So usually I try to keep these posts upbeat and positive, but every now and again I feel the need to let off steam. (Positive post coming next week though!)
Also, I usually blog about the world of Special Educational Needs, but today I want to talk about the other way my life is a bit different. I’m a house-husband, I stay here during the day and look after the house and children.
I chose this way of life. I didn’t pick it up as a stop-gap while looking for another job. Over ten years ago, I was let go from yet another computer programmer job which wasn’t making me happy. I had two children then, who The Wife and I dropped off to the child minder at half eight and picked up before six. No-one was doing well, in hindsight, with that arrangement.
So, we took the plunge, and to be honest, for the first few years we struggled financially. Then, slowly but surely The Wife’s career took off as she only had to focus on work and left the rest of it to me.
It was brought home to me how unusual this arrangement is when I saw the latest (in the UK) episode of The Big Bang Theory. Two of the characters, Howard and Bernadette have just had a baby. Bernadette is feeling frazzled so has a night out with her friends, leaving two men, Stuart and Raj to look after the baby. Predictably they can’t cope and have to keep phoning with ridiculous questions. Of course, Raj has a doctorate in astrophysics and has previously demonstrated excellent problem solving skills.
What’s even worse is that they are told “don’t phone Howard” because the father is incapable of looking after his own child for a few hours. In a previous series, they were running the joke that Bernie didn’t want children, and earned more than Howard, so it was suggested that he take a career break to look after the baby when it happened. I’ll be watching to see if that happens!
Over the past week I’ve sat down and thought about this. I can find no role models for my lifestyle whatsoever in books, films or TV. Liam Neeson’s character in Love Actually comes fairly close but he’s a tragic widower making the best of it while searching for a girlfriend. Where men do have caring roles, like in Melissa & Joey (US sitcom), then it is played as slightly demeaning and the man is always looking for something better.
(Full disclosure here, I am a writer and I do hope to be earning money from this in the near future. But I don’t see it as something better than looking after my children. I see it as an extension of the tradition of writers (nearly always women) using the time while their kids are at school to write. It complements what I do in the home, it doesn’t replace it.)
When you pull it apart, there is a paradox here. On the one hand, it’s demeaning for a man to be a primary care-giver. It is (still) seen as women’s work and a man who undertakes it is expected to be moving on to important work soon. I even see this implied on some blogs and articles written by stay at home dads. When I worked in my son’s preschool, family members assumed that I’d be managing a chain of preschools in five years even though for me it was a job to bring in some much needed money while fitting around the children’s school times.
On the other hand there is a deep cultural idea that men aren’t good enough to do this work. Women have to multi-task and also be caring and empathetic. It’s assumed that men can run companies, sit on executive boards, hold summits, sign treaties – basically they run the world. But for some reason, it’s a stretch to imagine that I, as a man, can juggle the timetables of four other people, who work (or go to school) in three locations and still manage to provide them with food and clean clothes.
That video of the expert interrupted live on BBC News by his children sparked a fierce debate about patriarchy. It also spawned a spoof on Australian TV where a woman was in the same situation, so she fed the child, made a roast dinner and defused a bomb! Admittedly it was funny, but this assumption that women are capable and men are not is so deeply ingrained that it needed no explanation.
I’m really interested in this. Can anyone think of a fictional character who’s male, who’s chosen to look after his children while the mother is still around, and who makes a decent job of it? I can’t think of one, but I’m hoping someone somewhere will. Please comment below!