, the diaper changing, the default-parenting, while dads are the ones committed to the office first and family second. No, the divide at home still isn’t 50/50 – but it won’t be until society starts to assume that it is.

We can’t simply legislate our way to gender parity. We can’t put it all on employers to provide the breadwinner-caregiver balance that Millennial moms and dads expect. Not if we keep forgetting the little things.

Because it’s the little things that are going to make the big changes. The commercials with dads doing more. The word “Family” instead of “Mom.” Changing tables in mens rooms. Mandated paid paternity leave. If society starts expecting this of dads, then dads will start expecting it of themselves. And moms will get the break they deserve.

Dads don’t babysit their own kids. So let’s stop treating dads like babysitters and start treating them like parents.