Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sorry girls, we men can be better parents than you


Daily Mail,8 April 2008, Tom Sykes

How reassuring it must have been for full-time mothers to read the latest Government-backed "research", stating that while just 42 per cent of fathers read bedtime stories to their children, 76 per cent of mothers can be found tucking up their offspring and turning the pages to Peter Rabbit and Roald Dahl with them come 7 o'clock.

The subtext to this spurious finding, which has the endorsement of Schools' Secretary Ed Balls, has a depressing ring of familiarity.

Indeed, it sometimes seems that any state-supported research on parenthood is designed to deliver one simple message - Mummy good, Daddy bad.

Let's be clear, the reason that men are usually not present at children's bedtime is because of one simple fact: money.

In the real world - as opposed to the corridors of power where Mr Balls, a father of three who doubtless reads bedtime stories to his children - on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, has spent most of his working life - money earned persists in maintaining an inconveniently close correlation with the number of hours spent in the office.

And the single most important contribution the majority of men believe they can make to the wellbeing of their family is to be an effective financial provider.

Put these two ideas together and you have the real explanation as to why dads can't often be on hand to tuck their little darlings in at the end of the day, much as many might long to.

It is disgusting that men are implicitly criticised for trying to provide for their families.
Of course, if it was just Balls and his paper-shuffling minions who had nothing better to do than propagate this offensive idea of dads as hard-hearted brutes who won't even read their children a story at bedtime, we fathers could dismiss it as a load of old, well, balls, and get back to work.

But, sadly, the myth of incompetent dads is put about just as enthusiastically by mothers, too. For evidence of this fact, simply visit any park in any town this weekend and observe the sight of dads trying their hardest to make the most of the few hours they have with their children and being criticised by their wives for "doing it wrong".

Or think of the harridan-like mothers who always speak so dismissively about their partner's parenting skills: "He's useless", "He doesn't know one end of the child from the other", "He can't even change a nappy", "He just can't handle them".

The repetition of such negative judgements ensures that they swiftly fulfill themselves - and justify their roles in life.

Isn't there a great conspiracy among mothers to propagate the idea that only women can manage children, and are thus indispensable to their families?

It's time to fight back, chaps. The truth is that when we do have time to spend with our children, men are actually just as capable at rearing their offspring as women - and, although women don't like to acknowledge it, in some areas of parenting fathers do even better than mothers.

For example, when my wife Sasha went away on a well-deserved break with her girlfriends to Barcelona last weekend, she left me in sole charge of our two children (both under the age of two) for the first time. Her trepidation was immense.

She foresaw the house descending into utter chaos in her absence. She could hardly have been blamed for imagining that her return would be greeted with piles of unwashed plates and clothes, a pair of unwashed children and a frantic wide-eyed (and probably also unwashed) husband to boot.

After all, that's the perceived wisdom about dads.

But in fact, Sasha came home to find Benjamin's routine unchanged (bed at 7pm) and her five-month-old daughter - who had been sleeping irregularly - going to bed at 7pm on the dot, taking one quick bottle at 10pm then sleeping through the night.

She was furious. As she saw it, I had performed an act of parental treachery.

"But don't you feel happy we can relax tonight?" I asked as I prepared a peace offering of green curry and resigned myself to a conciliatory two hours of watching Sex And The City.

"No. I feel undermined as a mother," she replied.

I am not the first father who has been caught in this particular parent trap. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't. My friend Paul, for example, took advantage of his
girlfriend going away to make a few changes to the routine of their nine-month-old son, which he regarded as long overdue.

"I started to feed him solids and got him going to bed at the same time every day," he says. "It only took a few days of crying at bedtime and then he would just go to sleep quite quickly.

"Then she came back from the break, went straight back to breastfeeding the baby and all my hard work was for nothing."

Paul believes that his wife's emotional attachment to her child got in the way of her being able to stick to a routine.

For him to put the child on a routine, by contrast, was a practical not an emotional task. I agree. When the baby cries, my wife's instinct is to pick her up, while mine is to turn the radio up.

Another friend, Jim, an experienced father with three well-trained children under his belt, says that it is "chemically easier" for men to shut their ears to a wailing infant. "I am the first to admit that I don't actually enjoy looking after them," he told me. "But you need a bit of 'bad cop' to get a baby on the routine. And generally, that's just easier for a bloke to do."

Of course parents do often disagree on the best way to rear their children. And I can see that it is not ideal for marital relations for dads to re-program children while their mothers are away in the way that I did.

But forget the hurt feelings of my wife for a moment.

The real question is this: whether it's failing to read a bedtime story because you're trying to pay the mortgage, or putting the child on a strict routine so you're able to enjoy dinner with the woman you love, why is it always fathers who are told that our way of doing it is wrong - even when all the available evidence suggests that, actually, we might just be doing it right?

2 comments:

johnny five said...

"But don't you feel happy we can relax tonight?" I asked as I prepared a peace offering of green curry and resigned myself to a conciliatory two hours of watching Sex And The City.

"No. I feel undermined as a mother," she replied.


you may be an a-1 father, but you clearly understand nothing about the female psyche. the mere presence of the words 'peace offering' here, however laced with sarcasm, reveals a fatal hesitation to criticize your woman, to correct her when she's in the wrong, or to have a strong hand in running the household.

this is a situation in which you need to put her in her place. i'm not insinuating any violence, below-the-belt comments, or disrespect; just a confident, objective rundown of why your way worked and why it should be maintained by both of you, tinged with just enough wry barbs to keep it edgy.

if you do this, not only can you leave 'peace offerings' to biblical leaders, but you'll get laid more often and more enthusiastically.

face it: you're the father, and you will be the disciplinarian when your child(ren) are old enough; no matter how bitchy a mother is, the idea of mother as disciplinarian is at best laughable and at worst counterproductive. if you don't assert yourself as some sort of patriarchal figure right now, then not only will you be subjugated to your woman's will now, but you'll likewise be subjugated to your teenager's (or teenagers') will down the road.

women only respect men who don't put up with their crap.

GR Klein said...

Thanks for your comment Johnny five.