A guest blog from David Bones
As Darcy Lockman writes in her well argued article, parenthood tends to reinforce gender stereotypes, however well intentioned and avowedly feminist both parties might be. I’m writing this as a dad and loving husband, a father of two young girls. I want to explore this a bit more from a paternal viewpoint.
The very experience – from pregnancy, through birth, to the postnatal care of the new bundle of joy is fundamentally different for the mother and the father (this is written from a heterosexual standpoint, but I gather that roles become more segregated in same-sex relationships too ). As committed and hands on as a father might be, it’s hard not to feel like an onlooker, a supporting act, sometimes.
Of course, there is a lot of support needed. The mother will have just gone through something at least as arduous as a marathon. Immediately following birth comes the pain/discomfort and anxiety of breast feeding. So just being a useful and loving support act means that a lot of those two weeks of paternity leave go in a blur.
But after the dust has settled, the statistics show that fathers are not pulling their weight – 65% of childcare is done by the mother, according to a study cited by Dr Lockman. Although fathers are more involved than 50 years ago, since the 90s the division of childcare has stayed similar.
Dr Lockman’s explanation lies in the differences between guilt and resentment as experienced between men and women. Men feel less guilt if they are not pulling their weight but are quicker to feel resentment if the tables are turned.
I think there’s a bit more to it though. Societal expectations run deep, so it takes courage and single mindedness to ignore the opinions of grandparents, for example, and the wider society. No one wants to feel like a patsy when chatting with mates in the pub, because he actually does his share of work in the home. And because the father starts from an outsider point of view, it can be hard to break that mindset.
Another major factor comes in the form of “Mummy do it” – e.g. for teeth brushing (until recently, the source of major frustration and upset in our household). As they get older, kids will vocalise who they want to brush their teeth, or put them to bed, get them changed, read the story … more often than not, it’s Mummy, possibly because she has done the lion’s share anyway. Habits can be hard to break. Luckily, 3 year olds will respond (albeit grumpily) to requests for fairness – “It’s Daddy’s turn. I did it yesterday.” It’s easy to fall into a pattern by following the path of least resistance, however.
Ultimately, it all comes down to communication, with honest conversations between the parents managing expectations and smoothing over areas of discontent. It may sound cheesy, but we find it helps to think of our family as a team, with each member having their specialities and responsibilities. There’s the future, too: the fairer and less gender segregated your family is, the better the chance that children will pick up on that and have a fair system when they start having families.
About The Author
David Bones is a trainee CalmFamily Consultant in West Yorkshire. He is a busy dad with two daughters as well as his day job as a chemistry researcher at the University of Leeds. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to Leeds 7 years ago. He joined CalmFamily last year, impressed by the combination of science and empathy-based discipline.