In terms of parenting, the biggest difference between the sexes is not in our abilities but in the expectations put upon us. And these expectations are the reason mothers have it harder than fathers – because there are no expectations put on us at all.
To illustrate the point, a story little. When we had a meal out on our recent holiday on the Isle of Wight, I sat on the bench seat while Lizzie had the chair. I therefore put Izzie, in her car seat, on the bench seat beside me and spent the next two hours soothing her, playing with her, heating her bottle in a jug of water, feeding her, changing her, and generally eating with one hand. We were with friends, the conversation flowed, and the two hours passed in amiable, unthinking companionship.
While we were finishing our drinks, the table next to us got up to leave. It comprised three elderly couples. Before they left, they came up to our table and said they’d been watching me the whole meal, and remarking on what a good dad I was, and how impressed they were with me, and as I recall, the word ‘amazing’ was used. One woman even turned to the two girls at my table and said, ‘Whoever is the mother of this little girl is a very lucky lady to have such a man.’
Now, it’s very gratifying to have strangers (six, no less) commend your parenting abilities, and gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. However, this was at the time that Lizzie’s confidence in her mothering ability was at an all time low, and even as they said it, I looked at her, her face expressionless, and thought, ‘Ouch, that’s a kick in the teeth for her.’ The whole situation wasn’t very helpful and led to resentment and upset. They might have meant well, but it had the opposite effect.
And it only happened because I’m a man.
If I was female, the old people would have walked on by. Nobody goes up to a woman with a baby in a restaurant and tells her what a great mother she is and how lucky the father of her baby is for having her. Because it’s expected of a woman to look after her baby and do it well. It isn’t expected of us men.
Everywhere I go with the baby, people (mainly of the older generations, to be fair) tell me I’m a great father, congratulate me on giving mum ‘time off’, and praise me for being a ‘hands-on dad’. By these comments, and others about it being a breath of fresh air, they must have great experience of hands-off dads. But just who are these dads who don’t change nappies, help feed the baby or carry her about in public? They surely can’t be as rare as the comments would have us believe.
Regardless, the expectations placed on men are remarkably low. We’re expected to be rubbish at pretty much every hands-on baby caring task, with the possible exceptions of bathing and playtime. And then, when the hard stuff starts, you hand her back to mum.
And therein lies the problem for women. They’re expected to be perfect mothers right from the get-go, as if it’s natural and automatic, programmed into their DNA. They’re expected to do nappy changes, night feeds and look after the baby in public, and to do this without complaint and without mistake or they’re somehow defective as women. They’re expected to be horrendously tired all the time, yet selfless, knackered but energetic, caring and patient, self-sacrificing – essentially Twenty-First Century martyrs.
And they get zero thanks or appreciation for it because it’s what they’re ‘meant’ to do, whereas if I walk down the street with my daughter, I get to bask in the adoration of strangers. And that’s what makes being a mum so much harder than being a dad.
So if you’re a dad, be sure to give your lady thanks for all the crap she does. And next time you see a woman pushing a baby in a pram with a toddler in tow, remember there’s nothing ‘natural’ about it, and it’s a lot if jolly hard work!