Men aren't as helpless as most women think. And the helplessness they display is not imprinted on the Y chromosome, no matter how much we've convinced ourselves otherwise. The fact is that men are trained to be helpless--usually by the very people who most want their help: women.
I'm not talking about domestic duties (although many men act like the trash magically gathers itself and that they might blow up the washing machine if they have to try to use it) but in being an equal partner in parenting.
Now the defeatism usually starts in that first year when most babies are programmed to automatically want Mommy for everything. If Mom's breastfeeding, this typically means that when it comes to feeding (which, in the first two months, seems to be every waking moment!) Daddy IS helpless. The things he can do at those times promote more of a bond with Mom than Junior (and is that a bad thing? Staying bonded with Mom?). However, feeding is hardly the end-all of parenting a new baby and most women don't breastfeed or at least don't do it exclusively. Dirty diapers are not the only other thing that babies need taken care of, either.
However, the really defeating thing comes when Mom says, "Here, let me do it." There's a learning curve, ladies! We had to do it, so does he! Also, guess what? There's not just one single way to do everything.
I know that's hard to hear. It's hard for me to deal with, personally. I hear my husband taking care of the kids and I want to run in and correct this or that and despite what he'd say to the contrary, I actually have been practicing restraint lately and letting him just do it.
Now, some things, he's always been a pro at--like diapers and dressing the kiddos--but he had an advantage: a baby sister. I was the last born in my immediate family and until I was holding my own, I never touched a new born baby. My sister called me in to help out with her second and I loved it, but she was already a few weeks old before I actually held her. I did learn some tricks to colic, though, that were nice and useful! But for real baby care, of course she did most of it and mainly when I wasn't there.
My husband, however, was right there with his little sister for it all. He even did his share, since he was an older child when she was born. So he came with more confidence and expereience than the average man--and yet, he was just as nervous as any new father and felt just as clueless as to what to do with himself.
Now, I'm not going to sacrifice the baby by just leaving her with him (she was a nursing maniac and wanted nothing to do with him, poor guy--it's no wonder he ended up feeling helpless!), so he didn't get thrown into the deep end like many men who become baby pros do.
It was really later, though, as he was building up his confidence because she started wanting to spend time with him (as everyone had assured that she would!) that I started breaking it down. Correcting small little things, "Oh, I don't do it that way." "You're taking too long, let me do it." "Oh, no, you're doing it wrong!" I don't know why. I just don't seem to know how to walk away and let him do it, so I hover and watch, (which, let's admit, is like watching someone with a different video game style playing--you want to take over and show them how it's really done). Instead, lately, I've started forcing myself to find other things to do when I've asked him to help out or if the kids have asked him.
But it doesn't start when baby comes home. It starts long before that, when our husbands were boys and somebody's sons. First, the gender boxing. "Boys can't wear pink." "Boys can't play with dolls (and if they do, we must call them action figures)." Boys even often get kicked out of playing house in pretty much all forms. They might wander their way into a play kitchen.
Now I don't know if this attitude is as widespread as it was when I was a kid, because I live in this neat little bubble where the vast majority of my friends are against gender boxing. I still have some that were raised with and cling to the idea of boys toys vs. girls toys, but they are the minority now.
This continues later as boys grow into young men. Girls in the family are often sent to look after siblings and do domestic duties while boys are sent to look after cars and do yard maintenance (which leads to the feminine version of helplessness where women think they can't change a tire or mow the lawn). It's becoming more popular to let boys in on the domestic duties (especially since most major chefs are men and men need to pick up after themselves, too) and teach girls car care, but mainly, boys are still not included in the child care development.
This discrepancy can really be seen in one of the first teen jobs: babysitting. Now, while I know parents who'd take a boy babysitter who's known to be responsible, this isn't true in most homes. Even most homes who say they'd hire a boy to babysit, if offered the choice between two inexperienced teens, one male and one female, they are going to pick the girl. Women are just identified as more nurturing and boys are held with the misandrist view that they're unpredictable and dangerous.
I happen to know someone who's first husband lost his virginity to his babysitter when he was 10. So, uh, yeah... nurturing... And yet, more people would be horrified if the gender was reversed--somehow, it's okay for a 10 year old boy to decide to have sex with a 16 year old girl, but the other way around? They're both statutory and they're both just as harmful for the 10 year old.
But that's beside the point. This all leads to men having less training when the kids get in in a lot of homes, but certainly not all! I've seen homes where the women had less experience, most definitely. Sometimes even in these, though, the men are made helpless by that mama bear instinct.
It bothers me a lot when a group of women is talking about their husbands and one brings up a situation she wants to change where the group response is, "What do you expect? He's a man!"
That is just as wrong as a woman going into a new profession, stumbling and having the men say, "What do you expect? She's a woman!" Oh, there the tempers fly! Misogyny cannot be let go, but blaming a gender for the inefficiencies of its individuals who happen to have a Y chromosome? That's fine. Actually, that's called misandry and it's not fine.
It's damaging. It damages the men who are just left to flounder, unaware that they could learn the very skills they have been told men just aren't any good at. It damages our sons, who hear this garbage and grow up believing that's just how it is. It damages marriages who crumble because women have been taught that they're supposed to do everything. It damages women who really are left to carry more burden than they can handle and don't know that it's okay to ask their husband for help and to let him learn and let him make mistakes. We made them, too.
Yes, sometimes we had our mothers, sisters, aunts, random other women in our lives standing over us and correcting us. But most of us have the strength to say, "I'm glad that worked for you, but this is what works for me." Men aren't taught to communicate that way. Most end up angry, hurt, resentful and not knowing how to express that in a way that doesn't blow up in their faces or just assuming that they really can't do it.
Obviously, not all men are like this, just as not all women are. But this is the average family. And it doesn't have to be.
Men can wear their babies, dress them, bathe them, give them solids when they're six months or older, play with them, do tummy time and Gymboree with them. Oh, yes, they can! They can hold them close and make rumbling noises in their chest that we can't and that babies find soothing. He can take Junior to the potty in a super-hurry because she's got to go NOW! He can gather up toys and decide how the playroom is arranged and pick out the kids' clothes (and it's not the end of the world if his fashion sense is different from ours). He can wipe their face differently, he can put their socks on after their pants and their hat on before their shirt and it still all ends up on there. He can brush their teeth and play video games with them, etc.
Dad can do it. And if we're lucky enough to have a husband who wants to (even if just to try), or even is just willing to try, we darn well need to let him.