Can a helpful dad hurt mom's image?

Dads who help with the kids may be giving Mom a much-needed break, but they might also be hurting their wife’s self-esteem, according to new research out of the University of Texas at Austin.

The survey of dual-earner couples with children found that with more women working full-time or out of the home, more fathers are chipping in and taking care of the kids. That cultural shift has allowed moms to work while also being mother, but it can also make mothers feel like they are not living up to their own or society’s expectations of a good mom.

Although I know that men will read these findings and say, “OK, I can’t win. Now I’m getting in trouble for trying to help? Geez,” I can completely understand the feeling of these women. I’m a stay-at-home mom who wouldn’t trade my helpful husband for the world, but I, too, can sometimes feel like a lesser parent because my husband is such a great dad.

Is it right or healthy to feel that way? No. But it’s true.

For example, I had tried to potty train our daughter for about three weeks. I tried pull-up pants and bathroom runs every 30 minutes. I tried bribing with M&Ms, but after eating two bags by myself, I gave that up, too. I finally told my husband that she was simply not ready and all the books say not to push potty training before it’s time.

Later that week, I went to an all-day Saturday work conference while my husband stayed home with our daughter. When I got home, he casually stated, “Oh, by the way, Nicole is potty trained.” He had taken her shopping to get real underwear, and now four months later, she’s never gone back to diapers.

Yes, at that moment, I could understand how a woman could feel less than adequate with a husband who takes on more than his traditional share of household duties. One of the researchers, Takayuki Sasaki, explains it like this, “We believe that employed mothers suffer from self-competence losses when their husbands are involved and skillful because those mothers may consider that it is a failure to fulfill cultural expectations.”

What do you think –- is this just women finding new things to complain about or is there a legitimate loss of self-esteem when moms hand over some child-rearing responsibility to their husbands?

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