|The view from our hotel balcony|
Earlier this year, our family spent some time with a man (let’s call him Joe) and his toddler. Joe’s wife hadn’t been with us, and so, at the end of our time together, I sent her a text telling her what a great dad Joe clearly was. Time went by. Last weekend I spent three nights in Cairns with a dear friend and no children/husband (mini review: It was the absolute best; 27 degrees, wonderful company, beautiful food [prepared by someone else!!], lots of wandering, reading, and sun-basking, and the gloriously liberating feeling of being able to plan the day without taking anyone else into consideration – I LOVED it). While there, I received two picture messages showing Moses and Hazel having fun, both of which were sent by other mums (Alan was very kindly leaving me alone). Then, upon my return home, one of these women sent a text message telling me that Alan is “a terrific dad” with “such a great way” with the kids, and “so doting” (all of which is true).
It did make me wonder, though, whether dads ever receive messages from friendly folk reassuring them how well their children are being mothered. As far as I know (I’ll go check now), Alan’s never had someone contact him especially to point out the fact that my children are not only still alive but enjoying themselves in my care! Incredibly! This can, at least in part, be explained by the fact that Alan spends most of his time at work, so it can come as a surprise to others that on top of his engineering skillz, he’s also a competent child-wrangler (this was certainly the case when I sent the message about Joe). It makes sense; I can imagine that if I filled in for Alan at his office for a few days while he flew off for a break somewhere, his colleagues would be similarly shocked if I was to do the job well. No doubt he’d receive photos of me banging busily at his keyboard and looking very serious in meetings, and then, later, have to sit through bewildered accounts of how I didn’t fail as spectacularly as they’d expected me to.
I’m sure another side to it, though, is the fact that women are still often seen as the ones naturally gifted with the ability to look after children, whereas men are supposed to do adorably foolish things like dress their babies in the wrong season’s outfits and forget to take nappies and lose at least one child at some point and feed them only donuts for the whole time the mother’s away. As Annabel Crabb says in The Wife Drought, “In a world of assumed responsibility, you get credit for doing things that are viewed as additional to your usual beat, but no credit at all for things that are supposed to be in your bag anyway… This is her job; to fulfil it adequately is more or less unsurprising. But for him to do it at all carries an element of surprise; that it should be done well is barely imaginable.”
I don’t know where I’m going with this; I don’t even know if it was wrong to have sent the message about Joe or for my neighbours to have sent similar messages to me. It does seem rather unfair that the regular things I do every day are suddenly wondrous and praise-worthy when done by my husband instead. Maybe that’s all I’m trying to say.