Recently I was admitted to hospital. I had a nasty bout of tonsillitis, my throat was so swollen I couldn’t swallow water or tablets and so became very dehydrated very quickly. As usual the NHS were amazing, and a few hours after visiting my GP I was on a hospital ward with an IV full of fluid and medicine. Tom happened to have annual leave for the days when this was happening, thankfully, so he took me to hospital and then stayed at home with Ozzy for the one night I was in, bringing him back the next morning for a feed.
I had a lot of lovely messages from friends and family, but amongst the concern for my health there was concern for 'poor Tom' managing all on his own with the baby, or praise for him doing it (and that is not to say for doing a good job, but merely doing it at all). My mum mentioned what a devoted dad he was (sorry mum if you’re reading this, this rant isn’t at you it’s at society – honest!).
I want to make this clear – I am very grateful that Tom was able to be with Ozzy for the 24 hours I was in hospital. He couldn’t have been in better hands. But he wasn’t ‘babysitting’ or ‘looking after Ozzy’. And it doesn’t make him devoted. He’s his actual dad, a primary carer as much as I am. What was the alternative in this situation? Ship Ozzy off to a relative’s house so Tom could have some peace and quiet at home during the day and evening? (he was off work anyway remember!). Make me keep Ozzy in hospital with me the whole time? Leave him at home with the dog to fend for themselves? He was doing what I would like to think any modern dad would do, caring for his child as he normally would, it just so happened to be without his wife.
He didn’t ‘struggle to cope’ and although they missed me, they got on just fine. Tom has spent a fair amount of time alone with Ozzy before, being that they’re father and son, and he puts him to bed most nights. He also managed to keep on top of the housework rather than leave rubbish and a trail of destruction everywhere, because he is a grown man.
I think of it like a job share. During the week I spend time with Ozzy, feed him, change his nappies and try to make him laugh. I’m qualified for my role and I have 9 months of experience. But I also jobshare with Tom. He comes home, feeds Ozzy strawberries for tea, changes his nappy, bathes him, puts him to bed. He makes him laugh. He does this full time at the weekend too. He is also just as qualified and has 9 months of experience too. It’s a roughly 50/50 jobshare but for some reason if I have to take a day off and need him to ‘cover my shift’ it’s different.
I have heard multiple stories from friends who’s male partners have been out with the baby and received comments along the lines of ‘ooh dad’s babysitting?’ and ‘mum’s night off is it?’. Generally it’s from the older generation, and I understand that parenting roles have become more and more equal as time goes on so maybe it’s just such an alien concept to them that a dad is just as hands on as a mum. What about single dads (or single mums for that matter, but this rant is focused on society’s perception of men being primary carers). What about families with two dads?
It’s never okay to assume someone can’t cope, but even more so if that’s based on gender and gender alone. Men are capable of being primary carers and I know some stay at home dads who are doing everything they should be. But I don’t feel the need to congratulate them, because I don’t congratulate the SAHMs I know, and it isn’t any different.
Tom is a wonderful father and we are so lucky to have him, but as ‘hands on’ as he might be, I just see that as normal. He goes to work and I don’t have anyone wondering how I’m coping alone with the baby during the day. He goes out for work functions in the evening and nobody asks how I coped alone with Ozzy in the evening and for bedtime.
He’s great. But for reasons other than him doing his fair share of parenting and general adult responsibilities. We’re in this 50/50, it takes two people to make a baby and for this family those two are raising that baby together. Modern husband of mine, you are doing everything you should be.
To all primary carers out there, well done for coping with a tiny scary human monster, regardless of your gender!