It's lovely when I bump into people I know and they take a genuine interest in how my two boys and I are doing. Most just go through the motions, asking the obligatory questions before they get to the point they were really trying to make. And I get it, (honestly, I do) talking about nappies and nap times really isn't the most riveting for most people and that's absolutely fine... Its actually a most welcome change to talk about the outside world! But every conversation has a similar pattern. Mike gets asked the following:
"How is work" "How are sales?" "Business good?".... you get the idea.
"How are you? How are the boys?" *Insert some sort of generic question about nappies, sleeping patterns, being tired and am I going back to work*.
Which is THEN followed by some sort of version of the following...
"How do you manage?" "Have you got a good balance?" and something along the lines of "How do you cope when you come home to all the housework?"
Firstly, lets get one thing straight. My contribution to housework isn't that extensive, lets not just all assume that because I'm the mum I do everything in this department. It's always the last priority on my list and I'm very lucky (sometimes) to have an OCD freak of a partner who can't really stand mess so will clean it up before I do. I'm basically inherently lazy when it comes to housework unless it involves cooking, so long as its clean but messy then I'm okay with that.
Secondly, (to the hard stuff) I love the fact that because of certain movements like feminism, the role of the father in the family is so much more hands on. Increasingly I am seeing my social feeds filled up with doting dads that change nappies, do the housework and spend quality time with their families. So then begs the question; How do they cope? How do they establish a good work/life balance? And how do they cope being away from their family during the day?
I always feel awkward for Mike when these questions get directed towards me. Don't get me wrong being a SAHM is ridiculously difficult, relentless and unappreciated. However, Mike does a hell of a lot for our family and his ability to juggle work and life has been put to the test from the day my first was born. As soon as he's home from work, every minute up until the boys bedtime is dedicated to them and making sure they have all his attention. Giving them a bath, reading books, changing nappies and putting them to bed is all his doing - Mummy clocks off at exactly 6.30 pm.
I would openly declare to the world that I am a feminist. I know there is a belief amongst many that feminists are man-hating, anti-shaving, "femi-nazis" but I strongly believe that those who believe this and equally those who take it to the extreme completely harm the meaning of the word. I am a feminist. I believe in the equality of men and women. I love having children, I certainly can't wait to get married next year and I love being a girly girl. I'm obsessive about make-up and bright lipstick and I'd wear heels everyday if I could; so in the words of Zoe Deschanel, "We can't be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f**king feminist and wear a f**king Peter Pan collar. So f**king what?".
Recently in the UK, shared paternity/maternity leave has really taken a step forward to acknowledging the equal roles between mothers and fathers in family set ups. In Bristol recently, I saw some toilets that showed not only mother and child changing rooms but father and child changing rooms too. There has been situations in the past where Mike has been out and hasn't been able to change the boys because the only baby changing facility is in the women's toilet. It's these small things that help make this equality happen but more importantly its the microlevel, social situations described above that can really change societies attitudes to the male/female dynamics in a family.
Equality between men and women means equality between mothers and fathers. It enables fathers to embrace their role with both hands, without the fear of having to provide only resting on their shoulders. It allows women to return to the workplace without being labelled as 'lacking in maternal instinct' and fathers to stay at home without being made to feel a professional failure. It encourages those men who have just been the provider, without any emotional nurturing towards their children, to step up and connect with their families and have more expected of them other than the stereotypical gender roles they adhere to within family life.
We constantly talk about helping women 'have it all', but what about the men that want to have it all too? Any mother will relate to me when I say we carry the 'motherhood guilt' wherever we go; we feel guilty when they watch too much t.v, eat too much junk food or give them formula instead of breast milk. But I see Mike consumed with guilt too; when he says goodbye in the morning and spends 9 hours away from them, when he's not there to tuck them in at night, when he's missed huge developmental milestones.
And let's not forget the children who benefit from having equality between parents. Those who will grow up to experience love, friendship and nurturing from two people who are able give them their all. We've got a long way to go to really achieve this balance, but we can start from the bottom up. Next time you see a father, ask him how he's achieving the all elusive 'balance' that mothers are expected to find. Because small conversations like these can create big movements. Social movements that mean I can raise my sons in a world where they are taught that the value of a women is just as much as the value of a man. And visa versa.
Article first appeared on foxandthelephant.com