May 11, 2012 at 10:25 AM ET
At nearly 36 weeks pregnant with my second child, I admit I walked into a screening of What to Expect When You're Expecting a little cocky. After already experiencing the highs and lows associated with two very different pregnancies, I was ready to roll my eyes at the newbie preggos depicted on-screen by actresses including Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks, who would eventually realize that—gasp!—growing (or parenting) a baby doesn't always go as planned.
But if I learned anything from watching this unexpectedly sweet film that had me blubbering at the end (for which I can only partly blame the pregnancy hormones) it's this: Pregnancy and parenting isn't all about me. Sure, moms carry the physical burden of pregnancy—and may sometimes handle more than 50 percent of babycare—but most dads deserve bigtime kudos, too.
Enter "The Dudes," a group of dads in the film who meet in a local park every Saturday armed with Baby Bjorns, bottles, teethers and toys. The Dudes, who consider themselves a "Fight Club for dads," take a decidedly different approach to parenting than their high-strung, hyper-vigilant female partners—and that's where we can all learn a thing or two. Here's what we learned:
Don't talk about what you walk about. The "first rule" of The Dudes is one to live by—what happens on the playground stays at the playground. The Dads aren't afraid to ostracize anyone who breaks this rule—specifically, Jennifer Lopez's on-screen hubby Rodrigo Santoro, who lets slip that one of The Dudes calls his son Henry, instead of the more French-sounding Henri when his wife isn't around. Let's face it: a little solidarity is in order sometimes.
Don't judge. In many cases (or at least in my house), dads take a more laissez faire approach to parenting. Dads are often the ones who give the kids a longer leash, which means they sometimes get into more trouble. The Dudes unapologetically claim their kids have done everything from eating a cigarette to swimming in the toilet—and none of them smugly thinks that they are a superior parent for anyone else's parenting fail. It's a great reminder to moms that no one benefits from being judgy.
There's no such thing as ready. We all more-or-less know that there's no way to fully prepare for parenthood, but that doesn't stop some moms-to-be from trying to have control of every last thing before the baby comes. The loyal Dude dad played by Chris Rock pretty much sums this up when he advises: "Just jump on the moving train and try not to die." Wise advice for both moms and dads.
You don't know true love until you've wiped someone's butt. It's often said that parenting is what shows you the meaning of unconditional love, and this gem uttered by one of The Dudes simply rings true. These dads are far from perfect, but they love their kids more than anything.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.