I’ve lost count of the number of times one of my friends has boasted that her husband or boyfriend is “so wonderful because he’s always helping with the kids”. Or heard a father bragging in the school car park about how much he “helps” with the kids. And it irks me, every single time.
It irks me because of the underlying assumption: raising children is women’s work, and men ought to be lauded for taking some of the load off their female partners, even though it’s not their “job” to do so.
Frankly, if I may say so, that attitude is nothing more than patriarchal bullshit. Because so often it still comes with a host of gender stereotypes; women are more nurturing, women are better at multi-tasking, men are the head of the household, or my personal favourite: “I’m the breadwinner, and I’m out earning money to keep the family. I can’t be expected to parent my children as well.”
Women in these partnerships are just as much to blame. They’re so convinced of their innate superiority when it comes to childcare, that they don’t allow their partners to do anything unsupervised, lest their hapless husbands do something “wrong”. And by “wrong”, they mean “not the way I do it”. As if putting on a nappy slightly skew, or under-warming the milk, is the end of the world.
The net result is that everyone loses in these situations; kids don’t connect and bond properly with their fathers, mothers never get any time off (and quite like basking in the martyrdom of it all), and fathers, very often, do very little actual parenting, but still get to feel sanctimonious because they attend the occasional hockey match, and drop the kids off in the morning.
The bottom line is this: parenting is a full-time job, 24/7, 365 days a year, for the rest of the child’s life, or yours, whichever comes first. If you are half of a parenting pair, then you share the duties equally – bathing, feeding, playing, mopping up bodily fluids, getting up at night, disciplining, comforting, supporting, chastising – whatever it takes.
And presumably you had children so you could spend time with them, not just coexist in the same house. Your future relationship with your children depends on how much time you spend with them, really being present, really connecting with them. Really listening to them, and taking an interest.
It’s time that men stopped “helping” with the kids, and that women stopped asking them to.
You heard me: stop “helping” with the kids, and be their parent instead.
Image – Stefan Schinning, Flickr