Circumstances have required that I once again play single parent to my four children for a month whilst their primary carer (my lovely wife Kirsten) is out of action (don’t worry - it’s all planned and she’s just fine). I really enjoy the chance to do it as I have done many times during her previous surgeries and once again I’ve been confronted by the same outsider commentary.
- “You coping okay?”
- “You handling the kids okay?”
- “It’s hard work running after kids all the time isn’t it?”
It’s even nicer when another parent won’t ask me the question directly and goes straight to my older children instead:
- “How’s your daddy coping?”
- “Showing your daddy how it’s done?”
Like I’ve never cared for my own children before apparently. Of course people don’t always know what to say or do in certain situations and it’s probably not meant to be a mean-spirited comment and I have no doubt I’m being sensitive at some level but the litmus test in discrimination is: put the shoe on the other foot and ask, is it offensive?
Let’s say a women who was previously a primary caregiver to their children switched to working a full time job all week with commuting, late meetings, long hours, the works.
- “You coping okay?”
- “You handling work okay?”
- “It’s hard working all the time isn’t it?”
Firstly, I would never even think of asking those questions to a stranger or even a close relation. Think of some people you know yourself and what do you think their reaction would be in that scenario?
Let’s not try to get all shirty about potential gender bias. Let’s look at this from an experience angle. Intuitively someone that does something twice as much as someone else is bound to be better at it. For certain repetitive tasks I’d agree but I think that parenting is more complicated and more subtle than that and it’s a broad brush to suggest all people are created with equal talents. Hence one person will be better an driving a car or painting a house than another and that’s because everyone is different. I prefer to think that so long as there is a minimum amount of experience and exposure to develop the skill set required, that individual should be competent enough to do a reasonable job at any task. Maybe not an expert, but passable at least. It got me wondering then; how big is the gap between the genders in terms of duration in the role of primary caregiver?
Clearly, historically speaking, women have bore the brunt of child rearing whilst the men have been off working/farming/killing animals/other non-parenting stuff and hence men didn’t have as much time taking care of children. Going back hundreds of years maybe, depending on the state of economic development of a country perhaps, the numbers were skewed away from men as primary caregivers. What about now and is it changing? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the figures haven’t changed much between 1997 and 2006 though the next figures are due early 2016(?) and will be interesting to revisit at that time. For the moment however the split of hours as primary caregiver is men at about half the amount of time as women, at least in my country. I have no doubt the time/split will vary from country to country. The truth is that if we run with the above numbers a significant proportion of men are in the role of primary caregiver regularly for a measurable and non-insignificant number of hours and that shouldn’t be ignored.
So if it’s not the raw hours is it something else? The preconceived notion that men are better at some things and women at other things is just the sort of gender bias western society is trying to stamp out (in some areas harder than others and we are far from truly balanced) but the problem is that the question of whether men or women are better parents is mostly about opinion and difficult to correlate with fact. Despite this, in 2007 PEW Research in America conducted a controversial survey that challenged whether men or women were better parents and suggested that men were doing a better job in recent years. I’m not sure if their results are valid but if nothing else it should at least make you stop and think about it if only for a moment.
I’m not taking sides. Honestly I’m not. I’m not saying men are better at parenting or women are better at parenting: All I want is for people to stop asking me those sorts of questions. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my kids thank you very much. Not that you asked, but here’s how it unfolded in the Chidgey household in the last 24 hours:
Tonight I cooked Beef Nachos with salsa and although I used a sachet for the seasoning I tweaked the result by balancing out the salt and added a few other spices some tomato paste to add depth to the flavour of the dish. I made extra to reheat later in the week when time to prepare after kids sports training is scarce. I’ve done the washing, sorting, cleaning and the house is in order ready for my wife to return later in the week. I’ve successfully dropped and picked my kids up from school, sports, etc, paid bills, bought and wrapped a birthday present for one of my kids friends whose birthday party he will shortly be attending and blah blah blah are you bored yet? I’m not. I’m loving it…that is until I get comments like those above.
You know what though, it’s not all bad. There are people that do know what to say and that “get it” for the want of a better way of saying it. So instead as I close here’s a few more comments I also received though (disappointingly) they weren’t as plentiful. I’ll leave it you to determine which people made them.
- “It’s great spending time with them when they’re that age.”
- “I’d swap with you in a heartbeat.”
- “You’ve got your hands full but you look like you’re having fun.”
Yes I am having fun. The kids are alright and so am I, thanks for asking…but please stop asking.