By Gayatri Unsworth
I recently traded the baby on my hip and the pre-schooler trying to clamber up my legs to bravely venture out of Mummy-land for the day, in order to do a bit of paid-work facilitating a training programme.
So off I went, feeling very good about myself in my pencil skirt and business shirt, pumps attached to my feet instead of my chest for a change, looking forward to the prospect of having conversations in which I wasn’t going to be required to coo Goo Goo Gaa Gaa in a sing-song voice.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy it whilst it was still hot and not enriched with floating plastic farm animals(another rare indulgence for those with young children). Before long, I was joined by some fellow facilitators and we all got to chatting about what was happening in our respective lives.
When it came to my turn, I proudly announced the arrival of the newest addition to our family and gloated about my three and a half-year-old’s wicked sense of humour. “Oh how lovely”, responded a fellow facilitator before proceeding to ask where both my daughters were whilst I was at work that morning. I replied.
And then came a few moments of stunned silence followed by…… (cue, horror music)
“Your husband is looking after your two young children on his own? HIS OWN?”, she squealed, her eyebrows shooting so far up her forehead that I almost felt the need to charge her for this miraculous instant face-lift.
“Ermmmm yes”, I tentatively replied, rather afraid of what further adverse reaction my confirmation was going to have on her. Luckily, she was so shell-shocked by the outrageous revelation that she simply sat there looking totally flabbergasted.
I wanted to offer comfort, but somehow didn’t think I would be able to pacify her adequately considering my current arsenal of cheering-up techniques features me blowing raspberries or playing peek-a-boo.
She wasn’t the only one present who seemed more than a little astounded at the reality that my husband, yes a MAN, was at that very moment performing child-care duties. The other facilitators looked equally perturbed – the women gave me looks halfway between suspicion and envy, whilst the men tried to stifle the horrified expressions rapidly spreading across their faces.
Now this may come as a scandalous, earth-shattering revelation for some, but men ARE capable of contributing more than just a healthy sperm count and chequebook towards the parenting process.
Yes, indisputably there are some responsibilities that men simply can’t perform as a parent. Giving birth and breastfeeding for example are exclusively female domains – although I do admit to fantasising from time to time that technology and evolution will someday see roles reversed and find men panting laboriously whilst women stand at their bedsides and kindly remind them of the ‘correct’ breathing technique.
Anyhow, apart from the two duties highlighted above, everything else really should be fair game in the parenting journey.
Despite the popular and misguided belief held by many from the opposing gender, women have not been biologically designed to have noses that switch on and off, or more ergonomically advantageous hands which allow us increased efficiency when changing diapers. Neither do we possess a more sophisticated heightened sense of hearing; we simply aren’t able to sleep through deafening wailing when it emanates from a few feet away from us (believe me, I’ve tried and failed miserably on numerous occasions).
Now before I offend the male species entirely, I should perhaps make clear that I’m not categorising every single father out there as a ‘hands-off parent’. In fact men the world over have proven time and time again that they are a very capable, innovative and industrious lot. Surely if they can conquer deadly mountains and master quantum physics, it can’t be too difficult for them to figure out how a baby works. At the same time, I’m not claiming that all women make fantastic mothers by virtue of their gender alone. I’m just saying that it would make for a pleasant change if child-rearing were spread out more evenly between the two sexes.
I know of some wonderful dads’ who share the parenting journey with their spouses equally; I’m incredibly fortunate that my husband is one of them. From warming up bottles of milk in the wee hours of the morning, to patiently pacing up and down with a crying little bundle of joy, to courageously braving the disasters that await within nappies, these dads don’t limit their parenting scope to merely being the breadwinner or the disciplinarian in the family. These are the type of guys who don’t just set up the pram, they actually (gasp) push it. Such a select group of men however, seem to be few and far between.
Admittedly, the existence of this heavily lop-sided parenting situation cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of men alone. Women are also largely to blame for not allowing or expecting men to have greater responsibility when it comes to raising children. I certainly fell into the trap with my first-born. I felt that I had to be the primary care-giver at all times and simplistically measured my success as a mother, against how much work I did as one. When my husband would bathe the baby or give her a bottle, I would feel a surge of guilt about shirking from my duties as mummy and hence try and take-over. Many of my friends also admit to having the same guilt issues when it comes to handing over care of their littlies to their spouses.
Then one day it dawned upon me that perhaps I was doing a disservice to all three of us by trying to be Super-Mum. I was driving myself to the point of exhaustion, I was alienating my husband from the parenting journey and I was inadvertently teaching my child that her mother was of much more importance than her father.
Unfortunately, society as a whole doesn’t help remedy this situation either. Men who are brave enough to challenge century-old stereotypes and assume some traditionally female roles are mocked or frowned upon. How many stay-at-home dads are out there doing a stellar job of raising their children but getting little or no recognition for their efforts? How many men come home after a long hard day at work and swap their Blackberries for Baby Bjorns only to elicit raised eyebrows?
Fathers play such an important, irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. As such, more men need to step up to the plate and embrace all aspects of raising their young, rather than simply limiting their parenting contributions to outdated archetypes and societal expectations.
“In the baby lies the future of the world. Mother must hold the baby close so that the baby knows it is his world but the father must take him to the highest hill so that he can see what his world is like.” – Mayan Proverb