Shazam! Are parents superhuman or merely mortal?

Being a parent doesn’t make you a superhero. Parents are all too human, thank goodness.

illustration showing superhero lightning bolt


I have a lot of time for anything that changes the narrative of mums and dads in children’s literature. Daddy Pig, for instance, could have been created 40 years ago. His general parenting incompetence seems like a throwback to another age. Mummy Pig supposedly works from home, but doesn’t seem to do much. At least that’s my memory of her. Maybe she’s undergone a revamp.

While we’re on the subject don’t get me started on the countless programmes targeted at teens which show parents as selfish or absent. Or Motherland, where the main character doesn’t seem to like her kids at all and kids seem to be portrayed as a major inconvenience. I know, it’s for comedic effect, but there’s a lot of comedy to be had in portraying the work life balance chaos without it being at the expense of kids. For instance, taking an out of hours call in the school disco, crouched on a teeny tiny toilet, or doing a call with a leading asthma specialist and being asked if I was looking at PubMed when my whole attention was taken by the sight of the guinea pig sailing past the window on the back of a toddler bicycle.

But if you are going to subvert the prevailing narrative about dads in particular and encourage them to be more involved, or just reflect better the involvement that they have now, why, oh why, do they have to be portrayed as superheroes? I have previous on this subject when a former colleague wanted to do a series of advice sessions for dads with a superhero theme.

It is not superheroic to look after your kids. Women don’t have to don capes to be around for their kids or to excel at work. They just get on and do it. It’s nice to have a bit of appreciation, but you don’t have to pretend you can fly or have superpowers to do so. I know superheroes are very in and I’m not averse to watching the odd Avengers film, but isn’t it a bit patronising to men to suggest they are superheroes for doing the laundry or feeding the kids? Aren’t we trying to normalise involved parenthood rather than suggest it is somehow something extraordinary?

My brother has long done most of the childcare in his family and now that he is a single dad he does alternate weeks. He enjoys it. OK, he sometimes doesn’t get much sleep. Parenthood uses up your last resources, but it’s about love. For him, it’s in part about making up for the lack of a good fatherhood role model as a child. He wants to have the close relationship with his kids that he didn’t have with his dad. He knows what it feels like as a child to miss out on that and for your whole life after that. If we could convey better the emotional side of parenthood perhaps we wouldn’t have to resort to superheroes to inspire dads to do more. It’s enough to love and be fully human.

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