New Statesman: It harms women more than men when dads doing parenting are seen as “babysitters”

“Dads don’t babysit (it’s called ‘parenting’).” So says the T-shirt created by Al Ferguson of The Dad Network, in response to the assumption that a father seen caring for his own offspring is simply playing the role of temporary childminder.

The t-shirt has prompted a great deal of debate, not to mention marketing opportunities (you can already buy a “my dad doesn’t babysit” onesie for your little one). It seems more and more fathers want to be recognised as equal carers, and who can blame them?

From a feminist perspective, it’s easy to see why describing fathers as “babysitting” their own children is a bad idea. It lowers the expectations placed on fathers, putting them on a level with people who have no emotional ties to their children and are merely providing a service.

Read the full post at the New Statesman


New Statesman: One year on, has shared parental leave made any difference?

So it’s happened just the way we expected it to. One year on from the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, a study by the firm My Family Care has found that uptake amongst new fathers has been minimal. Of 200 employers interviewed, 40% reported that not one single male employee had taken up the right to shared leave. Many will see this as depressing news, indicating that differences in male and female roles and expectations are far too entrenched to resolve.

I started out an SPL sceptic, not least because the whole process was so complicated I ended up assuming my partner and I wouldn’t even be eligible. It turns out I was wrong and I’m now back in the office while my partner’s at home with our seven-month-old son. Being one of life’s moaners, I’d love to tell you it’s been a nightmare, but I’ll be honest: so far, it’s been brilliant.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Parenting regrets? Apparently we’ve had a few…

Parents of small children! Have you been in paid employment today? Were you aware that this working “habit” of yours is something which, in years to come, you will deeply regret? In case you didn’t notice this – in case, for instance, you completely failed to take note of all the complete strangers around you saying, on a daily basis, “enjoy them while they’re young!” and “ooh, don’t they grow up fast!” – Huggies Little Swimmers have commissioned research in the top 20 regrets of parents today. Continue reading

Competitive crap parenting: How do you rate?

My son goes back to school tomorrow. Alas, I’d assumed it was today. So there we were at the school gates, with him in his uniform and me all set to drop him off and make a dash for work, when … Well, actually, that last bit was a fib. I found out I’d got the day wrong the night before, so managed to palm him off on a classmate’s mum. But that’s not as good an anecdote. As far as parenting’s concerned, if you’re going to mess up, you really should do it properly.

As a parent I’m really quite competitive when it comes to making a balls of things. What’s more, I don’t think I’m the only one (which is something of a relief; there’s nothing more pathetic than being desperately ambitious when no one else is arsed). Like most mums and dads, I realised long ago that being the best parent ever is totally out of reach. On the other hand, being the most ridiculously, comically incompetent parent feels much more doable. And hey, it’s an achievement of sorts. It shows you’re not just coasting when it comes to this parenting game. Continue reading

What about Daddy? Essential advice for new mothers

In response to some comments added to this post (see end) I’d like to add some clarification regarding the article under discussion. It was written by the Dating Divas in response to “a lot of emails from women who wanted ideas for after the baby came. They wanted to know how to make the father feel more included as well as creative sex ideas”. Evidently there is a demand for this and I am sorry for failing to acknowledge it (I nevertheless believe the response that was offered by the Divas still leaves much to be desired).

New mums! Have you noticed that, at the end of practically every guide to pregnancy and birth, you’ll find a section on “Daddy’s role” in all of this. This is because fatherhood is really important and needs, ooh, at least three pages of coverage to set against the four hundred that Mummy has had to wade through. Admittedly it’s still actually Mummy who’s meant to be reading the Daddy pages – after all, men are busy, aren’t they? So Mummy might as well read up on how to manage Daddy. She’s got sod all else to do.

I have always found these “Daddy’s role” sections profoundly irritating, for two main reasons:

  1. the author tends to assume that you are married to the father of your baby
  2. the author then assumes that your husband is in fact a self-centred knob

Time and again we are told that the arrival of a new baby can make Daddy feel “left out”. If you are anything like me, you will read this and think “sod off. I am too tired to deal with a grown adult feeling ‘left out’. We all feel ‘left out’. That’s because babies are really shit when it comes to empathy”. And then you will look at your partner and feel glad that he (or she) isn’t one of those self-centred knobs that the book describes. At least, that’s what you’ll think. But hey, you might be wrong. Daddy might just be hiding his true feelings from you. Continue reading

But why can’t I be the favourite?

This evening my eldest threw a massive tantrum about the fact that it was my turn to put him to bed. His father and I do alternate nights, but Eldest always likes to claim it’s Daddy’s turn, every single time. Youngest is exactly the same. No one ever wants it to be Mummy’s turn. It’s a fate worse than having no Star Wars time.

You may wonder what can be so terribly lacking in my putting-to-bed skills. I wonder myself. I run Matey-filled baths, dole out beakers of tepid milk, read the same Horrid Henry stories again and again, but still it appears I’m useless. I’m just not the same as Daddy. Daddy is ace and I’m not. Daddy’s the favourite and Mummy – well, in a good mood, we’ll humour Mummy, but in a bad one we’ll just scream and scream and scream. Continue reading

Shared parental leave: Is it really that hard?

Do you have one of those jobs that involves thinking outside the box? Do you indulge in blue-sky thinking on a daily, nay, hourly basis? Are you kicking those ideas around so hard that you’re wearing metaphorical football boots? If so, well done you. Perhaps you’re just the kind of person this country needs.

