Some time ago, I was asked for my opinion to the following question; Do women make better parents than men? You won't be surprised to hear that as a stay at home father, I have a thing or two to say about this suggestion.
I believe there is a very simple response to that question. If women make better parents, it must follow that men make better doctors, politicians, civic leaders and so on.
Only thing is, we're building up to a "but". The paragraph above makes for very uncomfortable reading, doesn't it? I, for one, am very uncomfortable with that suggestion. I am all the more uncomfortable with it as I have two daughters.
Let's not pretend women face no issues in the workplace or in public life and commerce. Of course they do. That said, over the past 150 years, women have achieved a great deal and proved themselves more than capable in all the areas I've just mentioned.
Even so, when it comes to being a parent, women have two advantages. Firstly, women carry and deliver the baby. Secondly, women have the ability to lactate and therefore breastfeed.
In the earliest days of a child's life, this is naturally going to lead to mum and baby spending more time with each other and forming a bond more quickly than with dad. From day one, however, the involved father will take turns either helping with the feed or bottle feeding baby. The involved father will have no issue settling their child in the middle of the night. He will bathe his child, dress his child, change nappies, take his child out for a walk, play with them and so on. Beyond giving birth and breastfeeding, there is nothing a dad isn't capable of doing with his offspring.
Among my friends and acquaintances, I have noticed that when a woman has a particularly hard birth, the dad often seems to become a capable, hands-on dad very quickly. If mum can't move because she's had a Cesarean section, dad has to be the one to get up in the middle of the night, take baby for walks and take charge domestically. It's a personal observation of mine, but in these situations it seems that he is almost immediately on an equal footing with the child's mother because she needs time to recover.
As I mentioned at the start, I am a stay at home dad with two young daughters. I do pretty much everything society expects a mum to do while my wife works full time in a very demanding job. I get my kids up every morning, I do the school and nursery runs, I cook my children's evening meals, polish their shoes, shampoo their hair, organise and oversee play dates. You will see my wife's handwriting in my eldest child's homework record but the majority of it is mine.
I know the place in the school yard where my child is bought out to by her teacher at the end of the day. I have the telephone number for my youngest daughter's nursery programmed into my phone. I update the family calendar hanging on the kitchen wall. Why wouldn't a man be capable of doing this stuff?
I have heard it said that women are naturally more compassionate and more caring by nature. There is plenty of academic research out there questioning the validity of this claim. Last year's State of the World's Fathers report by Men Care is a good starting point. It concluded that men and women are as "genetically hardwired" as each other to fulfil caring roles.
Suggesting women are more compassionate sounds like a convenient notion to spread so women can be kept behind the kitchen sink, or rather make women believe childcare is their domain.
I genuinely wish I lived in a society where I wasn't a curiosity. It would be great if as many men as women gave up careers to look after the children. In some of the Scandinavian countries (where else?) it is quite normal for men to take an entire year out of the workforce when they have young children.
In my opinion, it's fair to say men and women parent differently. Thinking of my own relationship, I'm more of a risk taker. Play with me is often outside, usually physical and frequently involves getting covered in mud or water. My wife is more likely to do some baking or read books with the kids. I don't think either is wrong, they're simply different approaches and my kids love both. In fact they benefit from it.
Women's rights campaigners frequently mention the glass ceilings women hit in the workplace and point out that women's earnings are less than men's, especially once they've had children. Unfortunately you don't hear much campaigning for societal change, for it to be the norm for men to stay at home and look after the children. This would help women forge ahead with their careers if it's what they wanted.
My wife will freely admit she couldn't do what I do. In her words, "you're better with the children" and so she thinks her place is in the workforce. I think she's being hard on herself, but I'm perfectly happy with this scenario. I enjoy running the household and looking after the little ones.
In answer to the question, no women do not better parents than men. There are, of course, bad dads in the world and there are also bad mothers. I just don't think society gives men the opportunities to prove what great parents they can be. This is simply because the overwhelming responsibility for raising children almost always falls on women and this starts at birth.