FATHERHOOD seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. You get to skip the whole pregnancy and giving birth stuff (it really smarts, that bit).
Then you swerve the day-to-day drudgery and carry on with your fulfilling career, while giving yourself an extra pat on the back for being the breadwinner.
Kate Wills says mothers are still doing the bulk of, well, everything
Occasionally you pop in for a cameo at bath time, and perhaps a bit of “pretending to be a horsey” – cementing your reputation as “the fun one”. And when your daughter grows up, you get to walk her down the aisle and give the speech at her wedding. Being a dad can seem like all the glory, none of the grind.
I’m generalising, but what is undeniable, particularly since the pandemic started, is how women are still doing the bulk of, well, everything. A recent poll by Mumsnet found that 70% of mothers with male partners did most of the homeschooling during lockdown, and that three-quarters of women said that during lockdown it was easier for their partner to work uninterrupted.
A father’s talent for carrying on working regardless never ceases to amaze me. It can sometimes feel as if men have magic glasses that mean they simply don’t see the mess, or invisible headphones that tune out the voices of anyone under 18 asking for another snack.
Lockdown may have highlighted the gender imbalance of who does what at home, but I think we’ve always known it. For a long time I thought I didn’t want children, because I didn’t want to give up the career I loved and had worked 15 years for. I saw female friends and colleagues run themselves ragged trying to “have it all”.
This week I’m…
Scoffing… Le Swine
They’re the best bacon butties in Britain, I reckon – get yours delivered pronto at Leswine.co.uk.
Listening to… Teach Me A Lesson
Ever wondered how RuPaul can make you better at arguing? This podcast is for you.
Loving… Living Proof
The beauty brand’s new Curl haircare range, specially designed for all types of waves, is perfect for folk like me.
But then I met my partner Guy, who doesn’t just share the domestic load equally – he does the bulk of it. And yet I still have to consciously force myself to walk past the pile of washing and ignore the overflowing nappy bin in order to get my work done. We’re both freelance, which means a carefully negotiated tag team of whose deadline is more pressing at that precise minute.
And I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Talking to friends, it feels like their male partners somehow always get away with doing less. “My husband’s self- employed so he won’t get paid if he doesn’t work, so I’ll do the homeschooling.” But also: “I’m self-employed so I can be flexible, I’ll do the homeschooling.” What gives?
Is it simply maternal guilt that means we’re always the one to break out the Marigolds, or log off our Zoom call because how much Peppa Pig is really too much? Or is it the insidious and persistent view that it is “women’s work” and if a man “helps out” he’s wonderful? Don’t even get me started on dads “babysitting” their own kids or the phrase “daddy daycare”.
We might now wear T-shirts declaring ourselves #feminists, and have Jane Austen on a £10 note, but old attitudes die hard. Only 7% of British adults believe women with pre-school children should have full-time jobs. The take-up of shared parental leave in this country is tiny – only 2% of eligible couples used it last year.
I wish I knew how we could change things. Maybe we could make it mandatory for fathers to take parental leave (like the Swedes)? Or value parenting more and show men how fulfilling it can be to be pelted with Lego bricks and yoghurt all day (honest)? Until then, does anyone know where I can find some of those magic dad glasses?
- Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.
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