Parents are always encouraging our children to “use your words” rather than scream or hit. That’s because we understand communication is a critical step along the way to being functional and getting our needs met. Yet, as much we implore our children to communicate clearly, many parents also revel in the bullshittery of their chosen avocation: Dadbod? Momgasm? Dad hacks? Momtrepreneur? What do these words even mean? Nothing. But they do insinuate that parents are somehow different from other people, their bodies and careers best understood in the context of their children. This is very dumb. Parents aren’t different than anyone. They’re just busier and poorer. Also, they are responsible for teaching kids to use language so they shouldn’t, you know, use ludicrous neologism in casual conversation.
Take the nightmare term momtrepreneur (please, take it), the unholy combination of mom and entrepreneur. Why does this term need to exist? Can a mom not just be an entrepreneur? Sure, someone could probably make the case that it’s more efficient than going through the work of explaining that a mom somehow (the implication seems to be that this was unlikely) managed to start a business. Okay. But the problem here is that it’s cutesy, adorable, relatable to the point of excess. You know what serious momtrepreneurs don’t think to themselves, “I want to be as good as other entrepreneurs that aren’t moms!” They want to be the best. They want to win.
To be a parent is to run a marathon while juggling. But it’s not a race just between people who are juggling. Some people aren’t juggling. And parents compete with them as well. The siloing of parents as a subset of culture makes no sense.
Moms and mom culture are particularly guilty of wielding tortured portmanteau, many of which seem to borderline on branding exercises and almost all of which make me feel like I’m supposed to buy something (or buy into something) I don’t want. Consider the word “momgasm,” which is apparently used to suggest a mom has received inordinate pleasure from a parenting moment, like a child being extremely polite to a strange old person. The term is pretty gross and within that grossness there’s a problematic idea. Mom’s may get pleasure from their kids’ best behavior. That’s great. All for it. But they may also get pleasure from being touched in sensuous ways. Momgasm undermines orgasm. I know that sounds semantic, but when we imply that moms are moms first and humans second, we devalue the parts of their lives that aren’t kid-friendly. Orgasms matter. Let the orgasms be.
Now, let’s talk about the out-of-shape elephant in the room. My body isn’t a dadbod. It’s just a body that could, you know, use a bit more care. I’m not going to die of dadbetes. I’m just going to die. You know, like people do.
You know what? The term dadbod should die in a fire. It’s ludicrous. Every dad has a body. All of those bodies are unique and varied. Some dads carry weight in their belly. Some dads walk up to preschool pick-up like chiseled Gods. But the dadbod has a very narrow definition for those who use it to call out the paunchy, slouched bodies of certain middle-aged men. It’s a term that is meant to both shame, celebrate (both arguably fine), but also segment. Dadbod implies that my body is what it is because of my life situation and that this is an understandable and predictable situation. Sure, except that dadbods are unhealthy. That dadbod dude? He’s weak and he doesn’t work out enough, which means he’s probably struggling with some mental issues as well. When we think of people as parents first and humans second, we forget that they have multiple core functions. It’s my job to take care of my kids, yes, but it’s also my job to take care of me.
All of these words seek to obfuscate real and important issues in parenting. A mom being an entrepreneur should not be anything special. A fat father should actively seek to get more healthy for the sake of himself and his family.
These neologisms remind me a lot of the Newspeak in George Orwell’s book 1984. In Orwell’s vision, Newspeak is a way of altering language to destroy imagination and better control the individual. Like the parenting neologisms, newspeak jams words together, shortening them to the point of nonsense. It’s all explained very well by a character early in the book. “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” he says. “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
And yes, I get that it sounds unhinged and conspiratorial. But when we make up these stupid words, we are actually creating a little fenced off rhetorical space for parents. I, for one, am not going in there. Screw that. My kids help me expand. They make me harder to define. My role as a dad is additive and will never reduce me. I don’t have a dad bod. I am fat. And my dad hack of hypnotizing my kids into silence by playing Fortnite? That’s just selfishness. There are words for these things and for both my sake and the sake of my kids, I’m going to use them.