8 Things You Should Never Say to a Working Dad

dad working with daughter in his lap

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Gone are the days when men were the sole moneymakers of the household. Gone are the times when dads were expected to participate little in their children's lives. Women are getting out into the workplace and fathers are stepping up to the childcare plate. While stereotypical familial roles haven't reversed, there are more breadwinners of more genders than ever before.

Yet even as we support and encourage traditional homemakers in their movement to the workforce, there are still many fathers out there who remain hardworking at their jobs. These fathers don’t all have the traditional finance go-out-for-a-drink-with-the-guys jobs we may associate with the 1950s patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work long, hard hours outside of the home.

What is a "working dad"?

We often hear the phrase "working mom" because we assume that being a mom is a full-time commitment to the children. We don't often think that a mom will hold down a job while she's got a family at home. But the phrase applies to dads, too, especially as stay-at-home dads are on the rise.

Working dads are simply fathers with jobs. They've got children or even a family at home that they love and care for. But they've also got obligations to their job, workplace and career. 

They aren't new; they've been around as long as men who have children have also had jobs. But the term has become more important as the pressure for a work-family balance has built onto these men. If we want to lift childcare responsibilities from mothers and partners everywhere, we need to expect that dads — even working ones — will help out.

8 Things You Shouldn’t Tell Working Dads

The concept of a “working dad” may be a little unfamiliar to us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat the idea with respect. If we want to support working moms and non-traditional family lifestyles, we have to care and uplift the whole new family picture. Here's what to avoid when talking to a working dad.

1. "Don’t you miss your kids?"

Of course he does. It’d be terrible and unheard of if he didn’t. Asking a question like this reinforces the divide between work and family, and implies that he’s choosing one over the other. Being a father may be more important to him than being his position in his career, but he may need to do it to support his family.

2. "Couldn’t you just take some more time off?" 

Trying to take time off can be difficult when considering family schedules and the pressure of particular job seasons. Consider that this dad might not have the flexibility in his job to take time off, especially at times that correspond with his kids' schedules. Moreover, taking time off may be a financial burden for his family; while the hours he works may be long and interfere with family time, they may be also be necessary in order to support his partner and kids.

3. "Do you feel guilty for leaving your kids at home?" 

The work-life balance is one he believes he'll never master. He'll want to advance his career, but he knows he might miss exciting and memorable moments at home if he takes a promotion. While he's not selfish for trying to develop his professional life, he may feel that way already. Try not to exacerbate feelings and understand that he's trying to find harmony between the personal and the professional.

4. "What do you do to help around the house?"

When we question what he's doing around the house, we're relying on our assumptions about what his partner is doing around the house. Women are often expected to clean and run errands, but that doesn't mean that he isn't the one doing the dishes when he gets home from work. Every household is different. While he may not be doing as much as everyone else in the house, it isn't your responsibility to intervene and tell him what to do. Maybe his strength is floor scrubbing and he doesn't feel like sharing.

5. "How does your partner feel about you leaving the house every day?"

Regardless of whether this working dad is the only one working in the family, the struggle for work-life balance can put excessive strain on romantic relationships. Working dads may have trouble making time for their partners, especially when they want to spend time with their children when they get home from the office. With long, draining workdays finding time for romance may be a pain point in his relationship already. He's not happy about leaving the house every day and having to part with his family — don't blame him.

6. "Are you going to take paternity leave?"

Companies that offer paternity leave have taken great steps to lift the responsibility from mothers and wives to take sole care of their babies after they're born. However, every company does not offer the same benefits. Some may only offer a few days off, while others will barely pay, if at all. While he may want to be there for his newborn child, the politics surrounding his capacity to do so are controversial and can be upsetting to a nearly new parent.

7. "Nice to see you finally got to spend some time with the kids."

Social media's a great place to see the everyday banalities (or pleasures) of everyone's lives, and pictures of families doing everything from water skiing to picnicking are commonplace online. However, social media isn't everything. Just because a working dad posted one week about painting pictures with his daughter doesn't mean he's ignoring her the next when his Facebook is blank. The number of pictures, videos or posts about a family or kids doesn't measure how much their relationship means to him.

8. "Wow, you're so good at [commonplace childcare action]."

While we want to praise working dads for what they're doing right, we don't want to praise them for every single small childcare action. Before you decide to compliment, think if you'd offer the same compliment to someone who cares full time for their kids. Dad doesn't deserve a medal for changing a diaper, but he may deserve praise for bringing their kids to their favorite park for a special game. If we compliment for the right things, we can minimize the assumption that fathers aren't capable of or supposed to be contributing to childcare work and raise expectations for the next generation of dads.

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.