Diaper Bag Dialogue: Disperse, You Men!

(Diaper Bag Dialog is a new series of posts inspired by conversations in the real world of the at-home dad. Like at the post office this morning. Cheerful 50-ish woman in line: “Your daughter’s shoes are on the wrong feet.” Me (smiling through clenched teeth): “But she got them on herself, didn’t she?”)

The Baltimore County Public Library has tons of great books in its children’s departments –- I can never walk out with less than a towering armload of books. An added gem at the Rosedale location is Storyville, a play area for preschoolers with a pretend store (complete with plastic vegetables and laminated fake money), fake garden and a couple of climbing structures. (www.bcplstoryville.org) If it were closer to our house, I’d go every week.

The group of at-home dads I hang out with gathered there last week, and it sparked some online chatter. It’s about the age-old double-standard when the at-home parent is a man, not a woman. Read on…

“There were four of us dads standing and talking at Storyville on Wednesday while our kids were ‘interacting’/playing with each other, when a librarian came up to us Dads and told us Storyville was intended for the parents to interact with their child and that more or less we should get to “interacting” with our kids.

“It didn’t bother me so much while I was there … but when I got home I thought about if the scenario was different and we were four mothers standing there. Would anyone have dared to walk up to four mothers and tell them they need to start interacting with their child??? And if they would have dared I am pretty sure the scenario would not have ended as peacefully as it did with us.”
–Joe K.

“Interesting. I’ve been there plenty of times to see moms talking with each other. Not an issue unless mom or dad’s kids are going crazy, I would think. But, what would a Dad know?”
–Tom M.

“That’s a pretty disgusting story. Good thing I wasn’t there because, being my father’s son, I would have lost my temper.

“I just emailed them asking for an apology (info@bcplstoryville.org). If I don’t get a reply, I’ll see what else we can do. Maybe email the County?”
–Oren M.

“My daughter and I have been to Storyville at least a dozen times during the last couple of years and not once was I instructed to “interact” with her, but only to make sure I didn’t leave her unattended (should be noted that we have gone there many times for playdates with other Dads). Sounds like another example of the all-too-prevalent “double standard” that sometimes still makes being a SAHD a little uncomfortable.

“Here’s another one: the mother of one of [my daughter’s] classmates approached me about a playdate with her child outside of school. As usual, I was agreeable and inquired about their availability. Her response: ‘Oh, um, what days is your wife available?!?’ Thanks … thanks a lot.”
–Christian

“In her defense, she was probably feeling nauseated by our in-depth analysis on the Patriots’ lambasting Monday and the genius of some fella named Sean Payton who, to her chagrin, turned out to be just some coach to some sport called football :)”
–Joe

###

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10 responses to “Diaper Bag Dialogue: Disperse, You Men!

  1. My husband follows dad’s forums, being an older guy who is personally interested in parenting and the issues full time dad’s face. We only wish this were a norm when we were raising children. He mentioned Christian’s post, because it seemed to make an unfair assumption about the friend’s mother.

    Social and cultural shifts are often a threat to the status quo. Women faced this as we entered realms traditionally dominated by men and, often, language to describe ambitious, intelligent, competetive women is not the same as it is for men. So, it takes courage to fight the current. Go full time Dads! Yay!

    It is possible that the mother who asked Christian about a play date and inquired when his wife may be home, ‘Oh, um, what days is your wife available?’ may have been lonely, was looking for some company, herself, and felt it would be inappropriate to arrange a date that included only the father and child. Please don’t jump to conclusions about sexist motivation. It is not fair to any of us.

    I agree it is annoying when other people tell us how to parent, what kids should eat, when they should nap, if they should have a hat on (or off). Nobody appreciates unsolicited advice (and before you accuse me of offering it, this forum is about sharing, n’est pas?) The lady in the post office, commenting on the child’s shoes, may just have been trying to be helpful, not critical, just as I am trying to be helpful when I see someone with an untied lace or toilet paper on her shoe.

    Peace.

  2. The Baltimore County Public Library folks replied to the dad who e-mailed them to complain. Here’s the response:

    Dear Mr. (name removed by B-More Dad),

    Thank you for telling us about your experiences with your young son in Storyville, as well as your personal observations about being a stay at home father. We certainly appreciate the challenges and assumptions fathers may encounter as a stay-at-home dads. It is gratifying for us to see more and more fathers embracing the opportunity to be a primary caregiver and we were delighted when various fathers’ groups started visiting Storyville as part of their day with their children.

    Likewise, we understand the importance and benefits of exchanging childrearing experiences with other parents and the need caregivers have for contact with adults in similar circumstances. This need is shared by most caregivers, regardless of gender.

    As our literature indicates, Storyville was specifically designed for interactive play between preschool children and their caregivers because it is through this sort of play that preschool children best gain the skills they need to enter school ready to learn. Early literacy and school readiness inform the guiding mission of Storyville. Though Storyville may look like a play area for children, it is actually a research based learning environment which incorporates the very important role of the parent as a child’s first teacher.

    When groups of caregivers gather, absent of their children, it means their children are elsewhere, unattended in Storyville. This impacts the experience of those children as well as the experience of others who are using Storyville as intended – actively engaged with their children. The issues we addressed, on the day described in the comments you read, were directly about the unattended children, not mothers or fathers. They arose from several complaints from other parents, who were engaged in activity with their own children in Storyville. I can assure you that we have addressed groups of female caregivers, as well, in similar circumstances. When appropriate and safe use of Storyville is compromised by the activities of unattended children, it is our responsibility to address the caregivers. Our goal is to be sure that all visitors can enjoy Storyville safely and as intended.

