Twitter is my go-to social media as it often allows for meaningful dialogue. But, one must thread (pun intended) with caution as there are too many bots and trolls. Recently, I came across a rather interesting thread. It has now been retweeted over 3,000 times and favourited almost 6,000 times. Its focus was a topic I had intended to write about before, so it gave me the much needed push and perspectives.
Many concluded that the writer was advocating a case of co-parenting over being marriage. She noted that unlike her co-parenting friends, planning a personal holiday alone is an uphill task as she wouldn't leave her child with her husband. A single co-parent had the liberty of leaving the kids for a specified time and knowing that he'd be fine with them and she wouldn't need to pick up his slacks. I conducted a poll via Instagram and almost 70% of mums couldn't go on holiday leaving the kids with their husbands. Even mums who thought they could, had to caveat this opinion. One mum said "they'd be fine although my daughter may wear her PJs to school”.
There was understandably a backlash on the thread from a few quarters. The question was how did we get to the point of comparing co-parenting with a united family? There are reasons why one might find themselves in this situation, but it is not the ideal.
To take the one aspect of co-parenting that possibly works better (i.e. men being more hands-on) but ignoring the many other failings of co-parenting is a wrong approach. That a co-parenting mother is able to take off two weeks in a year for a solo holiday ignores the rest of the 50 weeks when she may be struggling and overwhelmed without much support. Men may be able to do more as co-parents due to some kind of legal or clear cut agreements - with possible implications for failure.
The writer clarified that her overall call was for married men to pick up the buck and pull their weight in parenting - as most marriages had the woman doing incredibly more.
What did people think?
i. Many married women agreed that their husbands do little
ii. Many women who currently co-parent agreed their ex-husbands now do considerably more which in turn has given them flexibility over their lives. Some admitted to being happier.
iii. Some men agreed that as co-parents, they are more active in their kids’ lives. A few admitted being sad that it took getting a divorce for this to happen.
iv. Some married men declared being ashamed that they had truly left it all to their wives; but promised to do better.
v. Some could not entirely relate to this. These included men who claimed to do as much as their wives did, and allowed their wives solo time out. Similarly, were women whose husbands were very hands on.
As a wife and new mother I admit that I somewhat fall into this last category. We’ve been together for 10 years, married for almost 4 and parents for just 12 weeks - but he has been 100% hands on, and has probably had as much sleepless nights (if not more) as I have - even when he had to drive 55 miles and be at work early the next day. He also changed our son’s first diaper and had a first go at bathing him alone.
But, I don't deny the fact that it is not the reality of very many women. I've grown up around many men who simply refused to lift a finger. So I identify with that side as well.
Why won’t husbands do more parenting within marriage?
Why aren’t many husbands more involved? Why aren’t they able to fix the kids dinner and change diapers - basically "parent" without asking a mother where the correct sock is or what should go in the child's snack box. I recall reading the bit in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In where a man’s colleagues were shocked that his wife called him to ask what went into their kids snack box. It seemed a taboo for him to be the one to know.
How do we get husbands more involved?
I say “get them more involved” because society and nature predisposes the woman to do more. From conception, she feels responsible to nurture this child. Except a man wishes to interact with the bump, he could have no contact with the child till birth
It’s the woman that very often logs into parenting sites which often have names like Mumsnet and MadeforMoms. I think my husband jokingly mentioned one day that he’d only read Baby Centre - as dads are involved too. Likewise women get three months to one year for maternity leave while dads (if at all) get a few weeks off.
So, men can go free with doing very little - particularly if they are the sole bread winners. This is unlikely to work in today's society because many women are co-providers and better still because parenting is a lot of work that should involve both parties.
I also read an article where the woman noted she wouldn't use the word ‘help’ in relation to her husband attending to the kids. Her argument was he’s not “helping”, it’s equally his responsibility. I recalled it because on this thread, a woman in category 5 above noted that she’s spoiled by her husband. The writer replied that the very fact that she thinks she’s spoiled could be the problem, if he is only doing his ‘fair’ share.
Someone pointed out that "yet again it falls to the women to tell the men how to do better". To avoid this, is for parents to teach their sons to do better. But sons are likely to learn from fathers. If they see their dads acting right, they will.
