Top tip for partners: If you and your partner have children together and there’s one bit of parenting you don’t usually do – let’s say it’s getting everyone ready for the school and nursery run – and it just so happens that one day you get to do it – let’s say you’re setting off for work a bit later – and it turns out it’s really, really difficult, do you:
- think “crikey, this is stressful” and make a note that while your partner may not have to start work as early as you do, that doesn’t mean life’s necessarily much easier?
- stomp about wondering why no one has got a better routine established, intermittently asking the kids pointed questions that start with “but don’t you usually …” or “doesn’t Mummy get you to …”?
The correct answer is of course (1). The second one does NOT accurately describe the way my partner behaved this morning, but it just felt that way. Because I’m stressed and tired and so is he. We’re really, really tired and even though our children are lovely, they don’t half whine about irrelevant crap.
Next week is half term, which is a relief. No school run, no forgetting homework, no unwashed uniform, none of that bollocks. I’ll just need to get myself ready, which is hard enough. But then of course, I’m asking myself “why am I finding it all so difficult? What kind of loser am I? Shouldn’t it all be a bit easier than this?” After all, I am a middle-class woman with an office job. I’m not out ploughing fields every day. And unlike my grandma, who had six children, I have just two, and while she didn’t have a paid job, she also didn’t have a fridge, a washing machine, a dishwasher, a tumble dryer, a microwave and a shamefully large stock of Asda ready meals … Jesus Christ, if I can’t manage like this, what the hell is wrong with me?
There are, of course, many answers to this. The first is that I’m spoiling my children. If only I left them to fend for themselves a bit more, it would all be so much easier. I recently visited the Gloucester Waterways Museum and discovered that women who worked the canals, who didn’t have time for any of this proper childcare nonsense, simply tied their youngest children to the boat during the day so that they didn’t fall in. There were even photographs of said tied-up children. Indeed, while my kids were having an argument over who was best at operating the toy canal locks, I was trying to tell them “look! Look at the olden days kids! They didn’t fight over whether a pretend plastic boat should be facing left or right! They were too busy being tied to a massive, real-life barge!” Moreover, interviews with those who’d grown up on the canals suggested that they hadn’t been terribly traumatised by the whole thing. It’s just how things were. Unfortunately, these days I don’t think it’s allowed. Political correctness gone mad? I don’t know. I’m not about to start experimenting with how much restriction is allowed. Terminally liberal, I like my kids to be able to explore. So yeah, I’ve only got myself to blame for that.
The second answer is that I’m trying too hard to “have it all”. Once again, all my fault. “Having it all” describes the strange situation whereby, if you are female, having a job is not necessary in order to pay the bills or have some form of financial independence. It’s basically a treat, an indulgence, a means by which to acquire more shoes. Plus if you leave your children in nursery all day – aka “farm them out” – it’s not something about which you have misgivings because you have already chosen which way to jump. You’re not one of those proper mummies, the ones who still worry about their children’s development. Hence it’s no bloody wonder you can’t cope with your kids when they’re around. You’re not natural mother material, plus you’re exhausted from the whole cash-for-shoes nonsense that you call a career. Perhaps one day, if you set aside enough money (rather than frittering it on apple martinis and the weekly shop), you’ll be able to see the error of your ways and sell a story to Femail on how you “gave it all up” to be with your precious babies. In the meantime, you are entirely to blame for how rubbish you feel.
The third answer is that my partner isn’t doing enough. This is not the case. He is doing his share, but the fixed cultural narrative is that any partnership which claims to be equal cannot be, because that’s just not possible in practical terms. Clearly, it depends on what one means by “equal”. Totting up the hours spent doing different tasks, then comparing and contrasting is simply too time-consuming (besides, guess who’d end up doing it? Muggins here!). But no heterosexual partnership can really be equal because men and women aren’t treated equally in broader terms, hence different tasks mean different things. Whatever it is you’re doing, oppressive gender stereotypes are there in the background, mocking you. You’re not meant to be doing that! You’ll be rubbish at it! … Ha ha! Look who’s ended up doing that again! Call yourself a feminist? … You should’ve been the one doing that. Don’t you think you’re, like, totally exploiting the gender paradigms with which you claim to disagree? (I can accept that all this doesn’t go on in everyone’s head, but it does in mine. Yet another reason why everything is all my fault.)
And the fourth answer? I can’t think of a fourth because I haven’t had enough sleep.
I guess I wouldn’t be quite so tired if I didn’t spend so much time dwelling on the fact that it’s all my fault that I’m tired. Then again, I’ve also decided that cultural stereotyping – regarding men, women and children – is the reason why I’ve made it into my fault, so it kind of isn’t my fault even though it is. Whatever. Anyhow, I am really tired and I have strong suspicions that parenting shouldn’t be quite as tiring as this. Perhaps I should just blame my kids. Does anyone have a barge and some strong rope?