Friday, 10 January 2014

The story of Controlling Mum and Disempowered Dad...

On the weekends, the following conversation often takes place in our house...

"Dad! Let's get dressed now..."
"Well, there's not much point in me dressing you, your mother will just change all your clothes."
"No I won't, go on. Daddy will get you dressed".
 A few minutes later. Kids re-appear with Dad, dressed.

A few minutes after that, kids appear, dressed in a different outfit (Mum is hiding in the bathroom).
"Have you changed them?? Why do I even bother dressing them if you're just going to re-do it?"
"You put her in a T-shirt. It's WINTER"
"She had a jumper on top! You clearly think I'm a second-rate parent..."
"No I just didn't expect to have to BRIEF you on what kids should WEAR!" etc etc

So this is just a typical example of how I think I know best when it comes to child-rearing. I want my husband to be involved and encourage him to take on as much as possible when he's not at work. I know, if I disagree with his choices, I should just button up. After all they are his kids too. But then, my micro-managing of the children takes over. My over-think goes into overdrive...

I mean, you might think a jumper over a T-shirt is fine. But actually if she takes her jumper off in a draughty church hall/chilly playground as she is bound to do, then her arms will get cold. Then she might catch a cold. Then she will be snotty and coughy and wake up at night. Then her baby brother will get it. Then NO ONE IN OUR HOUSE WILL SLEEP FOR A WEEK. Why has my husband not realised this!?

Do you see how it can get slightly out of control? Why am I, and probably some other mums out there, like this? 

As the kids are my responsibility during the week, they are also my world. I spend my life anticipating their needs, negotiating dramas, problem-solving and trying to work out the better of two less than ideal options. What to do if the baby who really needs a nap hasn't had one by 3pm: do you let him have one and risk him not going to bed till 10pm or not let him have one and risk him being too tired to eat dinner and then being up all night hungry? Yesterday I managed to get the kids home by using one hand to push the sleepy three year old in her brother's buggy while using the other hand to pull the baby determined to ride his sister's scooter. It was an epic steering challenge but we made it back eventually!

Tackling these daily dilemmas doesn't make me a better parent but it inevitably makes me a more experienced parent. I don't pretend to be an expert at my husband's profession but I guess I do inevitably think of myself as parent-in-chief. This assumption of betterness is not really helpful to a collaborative endeavour such as parenting.

And despite my self-declared expertise, that is not to say that I am always right. Small things turn into big things if you are sleep-deprived, anxious or stressed. It is harder to roll with the punches and take a chilled approach to parenting. So I am probably much more OTT about things than I should be, be it what they are eating, wearing, doing or not doing. Furthermore, if you have no external validation to say whether you are doing a good job or not, you can feel quite insecure. I often think that it is when people are feeling insecure that they are hardest to deal with - anxious, defensive, irritable.

Of course, fundamentally, there is an issue about women not trusting men to care for children properly. This does not necessarily follow the stay at home mum with career-focused dad pattern. I remember one working mum say to her stay at home husband, "of course, I never let her watch TV when I get home" as though the poor man didn't deserve a medal for only caving in and letting her watch Cbeebies for the first time that day while he was cooking dinner. The suggestion that he was not doing a great job I thought was pretty unfair, especially as she would clearly not need to put the telly on when her kid is excited to see her in the 15 minutes before bedtime. 

Why do we often end up belittling men's efforts? Is it because, try as we might, we see children as our domain, our source of power and control, and if we praise men we feel our own worth diminishes? Traditionally women are expected to know their kids best, questions about them are directed to the mother and I guess it is an area of expertise worth protecting. As no one bothers to ask me my views on WW1, Syria or health policy anymore, I am bound to be protective over my knowledge of baby led weaning or what to do with under 5s on a wet Tuesday. 

Do we genuinely think men are less able parents as they lack female hormones and maternal instincts? It is a familiar anecdote that fathers are more able to sleep through the noise of a crying baby than their mothers. They can seem not as in tune with young children or maybe more able to tune out. It can be frustrating if you feel that your partner isn't paying attention to the people you went to a lot of effort to bring into the world. So when he does offer to help, you are not entirely convinced that he is tuned in to the complexities of the matter at hand. The annoying thing is, of course, that things are probably more simple than you think - he doesn't um and ah over sling/buggy/scooter, he just scoops them up and carries them off. Which, by the way, is much more fun.

Maybe we think men are like children themselves - back to the "Does he take sugar?" question. If you are used to thinking men need reminding to eat healthier, drink less, don't smoke, you probably don't have faith in them caring for the kids in the way you would. But really, that's your problem. He ain't a kid and if you make him one, he will never step up. Although in fact most dads, young and old, prove they can step up, given the opportunity.

This is a topical Friday post because I know we will have the conversation outlined above again tomorrow morning. Maybe with some variation. I might wail "WHY are they wearing their scruffy nursery clothes?? Put them in something nice, we've got friends coming!" or "Not her NEW dress!!! We're doing painting this morning..." Or maybe, I will just shut up and let him get on with it for a never know. 


  1. This is so me :-). Or used to be, as DD now dresses herself so the battles are with her instead of him. I struggle with my belief that I know best vs my desire for her to make her own decisions and develop her own identity as a woman! You are so right re men though, my husband is a brilliant stay at home Dad but I just can't help myself criticising SOMETHING when I get home from work...

  2. It's hard to give up control and probably a real skill :) I think it's hard for mothers to just step back and relax - you're so used to having to take charge and it's a big adjustment when you realise that you're not actually needed all the time. They will get along fine...!