So, it's back to the question at the moment of getting fathers more involved. And how?
i. Have open conversations
Have such open and honest conversations. I said to my husband that if the only benefit of this thread is getting a few men to re-evaluate their roles and become better, it would have served a useful purpose.
ii. Discuss and set clear expectations
It's important for men to know that there's a very clear expectation for them to be involved. Dating is a good period to approach these subjects and while married, the discussions continue.
I recall when my husband and I found out that our son would be arriving in October and we may be unable to travel with a 5 week old for our friends' wedding. While he wished that we three attend, at some point it seemed to him to be a no-brainer that he’d go while I stay with our son (and my mum). I brought this up in a conversation that it was not necessarily the right approach. It wasn't automatic that he goes. We had to discuss and agree that I’d be fine.
iii. Get them involved consciously
I recall this same writer once tweeted something about her husband asking her a baby-related question and her response was that they both check Google.
I find that to be my experience as well. Not everything comes naturally to a woman. The first time I made my son’s milk, I only put one spoon of milk into 90ml of water - rather than the correct 3 spoons. I hadn’t read the instructions and it was not something that I could magically tell just because I had given birth to a baby. Likewise, how to operate a steriliser or bath a baby are not innate skills. Even for acts as natural as breastfeeding, many women have shared their struggles about getting their babies to latch and breastfeed. Parenting is a learning curve - which the man must be willing to climb as well.
I was intentional about getting my husband involved. I shared my baby list with him and got an opinion on everything - from body suits to bouncers. After being this involved, I'd be a tad bit shocked if he still doesn't know that the body suit must be worn before the sleep suit. Likewise we didn't buy a mummy looking nappy bag, because we'd both be carrying it! Getting him involved is also the reason we have two baby bouncers. While I wanted a sleek looking popular one, he opted for one that “sings”. We got both; glad to say our son seems to prefer his daddy's bouncer. Get intentional. Ask his opinions. Let him know it's a two way street.
iv. Don’t overly criticise
Many women become short fused, when their husbands fail to "do it the right way". They dismiss the husband's effort and do it themselves. "Oh this isn't how to wear a diaper - don’t bother anymore, I'd do it”. By this, the man feels he's not doing it right, and you're fine to do it all by yourself. Let them do it their way and learn from their mistakes or better still teach them.
My husband jokes that every time he makes a meal I tell him it's the best meal ever. Yes it is, and however he makes it, we'd eat it. Seriously though, he's a good (ish) cook.
v. Cut yourself (& other women) some slack
Women often thrive on their abilities to multi task. But you cannot pour from an empty cup. It's okay to audibly acknowledge being tired. If possible, outsource the physically exhausting menial chores. I'd rather refrain from buying a pair of shoes or that extra lipstick if I need to, in order to pay a cleaner and put my feet up in the air for some me time.
Also cut other women some slack. We're often our own worst enemies criticising unnecessarily "oh her child is formula fed", "oh she left her kids and is out with the girls!”. Stop.
vi. Plan Ahead
It surprised me when my male bosses include family affairs in their diaries - like hospital appointments or time off alone with the kids. But if couples roughly plan their year in advance, matters like solo holidays / time off can be agreed. Both parties could block the time off in his calendar; so nothing trivial overrides it. Needless to say, my husband’s calendar now includes our son’s immunisation dates.
To end this piece, there will never be a one size fits all. Each family unit would ultimately find what works for them BOTH. What ensures that both parties are happy and thriving in the marriage? For working women & mothers, this may be the man doing some chores and helping with the kids. But then if a woman is genuinely happy with doing it all or sorting it out in other ways - that's fine as well.
I think what is crucial is that there is flexibility and fluidity in the system. That a woman does more than her husband today should not mean that if the occasion arises, he wouldn’t be able to step up. It may be 90 - 10 today and then 30 - 70 tomorrow. It would be difficult to suggest that it would always be 50 - 50. Basically, both parties should at any time be willing to give 100, if need be.
To achieve this, society has a role to play. There’s need for increased flexibility such as remote working and shared parental leave.
Finally, it's important to share stories of positive marriages. Of men and husbands pulling their weight. These stories, contrary to what a friend thinks won’t “jinx the marriage”. Rather, it drives conversation to the tune that these hands-on fathers and husbands are not an aberration. These stories and experience sharing would indeed be much more effective if told and advocated for by the men themselves.
What are your thoughts? Do share!
pS: You can find the original twitter thread here
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