I sit with my mum friends at the park, supervising our children playing on the playground. We chat and sip our takeaway coffees in-between intermittently leaping up to administer kisses to scraped knees, doling out morning tea snacks and reapplying sunscreen to little faces.
Inevitably, as it so often does, our conversation turns to our husbands. Each of us takes turns exchanging funny anecdotes of our partners’ most recent parenting blunders.
One friend speaks of her husband’s cluelessness when it comes to preparing lunch for the kids. We laugh along as she describes the step-by-step instructions that are required in order for her husband to make a child-friendly toasted sandwich and bowl of fruit and yoghurt. “It’s easier to just do it myself!” she exclaims, as we all nod in agreement.
Another recounted that when her husband had recently been left in charge of the kids for half a day he had completely failed to feed them anything at all! His defence, she reported, was that she hadn’t told him he was supposed to!
I spoke in frustration about my husband’s inability to pack our sons swimming bag. “Got everything?” I always ask, before they head out the door. “Yes” my husband replies confidently. What follows is usually about 15 minutes of me passive-aggressively listing basic necessities whilst my husband sheepishly adds each item into what must have basically been an empty Pepper Pig bag.
As a group, we carelessly throw around words like “useless” as we lovingly mock our husbands’ ineptitude to parent to our high standards.
Later that day I couldn’t help but reflect on this conversation. I imagined the situation in reverse; a group of men gathered together mocking women, albeit affectionately. This situation was not difficult to image; casual sexism is something that women are confronted with everyday.
And yet the mental image of my female friends and I collectively being called ‘useless’ in relation to our sacred parenting roles and being mocked by our loved ones, sparked a sense of sadness and injustice inside of me.
Why, I wondered, was it acceptable for us as women to openly undermine, question and mock men’s ability to parent?
The truth is, it isn’t acceptable. And to be honest, it isn’t even true.
My husbands’ infuriating inability to remember what needs to be packed in the swimming bag isn’t due to some inevitable genetic parenting flaw found in his XY chromosomes. It’s due to the fact that he doesn’t pack the swimming bag as often as I do.
Let’s imagine for a moment that I work part-time, and despite a high level of enthusiasm for my job and my best efforts to succeed, I am ruthlessly mocked and put down for not being as capable as my colleague who has worked full time in that role for the past 2 years! Doesn’t seem fair, right?
I do not possess a greater natural ability to nurture my child than my husband. I have, however, had greater opportunity to develop my parenting skills owing to the fact that I have been the primary caregiver of our son for the past 2 years.
And the only reason I remember everything that needs to be packed into our sons swimming bag isn’t because I am the better parent. It is due to the numerous times, in those early days, that I accidently forgot something crucial (aka nappies) and had to deal with the ramifications. The only difference is that my husband wasn’t present to witness and scrutinize my many moments of parenting fails.
The culturally accepted myth that fathers are not as capable as mothers creates an environment that makes it challenging for men to prove what incredible caregivers they can be!
The truth is that, aside from physically giving birth and lactating, there isn’t anything a father isn’t capable of doing.
As mothers, we need to ALLOW fathers to co-parent. We need to stand back and let them make mistakes and do it there way. And yes, that means that sometimes we have to bite our tongues and resist the urge to take over and “do it properly”.
I am certainly not saying that men should be condescending congratulated on participating in basic parenting duties. There is nothing more nauseating than hearing a man being praised for being a wonderful father just because he changed a nappy or got up in the middle of the night to comfort his own children. This is patronising and insulting to both men and women.
And there is also no defence for a father who is reluctant or unwilling to actively participate in parenting. The kind of man that relinquishes the physical and mental load of child-rearing is, in my opinion,….well let’s just save that angry and profanity-filled rant for another day.
The stereotype that women naturally make better parents than men is an injustice, not only to men but also to women.
If we operate under the premise that women are intuitively better than men at child-rearing, than the next logical conclusion is that men must be naturally better at things like business, academics, politics, etc. (and I think we can all confidently agree that this isn’t bloody true!).
The stereotype that women naturally make better parents than men is one that is perpetuated by society, not because it raises women up, but because it holds them down. Claiming that women are more sensitive and nurturing is a notion that represses women, implying that homemaking and childcare is where women belong.
Fighting for feminism and gender equality means recognising injustices instigated by both men and women. I think most mothers can relate to, at times, feeling overcome with resentment for having to carry the full weight of the mental load of parenting. And yet, I think we have to ask ourselves if our possessives and, at times, even arrogance in the role of primary caregiver has contributed to this disproportionate division of labour.
I think we need to change the language we use when we talk about parenting and gender roles. And we need to campaign for work-family policies that allow for, and normalise, fathers staying at home being caregivers.
Parenting is not a competition between men and women. There is no ‘mums versus dads’ in the race for Best Parent Award. Being a good parent has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love, time and commitment. Challenging the myth that women make better parents than men is yet another necessary step towards equality.
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