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Monday 1 October 2012

Do we not trust men with the kids?

A study today for the Telegraph with the title Most Young Women 'Want to Have it All' caught my eye

Now, I can't pretend that I am one of the young women interviewed, as I sadly no longer fall into the 18 to 35 year old age bracket (ahem), and I can only assume that most women interviewed were early on in their careers and did not yet have families. I have to say though, that a number of points in the following paragraph did get my back up:

"However, the poll of over 1,000 young people reveals fewer women than men are willing to have their partner stay at home to look after the kids while they went out to work, suggesting those that do want to run their own business also want to play the role of housewife and mother - "having it all".

(Firstly, the assumption that women "play" the role of mother. Parenting in any form is not a role you can play. It is something that becomes a part of your persona, whether you like it or not, whether you stay at home, or whether you go out to work, whether you are a mother or a father. OK, we'll let that one slide...)

I am mainly interested that the conclusion drawn from the fact that women are less likely to be willing to have men stay at home and look after the children is that somehow this means all women are aiming to be superwomen - "having it all". Again, I do not have access to the details of the study, but the most interesting question in my mind that wasn't asked, is why this might be the case?

I am of course purely speculating, but for me, it comes down to the fact that we still live in a society where a man staying at home to look after the children is a rarity. Is it therefore just an assumption that women make without much thought? How much did the responses come from a place of "oh, he won't want to anyway"? Or is it the fact that the phrase "having it all" is only ever mentioned in conjunction with women making us into control freaks who feel we somehow should be doing it all, without letting men get a look in?

I remember joking with my friends before I had children that I would not necessarily want my husband to stay at home with the children, not because I thought he would not be able to take care of them, but because I was worried that he would not understand my expectation that not only should he be taking care of the kids, but also taking care of the house. (With hindsight I can only laugh about my naivety in thinking it was possible to get ANYTHING else done when small children were around!)

After I went back to work in the first few months of my eldest daughter's life, we did share some of the childcare and both worked four days a week - he had Mondays off, I had Fridays off - so I came to eat my words. Because, guess what? It turned out that our daughter didn't perish - he managed to feed her, clothe her, change her perfectly adequately. On some occasions, he even managed a load or two of ironing. (Shock!).

I do know of some women who cannot bear to leave their children with the fathers for even an afternoon, at least without worrying massively. It then becomes a vicious circle - the kids never spend time alone with their dads, therefore dad has less clue about the practicalities, therefore mum is more convinced that he "can't take care of them".

Nobody is born a good parent. We all learn as we go along, muddling through as best we can. While it's true that making mistakes where kids are concerned can have more serious consequences than with other examples, we can only really get there with experience. Parenting is hard enough without one party not trusting the other with the kids. It helps if you are on the same page.

I hope, for the sake of the young women in the study, and the future fathers of any children they might have, that they will change their minds and see that the only way to truly "have it all" is with support from both parents involved. If that means conceding that it's ok for men to stay at home to look after the kids, maybe it's time for women to accept that fact.



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