I loved this SMH article by Jessica Irvine published last week. She talks about the idea that women have almost always assumed the role of primary carer and ponders why that still happens. She says early on in a child’s life, the parents are forced to label one parent ‘primary’ and the other ‘secondary’, when realistically both parents should be playing an equal role in a child’s life. She dismisses the idea that mothers are actually innately better at being a parent.
I completely agree. Before my daughter was born, I was determined that my husband and I should be equals in childrearing. I thought that the reason men end up assuming the ‘secondary’ role is because they lose confidence as they don’t get the practise women get. Naively I proclaimed it wasn’t going to be like that in our household. So the first few weeks we took equal responsibility for settling, burping, nappy changing and cuddling.
We soon realised we had our strengths. My husband is a much more patient person so would have much more success in settling. I would end up giving up after 10 minutes and would return to bed exasperated, declaring she just wasn’t the sleeping type and we should get use to it.
When my husband returned to work, I actually worried how I would ever get her to sleep. Of course, I found my way of doing things and gradually it became second nature.
We are lucky that my hubby’s work hours means he’s home a fair bit but even then, he did lose a bit of confidence. “How do we do this again?” he would ask and I would have to remind him of our routine for settling or feeding.
The tables turned at 9 months when I went back to work and my husband entered 3 months of ‘daddy daycare’. Suddenly I was the one struggling to do a nappy quickly before she rolled off the mat and asking what our routine was again. It’s amazing how fast you forget things when you don’t do it day-in-day-out.
While my husband was home, his patience skills definitely came into their own. It’s probably no coincidence that our daughter started sleeping through the night when daddy was getting up for her instead of mummy. All she needed was a steady, calming influence (with no milky boobs) and she slumbered 12 hours straight for the first time.
We are so lucky that my husband’s company is very progressive and offers 3 months paid paternity leave within the first year. If we hadn’t had that opportunity, my husband would have never had that special time with his daughter and my transition back to work wouldn’t have been as smooth.
This type of shared parenting model is exactly what Jessica Irvine proposes in her article. She says that for things to change and for women and men to reach equality, both parents should be given equal amounts of paid parental leave. She says she’d pay the leave at a replacement wage and force business to stump up the cost. She writes:
Worried about millionaire dads getting the benefit? I’d happily pay handsomely to see the CEOs of our top companies spend three months wearing vomit-covered yoga pants and cleaning up poo-splosions.
Our experience of mutual parental leave was a complete success. It has meant we both had the time to get to know our daughter and she has a strong bond with both of us. (Of course I am definitely not implying that dads who don’t get a chance to stay home with their kids don’t have a strong bond.)
It also means we know what our parenting strengths and weaknesses are and we can work together to ensure we are parenting our daughter to the best of our joint abilities.
Hopefully more companies can start to realise the benefit of both men and women being given paid parental leave. The result will be more well-rounded children and two parents who both have an understanding about the intense difficulties and joys of being an at-home parent. And ultimately we will be heading in the right direction for a more equal society.