The Two Stereotypes
Primarily, there seems to be two portrayals of Kiwi Dads in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. The first type is related to the atrocious news stories of family violence and child abuse. It is often a male known to the child that has some involvement in the abuse. I guess the coverage creates drivers for change, hopefully for the better. What I don’t like is that this image of the violent father/ step-father/ partner is the one that dominates the media.
The alternative to this image is the condescending representation of Dads as bumbling but loveable idiots. There is a subtle but underlying current of disrespect to Dads. The jokes about how Mum know every single tiny thing about their child down to their favourite food, colour and cartoon character and Dad is vaguely aware of some little thing roaming around the house. The tales about leaving the baby with the Dad only to find they have propped them next to them on the couch while they watch the game. Yes I know it is nowhere near as bad as the violent and abusive image, but it is still insulting, even hurtful.
All the World’s a Stage
So we have a sort of Shakespearian view of Dads as either the villain or the fool. The vast majority of Dads I know do not fall into either of these two categories. Shakespeare had another main character type – the hero. In this context, the hero is fairly dull and ordinary, but you have to admit that Dads do deserve a bit more credit than they are currently getting.
My husband is one the millions of men out there who just get on with the business of being a husband, of being a Daddy. He cooks, cleans, sorts the rubbish, mows the lawn, bathes the child most nights, changes nappies and works full-time. I am especially appreciative that he has taken on the role of chief nail technician for our baby. Most of the time he does these things without prompting and in a reasonable manner. Yes I can still get annoyed that dinner is stir-fry again or it is at 9pm again, or that he put the baby clothes away in the wrong drawers. But overall, he does a brilliant job.
Trains of Thought
Right now you are in in two trains of thought. You are either thinking, well where is my thanks? Where is the gratitude for everything I do? And I completely agree that Mummies need appreciation too. It is just that I think overall we get a fair and reasonable portrayal in a social setting. We are known to be responsible and caring for the most part. This is not true for Dads right now. Anyway, I don’t know about you but even if every single person on this planet came up to me and thanked me for pushing that baby out of me I am not sure it would be enough!
Or you are thinking, but my husband/ partner/ baby-daddy doesn’t do half what you say your husband does. I think the stereotype of the useless Dad is actually spot-on in my household. Well here is the hard truth that you may not want to hear: YOU are part of the problem.
Asking is not Nagging
I have a very simple solution to the Mummies that fall into this camp – just ASK. Yes that is all there is to it. If your partner comes home late, ask him to be on time the next day. If he gets home at the end of a long day at work and turns on the TV and that bothers you then ask him to turn it off and bathe the child or start cooking dinner. If you are breastfeeding and want him to bring you a glass of water or give you a little massage, just ask.
There are a few things to take note of. Firstly, ask in a straightforward way. Say ‘Would you empty the dishwasher (now) please?’. Do not say ‘The dishes are piling up and the kitchen is a mess’. This is a statement, not a request.
You have to be prepared to accept any response you get from your partner. He may say ‘OK’ (awesome!). He may say ‘No’. Well you did your bit and asked and even if he says no 19 out of 20 times, which of course is unlikely, at least you get a 5% improvement (well it is better than zero). He may do the ‘man grumbles’ and not give a definite response but in my experience this usually means he will do it, just maybe in his own time. Do not say anything more; just trust that it will be done. A friend of mine asks her husband once and then writes the bigger around-the-house jobs down on a whiteboard in the kitchen.
Also, if he does the job you asked him to do but not how you would do it then you have to decide whether you really want to go down the track of showing him the ‘right’ way. But pick your battles as this may lead to you doing the job yourself in the future. Maybe using sensitive washing powder is really important but putting baby clothes away in the wrong drawers is not as critical. I have found you can usually tell people what to do OR how to do it but not both.
After all you didn’t fall in love with your man and decide to have a child with him because they were exactly like you. That would be boring (and a little creepy). Embrace your differences. As I learnt on Contiki when faced with 16 countries in 29 days – it is not wrong, it is just different.
So now you are thinking, why should I have to ask? He should just know how much energy and time it takes to run a household with a baby. My life has changed drastically, his should as well. We are both adults here, can’t he think about picking up a dishcloth himself? Well, one response to that is something I read that said that if the mum is at home and the Dad goes to work full-time that on average a woman spends 16 hours a day with the baby and the man spends less than one. If the tables were turned would you know what needs to be done and the best way to do it? Probably not.
And my other answer to that is just don’t ask that question. Just accept that asking for help is better than not asking. Do you really want to be a ‘martyr-mother’? Trying to out do each other at coffee group with tales of the minimal sleep and the loads and loads of washing you have helps no one. Think of it as good practice for when kids are older and you want their help with chores. Do you still want to do the entire household’s cleaning and washing when they are teenagers?
And guess what is the best thing? Men actually like doing stuff for you.
I often get asked how I have time to write a blog and I would like to think it is my sensational time management. But about 95% of the reason rests firmly with my amazing husband. So thank you Andrew for being there for me, for being an incredible Daddy to our son Dylan and for being you, man grumbles and all. You are my unsung hero.