It was no laughing matter when former First Lady Michelle Obama took a shot at President Donald Trump’s leadership recently. By comparing America under Trump to spending the weekend at a divorced dad’s house, she reinforced the negative stereotype that divorced dads are bad parents.
In an age when the norms around parenting and household roles are changing to embrace men taking on greater child-rearing responsibilities, we don’t need this kind of outdated thinking to discourage men from being the good fathers they can be.
Last week, Michelle Obama joked during a book-promotion event:
“We are a teenager. And we come from a broken family, we’re a teenager, we’re a little unsettled, and having good parents, it’s tough, sometimes you spend the weekend with divorced dad and that seems fun until you get sick. That’s what America is going through, living with divorced dad.”
Michelle Obama took some heat afterward for being insulting to divorced dads. Politics aside, criticism of her comments were right on point.
There were 2 million single fathers in 2016 and about 40 percent of them were divorced.
In some cases, these fathers have full custody of their children because they can provide the safest, most stable environment between the two parents.
Any divorced father who has sought full custody will probably tell you the legal battle was uphill. While the courts should show no bias, society still clings to sexist, outdated views about the roles of moms and dads.
Here is why Michelle Obama’s joke was so wrong:
Dads are not all goofballs. Television and movies have done a great job of painting all dads – married, divorced or single – as inept oafs fumbling around fatherhood while their kids pull the wool over their eyes time and time again. Divorced-dad households are depicted as bachelor’s pads run amok. The underlying belief is that they have no rules, discipline, or order in their households. At dad’s house it is assumed that kids only eat pizza, candy and ice cream; have no bedtime, and skip showers.
That could not be farther from the truth for many dad-led households. Men provide nurturing, loving, stable homes that run smoothly. Men are just as committed to their kids’ success as mothers are and will provide the environment and structure to make that happen.
Dads are critical to the success of kids. Men are not dispensible influences in their children’s lives. Research has shown us that the outcomes for children are better when they have both parents in their lives. When a father is absent the impact on their kids is undeniable. Many children who grew up in a single-parent home end up in the juvenile justice system. Kids without their fathers may suffer in school. Girls without their fathers may be vulnerable to sexual violence.
- This thinking perpetuates sexism. Just as it’s sexist to assume that a woman should stay at home with the kids while a man works, it’s also sexist to assume that a woman makes a better parent than a man. If we want to see more men remaining a part of their children’s lives and if we want to make it more acceptable for men to stay at home and raise the kids, we have to change our viewpoint on the capability of men to be good dads.
Michelle Obama is viewed as a successful career woman and feminist, but this joke exposed an old-fashioned way of thinking that was insulting to so many dedicated divorced fathers.
She may have been trying to score political points or genuinely feels America is not under the right leadership. However, millions of Americans who are finally employed, seeing their businesses grow, keeping more of their paychecks, and watching their retirement savings get bigger by the day, would disagree.
While she takes issue with President Trump’s words and actions, Michelle Obama may be the one who needs an adjustment in her thinking.