[WORK-LIFE BALANCE] Breaking Through Mom-Centric Programming

This image from Pampers has been causing a bit of a stir among “dadvocates.”

Image courtesy RebelDad.com

At first glance, you might not find anything unusual, but check it again and you’ll see mom on the floor playing with the kids, while dad is asleep on the couch.

Thank Brian Reid for bringing it to our attention.  Brian is the trailblazing at-home father and the author of the terrific blog “Rebeldad.” (www.rebeldad.com) He got the pamphlet with the image in question from Pampers a few days after he wrote them and told them he was boycotting their diapers. Why the boycott?  Four years of Mother’s Day emails like these:

Hello BRIAN,
Happy Mothers Day!
Thanks, Mom for all that you do.
On this special day, check out the tribute that Pampers has for you! Come join us and other moms on Facebook and YouTube, and take a moment to share what you love best about being a mother.

What at first seems like a laughable corporate botch-up is really an accurate insight into how fathers and men are viewed and portrayed by both pop culture and advertising.  It is also indicative of how we can subtly push dad out of the parenting culture.

Over at justaskawoman.com, Tracy Chapman, who according to her bio is “a pioneer of innovative techniques for mining consumer insights,” adds the following observation on the ad campaign and Brian’s boycott:

“We know that Moms generally take on more of the responsibilities, so excluding Dads from the Thanks campaign (by having him asleep on the couch) doesn’t bother me. But showing him watching from afar feels like the brand is disconnected from the family and knowing Moms, she wants to be as inclusive as possible!   I say put Dad on the floor and make everyone feel good!”

While I applaud Chapman’s “feel good” solution, she totally misses the point (or perhaps she totally gets the point and that’s why she’s a marketing consultant).

Could moms “generally take on more of the responsibilities” because of ads like this?

We are quick to point to the potentially devastating effect advertising can have on young women— we blame it for everything from low self image to eating disorders to suicide.  When do we have the discussions about the messages those same mediums have on young men?

My point here is not to pick on Chapman or Pampers (though I have joined the boycott, too). Nor is it to say that this particular ad campaign is overwhelmingly offensive. My point is to demonstrate one of the myriad of forces which work to keep dad distant and mom as the go-to parent. A lifetime of being bombarded with images of either impossibly rugged men or inept or uninvolved dads will surely send skewed messages to boys about what it means to be a man.

Decades of programming of both sexes can emerge when a woman becomes pregnant. If she is lucky, she will be surrounded by a community of mothers and grandmothers, as well as aunts and friends who have already given birth. Support for a pregnant woman is essential, but the unintended result is that men can be subtly pushed aside.  It doesn’t take much excluding to deter even a well intentioned father-to-be, let alone the man who is hesitant to venture into a forum which he’s already been programmed to believe is a mother’s domain.

As an example, my wife’s best friend recently gave birth to her first child.  When I inquired about the shower, my wife told me that the men “aren’t allowed.”

“What about her husband?’ I asked.

“He doesn’t want to go,” my wife replied.

No wonder.

None of this means that dad is discouraged from loving his child; it just starts the fallacy that mom is the expert and women are the “natural parents.”  The default for a father to show his love then becomes the old standard: work long and hard, and make lots of money.

The road to men’s work life imbalance can begin right here—at conception.  Dad starts down the “provider first” path even though he yearns to be more involved with his kids and mom is pushed toward the ‘primary care giver role’- or in the words of our advertising guru, “the one who takes on more of the responsibilities.”

It would be wonderful if prenatal classes included a section or two called “Identifying Pitfalls and Overcoming the Hurdles on the Way to Successful Co-parenting.”  Many couples are oblivious to those obstacles.  This serves as a launching pad for my next column—how women can inadvertently exacerbate men’s work life balance.

Image credit: James Vaughan

2 thoughts on “[WORK-LIFE BALANCE] Breaking Through Mom-Centric Programming

  1. Chapman’s rationale here is nonsense. Pampers didn’t exclude dads from the campaign, they ignored them and then marketed to them, even if it was unintentionally because they were too lazy to scrub their email list. And I fail to see how this “dad” was watching from afar if he was asleep.

    Even in today’s age of the more “enlightened father” there are plenty of stories of mothers complaining about their husbands involvement in their children’s lives, yet the marketing messages haven’t bothered to reflect a mother’s desire to have an equal partner in the parenting process. And now you have an alleged marketing expert reinforcing that notion.

    My question is, which is it? Do mothers want exclusive domain over the parenting world? You would think that based on parenting magazines and the advertisements contained in them. Or, do they want active, involved fathers? If the latter is the case, then the marketing messages and attitudes must change.

    Before my son was born I suffered through the prenatal classes that essentially regarded me as a either a dolt or a neanderthal. Did it aggravate the heck out of me, absolutely. Did I let the stupidity of a dated message deter me from being an involved father, no. I’m a SAHD and I’m not afraid to tell anyone who asks what I do that I’m a SAHD.

    I wasn’t invited to my wife’s baby shower because it was women only. I was a disappointed because that was my child too and it wasn’t like there was some immaculate conception. I was, and very much am, a part of my child’s life. Now that we are expecting our second child in the next few weeks I was included in the “sprinkle” that my mother is throwing for my wife because she recognizes excluding a parent from an event celebrating a child’s birth would be wrong.

    Regardless, it is still up to father’s of my generation to continue to work to change these attitudes and the marketing messages that are produced from them. The only way to get them to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths is to be the example.

    To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt – dads today must “speak softly and carry a big diaper bag”.

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