I loved Mr. Mom. It’s got some really funny parts and seeing Michael Keaton fumble around a bunch of kids renders some genuine laughs.
For the uninitiated, Mr. Mom is the tale of man, Michael Keaton, who is laid off from his job. I want to say that he worked at an auto manufacturer, but I could be conflating that with the whole American-car-company-executive-as-underdog theme of Gung Ho.
At any rate, Keaton’s movie wife, Teri Garr, finds work in the glamorous and highly lucrative field of advertising. Because getting highly paid executive level jobs is a piece of cake for moms that have been out of the workforce for several years.
With his wife off ‘earning the bacon,’ Keaton is put in charge of the house and he fails at it in the most hilarious way possible. At its core, it’s a fish out of water tale and I never really gave it much thought until my husband pointed out that the movie’s core stereotypes grated on him.
You see, my husband has been as stay-at-home-dad for the past two years. He, too, was laid off from his job and we decided to see if we could get by on one income. So, he took on the day-to-day tasks of getting the kids to school and back, overseeing homework, mediating squabbles, all the usual stuff that comes with being a parent.
But here’s the kicker: he didn’t accidentally let a baby eat chili (as Keaton’s character does). The house wasn’t wrecked. The kids weren’t filth-covered savages running wantonly through the house. Instead, meals were prepared. Diapers were changed. Clothes were washed and put away. Pretty much the total opposite of what happens in the movie. And there is one big reason why things went so smoothly: My husband had been doing all of these things before he became a stay-at-home dad.
I cut the writers of the movie some slack because the movie came out in 1983, an era that, while some progress had been made, was still not a bastion of equality between the sexes. Sexism and stereotypes ruled the day. Sadly, though, the same sexist stereotypes continue, some 31 years later.
My husband bristles at the ads on television – and there are many of them – that portray dads as bumbling idiots when it comes to childrearing. He also hates it when people, seeing a father caring for his children, say things like ‘It’s so nice to see a dad babysit.’ Newsflash: If you’re the dad, it’s not babysitting. It’s parenting and it’s a full-time job.
Sexism and stereotyping come in all forms and they hurt pretty much everyone. When you tell fathers that their parenting efforts are awful or, worse, unexpected and perhaps unwanted, they’re going to pull back, stop trying and, in the process, disengage as both fathers and husbands. Clearly, this is devastating for the family. This hurts the child because they are missing out on a wonderful bond and connection with one-half of their parents and it hurts the wife because she will have to take over all parenting duties. Just because this was the dynamic in the 1970s and 1980s doesn’t mean it’s the best path or even a palatable one.
What you’re left with is a world where we relegate women to the ‘mom’ roles of cooking, cleaning and nurturing, and men as the proverbial ‘breadwinner.’ Of course, this isn’t how the world works anymore. In a lot of homes, two incomes are required to survive and, in a growing number of homes, wives earn more than their husbands. Yet, despite the new realities of working and earning a living, we’re still forcing antiquated gender roles on people. It’s no surprise that so many people are stressed out and unhappy.
My husband bristles at the term ‘Mr. Mom’ because he says that’s not what he’s doing. Caring for his children and raising decent human beings isn’t being a mother. It’s also being a father. Nurturing and caring for human life are not exclusively female skills. Instead, they are the skills of good parents. And my husband is an extremely good parent.