This weekend, moms across Canada will get to enjoy something they're typically deprived of the rest of the year. No, not breakfast in bed or adorable hand-made cards. They'll get praise.
It will come without reservation and untainted by any passive-aggressive shaming. It will be heartfelt and much-deserved. And it will likely be a thing of the past come Monday.
Dads, meanwhile, will continue to be showered with admiration for – let's admit it – not really doing anything particularly remarkable.
As much as fathers are participating in an increasing amount of child rearing, whether it's taking parental leave or schlepping young ones to doctor's appointments, parity of work is still a long way off. And so, too, is parity of praise: Just as women are paid less in the workplace for doing the same job as a man, fathers are rewarded better and more often for domestic tasks that are merely expected of mothers.
I call it the praise gap, and closing it is my proposal for how to celebrate Mother's Day. It's time to raise the bar for applauding fathers and lower our impossible standards for judging mothers.
Here is a partial list of the things I have done in the past six weeks to be told I am "Father of the Year": volunteer on my son's school trip to the zoo (granted, it was raining); bake cookies with my daughter; sign up to coach soccer over the summer. My trophy case is overflowing with thanks for these just-above-bare-minimum efforts.
My wife has similarly volunteered, baked and more, all while regularly putting in 12-hour days at the office. But I am pretty sure she would have to rescue our kids from a burning building while simultaneously using the heat from the fire to bake muffins for the entire neighbourhood before someone called her "Mother of the Year."
Even if she did do those things, I'm almost certain that someone would hold up one of those muffins and say something such as, "I guess all the gluten-free recipes burned in the fire before you could get to them," before giving her a giant eye-roll. As most moms can attest, being passive-aggressively judged has become an inescapable fact of life.
Five years ago, Susan Nickle, of London, Ont., was at a dinner party when she received a stellar example of this backhanded praise. "Oh, it's so great. You have such a great job. It's so wonderful," a woman remarked to Nickle, a practising lawyer and mother of two.
Sounds nice, right? But then came the kicker. "I just couldn't work that hard," the woman continued, "because I love my children too much."
Meanwhile, her then-husband's decision to stay home one day a week when Nickle transitioned back to work following the birth of their daughter had friends and strangers ready to throw him a ticker-tape parade. "Honestly, you would think he birthed her himself the way other people looked at it," Nickle says. "I was the bad guy because I went back to work and he was the superhero because he was home on Fridays."
Nickle has never been called "Mother of the Year," just for the record. Neither has Laurie Stretch, who runs a communications firm in Calgary and is raising two teenage boys with her husband, David.
She says the "judginess" has tapered off over time, but a comment from more than a decade ago still rankles. "That must be so hard for you!" she remembers someone saying to her comment that her children were in daycare, which she took as an implication that she had better be "torn up inside because surely my mommy heart was with my babies," she says.
Things haven't improved for mothers on the passive-aggressive judgment front, Toronto therapist Natasha Sharma says, especially thanks to how easy it is to judge others on social media. "It's only getting worse," Sharma says. "Mothers today are much more insecure and very hard on themselves, second-guessing their parenting decisions."
The excessive praise dads get for simply raising their children is understandably frustrating for mothers, but it should also be unacceptable for fathers. It's essentially an extension of the enduring pop culture trope of the idiot dad too dumb to even change a diaper – you've seen him in Family Guy and Modern Family, among dozens of other television shows and movies.
Personally, I pride myself on trying to be a good dad: Being patted on the head for dressing my child or some other task moms do every day without fanfare is belittling proof that practically nothing is required of us. There's no pride in basking in the patronizing applause of low expectations.
The barrier to entry to the good-parent club shouldn't be so impossibly high no woman can vault it, but nor should it be a wide-open door that any guy who has ever changed a single diaper can saunter on through. If we want to do something that's good for all parents on Mother's Day, let's close the praise gap.