New research by YouGov recently showed that one third of mums think that they are better parents than their partners; 32% of men thought that they were a worse parent than mothers.
What I found most interesting about this study was that so many parents are fearful of their parenting skills, feel guilty that they are not a good parent, and a huge proportion worry a lot about how good a parent they are.
One-third of a dataset is not a lot. But, are mothers really better parents than men? This is an age old debate, isn’t it? Evolutionarily, yes, perhaps. Mothers traditionally tend to spend more time than fathers caring for children. Perhaps this is merely the result of culture and different opportunities for men and women. But, roles are changing, and family dynamics are changing too. And, women aren’t always the ones staying at home, or the primary carers in a family; neither are family units composed of a heterosexual couple alone.
Do I think that I am a better parent than my partner? I don’t think I can say this with complete conviction. Maybe, as mothers, we are culturally and socially conditioned to be more confident of our parental choices and we feel more responsible for the welfare of our children, and hence commit to it. But, my partner and I have different strengths. It also depends so much on the family’s social, economic and cultural context.
Bringing up my eldest as a single parent, where her biological father came from a very traditional Indian family and was largely absent from her life, I felt completely responsible for her, and I firmly believed that I was a better parent because I understood her needs, desires, routine, and so on. This was because I had invested time and energy in it.
With my two-year-old twins, I cannot say that I am a better parent. My husband contributes as much if not more to their everyday care, and I trust him with it. We bring different things to their upbringing as parents. But, yes, I would say that I worry more about being a good parent, because I am conditioned as a woman to expect this of me. When their father stays at home and looks after them, I feel grateful, and he is seen as a hero. Not so much for me as a mother, because that is what I am expected to do. When my children wake up in the middle of the night, and ask for their father instead of me, I feel hurt and a little upset. And, although a small part of me is also relieved to have the permission to go back to bed, I feel like I am not being a good mother somehow if they prefer their father for comfort rather than me.
This kind of data and statistics are misleading in that they reinforce a traditional family image and structure on society. They also dismiss the huge contribution that fathers, and men in general, are making and the role they play in their child’s upbringing. In some way it also gives permission for fathers to shy away from playing an equal role in raising their children. There is no mention of how many heterosexual or homosexual parents were part of the survey, and so these kind of statistics reinforce the view that two gay men cannot raise a child as well as, if not better than, a heterosexual couple.
Ultimately, it is the love that we feel for our children that makes us a good parent. Everything else is learned behaviour, and as much as learning how to be a good parent, we also have to unlearn some of our ingrained biases and centuries of social and cultural conditioning.