Sunday, August 24, 2008

Making things hard for ourselves

I've been thinking about this, given the support I've needed from DH recently and also listening to other mothers. We really do make things harder than we need to. But we're not the only ones missing out, because what is happening is that so many of us are not allowing our husbands to be fathers.

I'm not blaming women, we really do need to stick together and support each other so I wouldn't do that, and I don't see many men pushing us out of the way so they get their turn. So both parents are definitely to blame, if that's even the right word. And we've all seen the reports and stats that show women do more housework and childcare even if they are also working outside the home. (Honesty makes me admit I don't. DH does almost all the cleaning and cooking, and I sleep in as much as the Midget lets me on weekends.) But I don't think most husbands are lazy or incompetent. And I don't think their wives just let them get away with it.

So why is it happening?

Women almost always stay home for at least a little while with a new baby, while a lot of men don't get that luxury. Even those who have leave seem to end up doing the cooking and cleaning while we sit there and feed, feed, feed. Then they go back to work and we have time and no audience to work out how to change nappies, stop the vomit going everywhere, support the baby's head, respond to it crying, work out when it's tired, help it go to sleep, calm it when it's overtired, help it fart or burp, and all the other intimate things we've never realised babies have to learn how to do. Be honest - who hasn't knocked their baby's head on a doorway or car roof? Who hasn't had their baby roll off some piece of furniture you thought they were safe on? Who hasn't, in some way, messed it up or done something really embarrassing? But unless we choose to tell, most of them can stay our little secret.

Our husbands, on the other hand, have to do it all publicly. They have to learn to change nappies when we've had all week to master that skill and are now an expert. They have to put the baby in the car seat with a hormonal new mother hovering behind them. They've walked in the door from work and been handed a baby but not the nappy to go over their shoulder. (Midget is 4 months and I still forget, I was much better organised with Widget.)

So we're hormonal and can't stand to be separated from our babies, can't stand to hear them cry. We're proud of all the new skills we've learnt. We want everything to be perfect and don't allow for our husband's learning curve to be so far behind our own. And there you have a combination of us stepping forward and our husbands' stepping back.

And it only gets worse. Once you've taken something on (or given something up) it gets harder to make changes. So as the kids get older it continues. Discipline is a big one, especially with toddlers. We all know we should present a united front, but how many of us find a way to make the time to talk to each other and come up with a plan? So in the end it goes with majority rules, and Mum has the majority because she is there the most. I've even heard women complaining that their husbands' expect a say in which school their children go to - Of course they should! They are a parent too!

Dad's should be allowed, and should be trusted, to make decisions about their children. I think one of the reasons so many of them seem to make bad decisions (judging from the complaints about food, sunburn, tiredness etc) is that they haven't had to learn the way we have. We've all made mistakes and had to deal with the consequences, unfortunately many of the consequences seem to happen on a Monday when Dad is safely at work.

I don't know what the answer is, or rather I think there are as many answers as there are relationships. A good place to start is awareness, because if you don't recognise the problem you can't fix it. So two things to always keep in mind (or if you're an ex-school teacher, make into a poster and hang on the fridge):

Ladies: Fathers have all the same rights as you do!
Gentlemen: Fathers have all the same responsibilities as their wives!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I agree with so much of your post. It is almost impossible to address the problem I think. The best way really is for the Dad to stay at home himself with the baby for a while but as a breastfeeding Mum it isn't really practical with a young baby as I'm sure you know.

One of the problems for us was that paternity leave can only be taken in the first year after the birth of a child and there was no way that DD was ready to be left for a whole day without Mummy milky. I guess I could have expressed, which is what I did when I went back to work part time but we didn't do that.

I think it would be much better if the father could take their paternity leave later in the piece, say within the first 3 or so years. Some countries seem to have these types of options. There really is no replacement for that one on one time with a child. To be honest, more flexible maternity leave rules generally would be a good thing. Financially it would be very possible for one of us to stay home for the next 2-3 years. The industry we work in however will move a lot in that time and I feel that if I want to be able to get a job again I probably need to keep the one I have. Thats pretty much the main reason I'm back part time. Of course I have other options but I'm not willing right now to burn all my bridges so the part time work, part time SAHM is my choice for now.