In February, I wrote about the “motherhood challenge,” a viral parenting contest taking over Facebook. At that time, I encouraged women not to take it—mainly due to the instruction to tag “great moms,” which I saw as yet another opportunity for women to evaluate one another as mothers. There’s already quite enough of that going on in real life without it clogging up social media feeds as well.
Over the past week, Facebook users have begun to share a near identical viral challenge for dads, in which they are supposed to “publish pictures that make [them] happy to be a father” and “tag those men [they] think are fabulous fathers.” This time around, I have a different response: May it spread far and wide!
This is, quite obviously, a double standard: something generally frowned upon by those in pursuit of gender equality. But in this case, something that is potentially damaging to moms may very well benefit dads—along with women they might live with.
As I explained when writing about the motherhood challenge, when one mom labels another mom a great mom, she sends the message that she has been observing the other mom’s parenting and deems it up to snuff. As nice as this approval might be, buried beneath it is the reminder of the atmosphere of insecurity and judgement within which so many of us parent. A failure to be tagged as a great mother by one’s good friends or family—which is the implicit alternative here—is just a slightly harsher version of that same reminder.
But things are different in Dadville. Compared with the code of conduct for mothers (which contains the complexity of the Talmud and often the inscrutability of Gertrude Stein’s hermetic work), the rules for being a great dad are far more straightforward. Love your kid, spend some time with your kid, and that’s pretty much it. The reason for this difference is because, historically, men invested far less of their identities in fatherhood than women did in motherhood. Men didn’t need to develop an intricate parental evaluation system because they weren’t really being evaluated, or evaluating themselves, as parents.
While many dads are far more involved today than their predecessors might have been, they’re still largely immune to the parenting pressures women feel. As a result, they’re less likely to feel bad if they are not tagged as a good parent, and more likely to have simpler, less loaded criteria for determining which of their dad friends are “fabulous” at fatherhood. (Though, full disclosure, I wouldn’t exactly mind it if more dads felt guilty about not being good enough fathers. A little competition among dads might hasten the caregiving revolution so many of us have been waiting for.)
The other nice thing about the Facebook fatherhood challenge is its emphasis on joy. Moms have long been encouraged, and expected, to find pleasure in parenting. They are supposed to be the loving parent, the up-close one, whose visceral connection with their children yields delights the more distant father might witness from a remove, but never feel directly. Dads were supposed to provide guidance, render judgement, and experience the muted joy of pride when their expectations were met.
It’s wonderful, then, to see all these fathers sharing pictures of themselves deeply immersed in parental pleasure. Wondeful not only because the children appear to be making them genuinely happy, but also because those happy moments might afford mom a few more breaks.