For my birthday I have been given the book ‘I don’t know how she does it’. A few people have recommended it to me so I am really pleased that, should I be able to keep my eyes open to read for more than 5 minutes, I soon will be able to immerse myself in the story. Merely reading the book sleeve though has prompted me to think about my current situation of returning to work following a short, yet sweet, maternity leave. Since my return I have been inundated with the constant question ‘How are you finding having a new baby and working?’. I know the question often comes from a place of genuine concern, for which I am grateful, but it has made me consider how Nick, my husband, has been treated since Eden’s birth. Has he too been bombarded with this concern? Not knowing I asked him “How many times have you been asked ‘how are you coping being at work and having your new baby?’ since Eden’s been born?” The answer….you, guessed it – none. Why is the assumption that Eden is my baby alone? Why is the assumption that I am the only one doing the ‘juggling’? Nick is a dad who works as a much as I am a mum who works.
The terms ‘working mum’, ‘stay-at-home mum’ and ‘stay-at-home dad’ are commonplace, but I never hear of a ‘working dad’. A dad, certainly, but the assumption is then that he works. When I explain to people that I work there is often a look of pity that crosses their face; ‘Isn’t it a shame that you have to work?’ Why? Why is it not a shame that my husband has to work? The assumption that because I am a woman I must be hard-wired to be the ‘primary care-giver’ and because my husband is a man he is hard-wired to be the ‘breadwinner’, I believe can be crippling. That is not who we are or who we wish to be. Why am I made to feel that working is somehow abnormal? Why is a working dad seen as a provider but a working mum as, at best, a focus for concern or pity, and at worst, a cold-hearted bitch who neglects her children? Why is the sly judgemental remark aimed at me and not Nick? Why are the children mine not ours? Surprisingly enough we were both involved in the baby-making process!
Nick is the most brilliant Dad. He is much more ‘natural’ as a parent. He is incredibly patient, tolerant and laid-back; attributes I have seen are absolutely vital in being a parent. I would feel as if I am robbing him of the opportunity to be the best Dad he could be if he was not able to spend the time with our children as he does. This ideal of mum at home would not only sacrifice my sanity, it would rob him of this time and deny him the chance to be that amazing Dad. I hate that society seems to hold men in such low regard and limit them. There is a bias towards women, it seems, when looking at childcare – maybe this is part of the reason fathers are much less likely to obtain custody of their children in divorce settlements (I know it is more complex than this, but there is perhaps a deep-seated mistrust of a man’s ability to bring up children that surrounds this issue). As a feminist and a Christian I value equality and long to see this outworked in society to bring about justice in areas where currently there is injustice, oppression and discrimination. I long to see men treated as capable human beings, able, gifted and suited to being parents as equally as women are. I long to see men who choose careers related to children being treated with the respect they deserve instead of being eyed with suspicion, questioned over their sexuality (which is not relevant) , or sniggered at for not being a real man. ‘Real men’ (a ludicrous term!) don’t feel the need to have to have to prove something to others.
My husband and I are partners in parenting and are also people, who work- to support our family and to find the joy and challenge that work can bring. We are collaborative and cooperative. We are by no means perfect – we don’t always get things right – but we do both hope to support each other to bring up our children, but to also try and live out what it means to be us. I want to celebrate working dads as well as working mums. I want to see more fathers being able to spend time with their children rather than being tied to the cultural constraints that being a ‘real man’ can sometimes bring. I want to see more mothers feeling able to explore their own aspirations and not feel the guilt or judgement that is sometimes associated with that. So I am going to make a point of asking working dads how they are coping juggling being at work and looking after children, Nick is going to be the named ‘parent/teacher association’ contact person not me (not sure how the yummies will react!) and I am going to stop beating myself up because of other people’s expectations….at least I’ll try!