    One of the comments you read, said, “My daughter and I have been to Storyville at least a dozen times during the last couple of years and not once was I instructed to ‘interact’ with her, but only to make sure I didn’t leave her unattended.” This should not have been the case and I apologize to your group for this miscommunication. We will be sure our staff knows to be more informative, when welcoming visitors.

    Since we saw the comments on the B-More Dad blog (Diaper Bag Dialog: Disperse You Men) I was wondering if you would mind if we posted this response, there, so all of those who were concerned can see it?

    Again, thank you, very much, for taking the time to write. We look forward to seeing you on your next visit and if there is any concern, of yours or others in your group, please feel free to raise it directly with me or Marisa Conner, Youth Services Coordinator for BCPL.

    Sincerely,

    Judy Kaplan

    Judith Kaplan
    Manager, Rosedale Library
    Baltimore County Public Library
    410-887-0512 x110

    Marisa Conner, M. Ed.
    Youth Services Coordinator
    Baltimore County Public Library
    410-887-0517

  3. We have something similar at a museum in Texas and I have seen people use it as a daycare: not putting their own groceries away, their kid is tearing up the place, etc

    Absent those kind of shennanigans, I think this place full of experts would be well served to remember that positive interaction among children is just as important as the one-on-one being with the caregiver.

    Having no supervision is bad and having too much supervision is bad so unless this lady was present for and averaged out your entire stay, she should hand parents leashes at the door and deny access to those who refuse them.

    signed – disgusted dad (and wife)

  4. Hey, Guys,

    Can I offer a suggestion? Just relax and go with the flow. I’m a very devoted single dad, and though I haven’t been to Storyville, I have indeed been to countless playgrounds and interactive library days with my daughter. And, you know what? I actually managed to do both–play with my daughter and let her know how involved I am with her in the moment, and slip over and chat with the boys now and then. It’s nothing heroic–just a simple act of multi-tasking–something all good parents have to do well.

    And, so? Rise above it. Of course there are all kinds of cultural forces “at play” here. But making the “playground” a “battleground” is, I think, the exactly wrong approach to take. Do you guys know that phrase–“Build it, and they will come?” It’s from a Ray Kinsella novel, and it means: “Be attentive to what the moment asks of you, and life (even librarians) will respond accordingly to you.

    So, maybe go play with your son or daughter, slip back to chat with your buds, and then slide back into that moment with your kid. Because, remember, our children are watching how we respond to life–and learning how to be human.

    Mark G

    • My wife and her friends go to Storyville on the wenekeds, so far I have resisted, mostly because my 9 year old son is too big . He would be happy to sit and read by himself but I like to be able to keep an eye on the whole crew, and I don’t think it is fair to have a size limit on something that would still be very cool to a 7,8,9 year old. I honestly would have laughed if approached by a person who told me I should be interacting with my child, all my children do all day is interact with me, our outings are our time to be ourselves. I’ve dealt with the stigma and bias for 8 1/2 years, and it HAS gotten better. Unfortunately there are still many women (mostly women) that see a dad with kids and assume he is giving mommy a break , babysitting or just a loser. This library is in ROSEDALE they should be happy you weren’t there dealing drugs, and keep their comments and suggestions to themselves.

  5. I really like this blog. Please continue the great work. Regards!!!

  6. Very interesting discussion here. It’s hard to know who was right and who was overreacting without actually being there, but this does raise all sorts of issues. For one, how much independence can you give a child to explore his surroundings while you keep a discreet eye on him without being told you’re being inattentive?

    Another issue: how quiet must a child be in the children’s area of a library? Years ago, when my kids were very young, my 2-year-old suddenly started to cry about something in one local library. We were in the children’s section, a long way from the adult section. He hadn’t been crying 30 seconds — of course, I was trying to calm him — when the librarians scooped up our books and summarily escorted us out of the library in front of everyone. I have never taken my children back to that library branch again.

  7. As a mom, who more often than not is the person who takes my kids to the park, museum or playdates–their complaint is ridiculous. As long as the children are occupied and not doing anything destructive, dangerous or distracting, socializing with the other parents is the payoff and solidarity you need–to recharge your batteries as a parent. Whatever happened to children using their own imagination to play and learn instead of being “directed” by the parents all the time. I certainly didn’t grow up with that in the 70s…

  8. My wife and her friends go to “Storyville” on the weekends, so far I have resisted, mostly because my 9 year old son is “too big”. He would be happy to sit and read by himself but I like to be able to keep an eye on the whole crew, and I don’t think it is fair to have a size limit on something that would still be very cool to a 7,8,9 year old. I honestly would have laughed if approached by a person who told me I should be “interacting” with my child, all my children do all day is interact with me, our outings are our time to be ourselves. I’ve dealt with the stigma and bias for 8 1/2 years, and it HAS gotten better. Unfortunately there are still many women (mostly women) that see a dad with kids and assume he is “giving mommy a break”, “babysitting” or just a loser. This library is in ROSEDALE…they should be happy you weren’t there dealing drugs, and keep their comments and suggestions to themselves.

  9. Pingback: Diaper Bag Dialog: Potty Victory! « The B-More Dad Blog

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