In Defence of Mr. Mom (From a Stay-at-Home Dad)

'Mr. Mom' (1983) poster, Mr. Mom, stay at home dads, stay home dad, being a stay at home dad, stay at home dad blog,
‘Mr. Mom’ (1983) poster

It seems a lot of us stay-at-home dads don’t like the term ‘Mr. Mom’ being applied to us. Well, when I say us, I don’t mean me – I’m fine with it. In fact, I encourage it.

I have fond memories of Mr. Mom, and I have no reason to believe it to be significantly better or worse than its 80’s comedic peers, such as Police Academy, Bachelor Party, and Stripes.

I read a nice piece by Nicole Shanklin called ‘Modern Parenting: Mr. Mom Style‘. Her husband was a stay-at-home dad to their daughter for 2 1/2 years. Lots of fellow (blogging) dads while complimentary about the post were less so about the inclusion of ‘Mr. Mom’ in the title (check the comments). So much so that it was changed to ‘Modern Parenting: Stay @ Home Dads Rock‘, which I think is a shame.

What are the arguments against calling a stay-at-home dad ‘Mr. Mom’?

Well, fairly valid ones: Working mothers are not called ‘Ms. Dad’; being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t make you a male mother; what’s wrong with just calling us dads?

And yet… When I became a stay-at-home dad in 2012, I relished the moniker of ‘Mr. Mom’, and I still do. While stay-at-home dad is a fair description of my role, as is the shorter at-home dad, they lack the wordplay of Mr. Mom, and honestly – they simply fail to conjure up that image of Michael Keaton holding up his baby’s bottom to a hand-dryer.

Perhaps this is a clue to why I like the term. Keaton’s expression in that image exudes confidence. Many stay-at-home dads will tell you of being judged – often borne out through experience – about our ability as primary caregiver, because we are dads. That we are perceived as less able parents because we are men, that our ‘male’ methods are inferior to ‘female’ ones – which from memory is also a theme of the movie.

Parenting Mr. Mom style

In some aspects, I do parent differently from my wife. Not better or worse, just different. Is this because we are male and female? I have no idea. My daughter wears a lot of superhero t-shirts, knew more Star Wars characters at age 2 than my wife does at age [REDACTED], and will respond to food made with scotch bonnet chillies with an enthusiastic ‘More!’. Have I introduced these things to her because I am a man? I’m sure all the chilli loving fangirl mothers out there would disagree with that notion (you know who you are…).

But for me, to feel confident about my way of parenting & to introduce my daughter to things I am passionate about is fundamentally important. I don’t want to second guess myself and be consumed with self doubt about whether this is really the right or wrong thing to do – or even worse, to change my behaviour because I am worried about how others might judge me. Is drying a baby’s bum on a hand-dryer unorthodox? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do (although I’m not advocating it).

So I like to channel the Mr. Mom in that poster, the confident dad parenting his way.

Perhaps the main reason that I don’t have a problem with it is this: I’m English. We don’t use the word ‘Mom’ – it’s ‘Mum’. To us, ‘Mom’ is basically an exotic word from a foreign culture, so when someone calls me ‘Mr. Mom’ (which people do) I simply think of Michael Keaton in that poster. It’s a pop culture reference that makes me smile, and I don’t think I’m being made to feel like any less of a dad.

However, if anyone asks me if I’m ‘babysitting’? Grrrr…

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The hopeless Mr. Mom

At some point in the at-home parent’s life, they may likely reflect on whether their partner would do a better job of it than they currently are.

This thought occurred to me whilst rushing my daughter to the hospital emergency room.

Swallowed hairclip
I know a young lady who swallowed a hairclip. I don’t know why.

We had recently arrived home after a trip to the supermarket. I left her strapped in her buggy while I put the shopping away. I figured it was the safest place to leave her. Ha!

As is the way of the little one, she discovered a flaw in my plan, which involved her mouthing, choking on, and then swallowing her metal hair clip.

The realisation of what was happening remains the most horrifying experience of my life – and I’ve been run over by a lorry.

So in the haze of frantically calling for medical assistance, rushing her to hospital, amidst it all, I also had an overwhelming feeling of guilt.

I think we can all agree that a key aspect of the at-home parent’s role, is to keep their child safe. Well, this was a big fail, with potentially catastrophic results.

I was especially apologetic to my wife. We had swapped at-home roles some months previously. I felt like the embodiment of the hopeless ‘Mr. Mom’ clichĂŠ.

But our attending doctor told me a story that was weirdly reassuring, about changing their daughter’s nappy and discovering 4 metal screws in it, amongst the other ‘contents’.

Of my many childhood injuries I could detail for you, the most stupid was when I decided that my mini-golf club looked like a pole vault pole, as well as a snorkel. So I combined the two. Ouch. I can still remember the flap it created in the roof of my mouth (Ugh…).

I recall another childhood story a friend told me: You know the way you suck pen tops to create a vacuum, and then stick it to your tongue? As a child, she decided power leads had similarly enticing cavities in them. So she did the same thing with one. That was plugged into the wall. She regained consciousness on the other side of the room.

As parents we can only go so far in ensuring our children’s safety. Bumps and bruises are all part of growing up. Sometimes our children will stray too far from the frontier of curiosity into reckless stupidity. But they’ll never learn the line unless we let them discover it themselves, hopefully without too much damage.

The fact is I have never tried to pole vault with a golf club in my mouth ever since childhood. And fingers crossed, my daughter’s days of swallowing hair clips are over too…