Of course, there are some who might feel “thinking outside the box” has become an excuse for people in senior positions to spout a succession of shit ideas without having to face the slightest consequence (It was just a bit of creative thinking. You didn’t think I meant it? Oh, and don’t forget your P45, which I’ve creatively tied to a purple balloon). Don’t believe the cynics, though. The UK needs its creatives. After all, we’ve got sod all proper industry left. Ours is meant to be a knowledge economy. We should all be sitting around having ideas (even if you’re getting minimum wage for cleaning toilets or  working on the checkout at Asda. There’s gotta be a better way of doing everything, even the most boring jobs in the world, and if you haven’t found it, well, you’re not just letting down Wal-Mart – you’re letting yourself down). Continue reading

Raising children: Not like driving cars

Due to not being famous (yet, obvs), there are only three points in my life during which I have found myself thinking “well, excuse moi! Don’t you know who I am???”.

The first involved bumping into Stephen Hawking in a bookshop in Cambridge and, in a moment of total confusion, deciding that I was the world-renowned genius and that he was just being rude (this moment passed when I remembered I was clutching Sophie’s World, bought in a desperate attempt to cover up the fact that I had an essay on Kant due in two days’ time and still hadn’t got a fucking clue what “pure reason” was, let alone how one might “critique” it).

The other two points came when walking out of different hospitals, two years apart, but each time carrying a day-old baby that was, apparently, mine. I found myself staring at the nursing staff, utterly bewildered that no one was doing a thing to halt this ridiculous occurrence. Didn’t they know who I was? I wanted to scream at them “look! I’m a total fuckwit! I might do all sorts with this poor little person! I might drop him! I might sit on him! I might feed him to next doors’ guinea pigs! Can’t you see that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING?” And yet, no one seemed to see this. They just smiled benevolently and waved me goodbye (having first checked that my partner had fitted the correct car seat. Because obviously the car seat is the main thing, nay, the only thing. Get that right, and the next 18 years is a piece of piss).

Given the levels of insecurity, not to mention sheer bewilderment, that I’ve felt when starting out as a parent, you’d think I’d consider parenting classes to be a very good idea. After all, as David Cameron says, it is “ludicrous” that one should receive more training into how to drive a car than in how to raise children. I mean, it took me a year to pass my test and I’m still shit at driving 18 years later. So what kind of parent must I be?

Actually, when it comes down to it, I’d still like to think I’m worse at driving than I am at being a mum. Clearly, there are times when the one influences the other; I’m particularly shit at driving when trying to switch over the “Wheels on the Bus” CD for “Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaur Shite” (to give it its full title). I’m not sure what the motherhood equivalent is for parallel parking – probably being good at using a sling, and I’m totally cack-handed at both. But I think I’m there with the “love” thing (love is probably equivalent to petrol or diesel. Only last month I nearly destroyed my diesel car by filling it with unleaded. I don’t want to go into the details of what filling your child with “the wrong kind of love” might mean, but suffice it to say, I definitely haven’t done that).

Thus, having established that I’m better at something for which I’ve had no training at all than at something for which I had to go through hour after miserable hour of arguing with my dad about uphill starts on a rainy industrial estate (god, the memories!), you might think I’m pretty relaxed about the whole parenting class idea. Good for some, but not for me (although actually good for no one, not even imaginary social types, as illustrated by a brilliant Babberblog post on the subject). The trouble is, the idea is just not one I can dismiss with a disinterested shrug. I can’t help feeling bloody outraged by the very concept, and I’ve been finding it hard to articulate just why. And then last night I started to wonder whether not being able to articulate the problem is, to some degree, the problem itself. It’s the vagueness; I can’t stand the vagueness!

As a concept, the parenting class is accusatory, and a means of deflecting blame. Just as the government currently uses education policy as a means of excusing its shit record on the economy (you’re unemployed because you’re ill-educated and exams are dumbed down, not because the jobs don’t exist), it’s now using parenting classes, and the associated notion that, to quote advisor Frank Field, parents are “no longer inspired to do a five-star job of bringing up their children”,  as a means of excusing its record on everything, ever. Because it’s not just a way of getting around properly investing in families, support networks and flexible employment options. Blame parents – the people who bear responsibility for raising all other people – and nothing can ever be your fault. When a teenager tries to blame Mummy and Daddy for the fact that he or she is a total knob, we don’t give him or her the time of day. But now the government seems to suggest not only that this is legitimate, but that the responsibility for all knobdom lies with Mummy and Daddy alone (but mainly with Mummy, I’d say).

The trouble is, there is no direct accusation. Why, for instance, should parents be shit now but not before? Is there any thinking behind all this? If there is (and I’m not even convinced of that) I reckon there’s some dubious gender politics underlying the “crap parents” message. Mummies work (because, like, they never have before). Single mums are considered halfway acceptable members of our society. Violent men in batman costumes are ousted from their rightful position as head of the family. Basically, women are doing stuff and it’s fucking up the kids! But none of that is, I think, what motivates the parenting class move. Along with class prejudice, it’s just a particular bias which encourages people to go along with the idea that parents are worse than they were before. What I would really like is for politicians to make these accusations direct, and specific. Then we’d be able to dismiss them in an instant, as opposed to wading through treacle and having to preface every objection with “look, it’s not that I’m one of the millions of people who are vehemently in favour of bad parenting, but …”

Anyhow, I think it’s really apt that the parenting class programme is launching with vouchers being distributed in Boots. This is a shop which specialises in selling items which have the sole purpose of convincing you that you’re not good enough, and that whatever goes wrong around you could be improved if only you looked better, weighed less, weren’t such a shit mum etc. etc. None of this is true, but none of it matters. As long as there are enough light-reflecting particles to blur the fine lines. All together now: Ta-dah!