parents

Why the 'dumb dads' myth is holding us back.

We have to let go of the idea that Dads are, well, a bit crap.

When our first baby was six months old, I went back to work and my partner joined my mothers’ group.

He turned up with a squalling baby on his chest, a nappy bag over his shoulder and a terrified look on his face.

It barely needs to be pointed out that, in a group of 20, he was the only man.

It was difficult for him. Not because the mothers made it difficult – they didn’t, they embraced him and those weekly catch-ups became as much of a lifeline to him as they had been to me – but because he had no roadmap for what a full-time stay at home dad looked like. We didn’t know any.

Writer, Holly Wainright and her gorgeous kids.

Mostly, when we told people our plan to split the first year of care for our baby between us 50-50, these were the reactions:

Women would be incredulous that I would trust a Mere Male with a baby and would tell me that I would change my mind.

And men were evenly divided into to wistful, “I wish I could do that!” and the horrified: “But why would you want to do that?”

A professional at our Early Childhood Centre snorted at the very idea. “Men ARE NOT good with little babies,” she told me. And then, when I’d asked if they had any information about Dads’ groups in our area, “I think they just meet at the pub, don’t they?”

Well, occasionally our mothers’ group met at the pub, but whatever.

Even Peppa Pig knows that fathers are faintly ridiculous (Post continues after video):

We shouldn’t have been surprised by the reaction.

Less than 3 per cent of Australian children have a male primary carer.

In “traditional” Australian family structures, babies and children are still overwhelmingly women’s business. The first year of a baby’s life flies by at snails’ pace, and then often, everyone goes back to work, at least for some of the time, but the woman will continue to do the lion’s share of the domestic heavy lifting, no matter how many hours she works, and in most households, the man will continue to do a small, clearly-defined portion of it, no matter how many hours he works.

Yesterday, I saw the always-impressive Annabel Crabb talk on exactly this at All About Women at Sydney Opera House.

She wrote a book on the topic, The Wife Drought, last year, and an enormous amount of what she’s (beautifully) written is about how domestic and professional life are unavoidably interwined, and whoever is doing most work at home is disadvantaged at work.

Her point, about the enormous professional advantage  “a wife” – someone who is remembering to pack the lunch box, that it’s “News” day at school on Fridays and can be there to read the bedtime stories or confiscate screens – is so unarguably correct that it seems incredible no-one had written her book before.

I don’t have a “wife” – but I have half a wife. And my partner has half a wife. Because ever since that first year, we have tackled family life 50-50.  It’s not rocket science, but it means that rather than having “IT ALL” – whatever the holy hell that means – we can both have half. Which is, you know, a whole lot better that nothing.

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Annabel Crabb talks to Julia Baird at All About Women at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday.

But in order for many women to have even half a wife, a seismic shift has to occur.  And yes, we need to talk about the big things, about Paid Paternity Leave and Flexible Working Hours for men and removing the stigma around men needing time off for family, but also, as a culture, we have to acknowledge that men can Do Anything, just like women can.

We have to let go of the idea that Dads are, well, a bit crap.

“Our culture,” Annabel said in her speech yesterday, “not only expects fathers to be hopeless, but actively encourages it and is perpetually surprised when they aren’t.”

Think about it. How many times have you, or the women around you, dismissed a man’s domestic efforts as try-hard at best, incompetent at worst?

– You “sent” him to do the shopping and he came back with beer instead of bread.

– You asked him to feed the baby and he took your five-month-old to McDonalds for a thickshake.

– You weren’t around to pack the school lunch and the kids went off with a mini-tin of pineapple and a packet of chips.

Basically, it’s this: Men, they’re so hilariously stupid aren’t they? You can’t trust them with the simplest thing.

There’s a whole column in one weekly women’s magazine devoted to how terrible men are at everything. It’s called Mere Male.

There is one thing that this attitude does for women. It holds us back. It puts us in the ridiculous position of Doing It All.

By refusing to allow for the idea that a man might just be able to share those endless domestic tasks that families need to happen to function, women keep themselves tied to the kitchen, to the cot, to the schoolbag.

There’s nothing useful to women about making men feel like they do not belong in at home – it just pushes them out of it, leaving us there, madly flailing around trying to please our bosses and our children and our inner Martha Stewart all at the same time.

Men can look after babies. Men can pack school lunches. Men can clean houses and fold the never-ending hellish mountain range of washing that is taking over your home. Of course they can. Of course.

Ha! Men are so hilariously awful at everything.

They might not do it how “you” do it. But they can do it.

“Let your husband put the baby’s diaper on their head. Just let him do it himself,” says Sheryl Sandberg in the new campaign #leanintogether. “We need to live in a world where men do half, women let them do half, and being a parent isn’t a full-time job for a woman, and a part-time job for a man.”

Lean In Together, a campaign about the importance of valuing fathers (Post continues after video):

That first week my partner was home with our baby, she fell out of her highchair. He regularly left the house without nappies, wipes and clean bottles.  He was completely overwhelmed, a bit teary and desperate for me to get home at the end of the day.

Sounds exactly like me in the first weeks that I was at home with our baby.

None of us has any idea what we’re doing when we first become parents. But we learn. We get it.

Loom bands. Dads can even do loom bands, if they have to. Holly’s partner Brent, with their daughter, Matilda.

That’s what happened in our house. And now the best possible result is that there is no “default parent” in our home any more. The relationship that my partner has with our kids is just the same as mine, and either one of us can swap in and out of being the main carer.

Which means we get get to HAVE HALF.

Which might not sound as sexy as having it all. But a half-wife is better than no wife. Even for a Mere Male.

Do you “trust” your partner with all domestic duties? 

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