PARENTS

Why Dads Love To Splash The Cash

25/06/2012 18:24 | Updated 22 May 2015
Why dads love to splash the cashRex

You can call it laziness if you want. You can call it a lack of imagination. But when I'm left with a restless child and a few unplanned hours to fill, I often resort to splashing the cash.

I'm not the only one. I know a few dads who, when left alone with their small children, tend to fill the hours with cafés, soft play areas, cinemas, kid's museums, steam train rides, fun pool 'swimming' sessions or even the promise of new toys.

There's nothing wrong with family day trips, of course, or the occasional treat. But these are not special occasions or planned family outings, just the way many dads fill humdrum weekday afternoons or weekly Saturday 'dad time'.

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Whether we view time with small children as an enjoyment or an endurance (or sometimes both), it's one to be negotiated with the help of a certain fiscal expenditure.

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All this was confirmed the other day by new research from America. The study found that, when confronted with needy children, fathers tended to open their wallets and mothers their mouths.

In other words, men solved their kids' problems with cold hard cash, and women with advice.

To be fair, the study was about grown up children, and their needs included cars and insurance. But I'm pretty sure the dad thing, which equates spending time with children and spending cash, starts when the kids are young.

Let me explain. Tomorrow afternoon, unexpectedly, I will be looking after my two-year-old daughter for an hour and a half. My first instinct is to find safety in numbers and go round to someone's house, but most of my dad friends are working and I don't have my wife's connections among the mums.

So I'm already planning an itinerary of treats that includes banana milk, flapjacks for two and an hour at the local soft play. Total expenditure, for 90 minutes on a weekday afternoon, a cool £6.

While I'm in the soft play café, I may well bump into my dad friend John. He will clock my daughter's milk, I'll log his son's new Cbeebies magazine, and we'll both accuse the other, jokingly, of "chucking money at the problem – again."

Similarly, when I have sole charge of my nearly-six-year-old son on a weekend, I reach first for the cinema timetable. And if there is a film on he wants to see, we'll watch it with a lot of other dads who have come to the conclusion that £12 plus popcorn is a fair price to pay for two hours of easy, but often thrilling, entertainment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our partners don't always appreciate this wallet-centric attitude to childcare. For a start, it's expensive. One of my friend's wives complains that they never have any money for adult treats because her husband is always treating the kids.

Another commented: "The kids love afternoons with Bill - because they always cost a fortune."

You can sense the (slight) resentment. Mum labours hard all week to find stimulating, educational and inexpensive activities, which may include the employment of cardboard and glue, and dad rides in on the weekend like a God of small people and whisks everyone off to the multiplex.

I have some sympathy with this view.

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But I think I speak for all dads when I say that we're not practising parenting one-upmanship, and we don't do it out of laziness or a lack of imagination (at least, not always). Sometimes, we do it out of sheer desperation.

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I work full time, so the time I spend with my children is limited to weekends, bath and bedtimes and, only because I work for myself, the occasional hour or two through the working week.

That means, like many men, I don't have a network of groups and other parents to tap into to break up the endless hours of playing dolly goes to the dentist.

At weekends, the playgroups, singing groups and library groups aren't even open.

Even if they were, I think the kids have an expectation that they'll do something different with dad. Saturday can't be just the same as Monday or it wouldn't be Saturday.

But it also goes a bit deeper than that, I think. Much is spoken about the guilt of working mothers, but there's an equivalent that afflicts modern dads.

We want to spend lots of time with our kids. We know it's good for them and it's good for us. But it's not always possible.

I feel bad when, for days on end, I only see the kids for the grumpy, argumentative half hour before bed. It makes me feel like I'm only there for the bad times, arriving home just in time to help enforce the evening routine.

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So when I'm let loose with rested, high-spirited children, I want to make the most of it. I want them to know that daddy is there for fun times as well as bed times.

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I don't want to lose the mood with a session of boring arts and crafts, I want to enhance it with a session of raucous fun at the soft play café.

And if it so happens that I love soft play cafes a lot (coffee AND slides!), and the cinema even more, and that I hate arts and crafts, well, that's just happy coincidence.

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