One fun aspect of having daughters: the cute clothes they get to wear. My favorite outfits for the girls have always been Carter’s brand because the prints are completely precious and besides the cute-factor, they are really durable. Carter’s hardly ever advertises on television, but the other day I was surprised to catch an actual commercial—I have to admit that I first saw the ad while the sound was muted so I did not hear the little girl narrator meant to tug at my heartstrings. Spoiler alert: it worked. That is until the very end of the ad when I saw this tag line: “When a child is born, so is a mom.”
I’m more than just a little bit curious. When a child is born, only a mom is born? Only a mom? I turned to my husband and said, “I thought when a child was born, that’s when you became a dad.” He nodded in approval mostly to appease me because he knows tag lines that deprecate fathers (and parents of all kinds) annoy me. This sort of emotional pandering by just about every company out there exhausts and infuriates me. I’m just getting over the P&G Summer Olympics campaign that basically credited only moms with the success of Olympic athletes. What about the fathers? Better yet, why not credit parents in general and not just mothers?
In this country, family forms have changed drastically in the last few decades. There is research to support that while our definition of family might still be traditional, we are beginning to recognize other forms of families, specifically same-sex partners with children. Many people become a family through adoption and are not present for the birth of their children—this applies to heterosexual and homosexual partners. This Carter’s commercial reifies all kinds of assumptions about what makes a family and what we can expect from our mothers and fathers, primarily that families only count if they have one mom and one dad. In these families, the mothers are selflessly devoted to their children while the dads are barely present. When the dads are present, they are bumbling, not to be trusted, and idiotic. This same script appears in TV sitcoms, in B-movies, and in everyday life, because it’s rare that anyone challenges it.
I want to rant about how society expects less from fathers (even if fathers believe that parenthood is worth it no matter the cost or work associated with it). Sure, I’m frustrated that as a society we expect less from fathers and because we expect mothers to be the primary parent. In a recent New York Times Parenting Blog post, one dad wondered why we call women with professional lives outside of the home “working moms” but we never refer to men as “working dads.” But, it’s more than our low or nonexistent expectations for fathers. To assume that only mothers parent or that companies should be the “proud sponsors” of moms, means that we think parenting is the same as mothering and the only valid families are those with a mother at the helm.
Why do we assume that I know anything about parenting just because I’m a mother? As a new mom, I can tell you that I knew nothing. I stayed very calm and I was lucky that I had a very adaptable baby. And after several weeks of mothering, I actually fell in love with my older daughter. It was nothing like the experiences described in docudramas or movies–I did not instantaneously fall in love with our little girl. It was gradual, and several years later, I continue to fall in love with her a little more each day.
You would think that I had this mothering thing down with the birth of my second daughter, right? I mean, all sources indicate that mothers have this mothering situation under control. Wrong wrong wrong. Our second daughter was the polar opposite from the first. At around six months, my sleep-deprived husband and I looked at each other and agreed that we were no better off that night than the first night we came home from the hospital. But we stayed as calm as we could, got as much sleep as we could, and fifteen months later, we are still muddling through.
The narrator in the Carter’s ad ends by saying, “The day I became yours, you became mine.” Isn’t this the kind of ethos we should be promoting? Families grow out of all kinds of circumstances. Not all family making is left to mothers. Not all families even have mothers. As family life gets complicated, we’ll have to find ways to represent all kinds of families and give all kinds of parents their due. I stand by the realization I made in my earliest days of parenting. Clean clothes and emotional support are the most important things new parents (and families) need. It’s a washing machine and a partner (and a whole lot of love and detergent) that make the family.