‘Mothers are unemployed!
For the last 16 years, I have been the main carer for our 4 children. Men looking after their children are still a significant minority. Of course there are lots of good reasons for this. As a writer, I have been lucky to have this opportunity. It has been a privilege to share this time with my children, and they have probably taught me far more than I have them. They have helped me to become patient and tolerant, and to see the wonder in the little things that as adults pressurised by this fast-paced world, we often miss. I know nursery rhymes I would never have recited again, I am familiar with the pecking order of Moshlings, the plight of Ben 10, and the technicalities of a variety of complex Lego structures. I know that the welfare of a stranded beetle matters, and that rodents, despite their reputation hold real fascination for the young mind. In short, my children helped me to rediscover my inner child. They helped me to learn how to play, and never to decline a football game instead of a domestic chore. On my last day on this planet I won’t remember the unwashed dishes. That’s for sure. I’ll remember the delight on my son’s face when he tackled me and won the ball. That happens most of the time I have to say!
All of these positive things far outweigh any downside such as the type of fatigue that generally accompanies a bout of Glandular Fever. When they were little I remember thinking of that sign on the motorway, which says ‘tiredness can kill. Take a break’. Fat chance!
I have experienced though, over the years, a bombardment of cliché.- Here are a few:
‘Got the kids for the day? The wife doing something nice?’
‘Bet you’ll be glad to get back to work’.
‘Not as easy as it looks is it’, said the lady on the till at Tesco.
No it’s not, that’s true. But so are many things.
It’s not the hardest job in the world, but it does require many skills. Here’s a secret- Women can multi-task because they learn how to do it when they look after children. I know because I learnt it too! We can cook a meal, answer the phone, grab a falling toddler and open a drawer with a foot. They are skills. They come with the job.
Yes a job!
A year or so ago, I had reason to state my occupation to a young woman in her late twenties. It was an insurance policy or something. I can’t rightly remember. What I do remember though, are her words.
‘What do you do?’ she said.
‘I look after our children’
‘You don’t have a job then’.
‘I’ve just told you, I look after our children.’
‘But it’s not on the list,’ she said. ‘I’ll put you down as unemployed.’
I could have told her I write novels for a living. I wondered if her response might have been-
‘It’s not on the list. I’ll put loitering with intent.’
So it’s not a job. Helping to bring rounded, morally balanced people into a difficult world isn’t a job. I know there are terms such as house husband and house wife, but what do they say; that the person doing the child-care is an appendage, a supporting strut? I have met many men who would relish the chance to spend more time with their children. Mothers too, but circumstances have prevented it. I have been fortunate. The clichés and sometimes the isolation of being a man in what is still largely a woman’s world no longer bother me like they once did. I worry though that this might still be a measure of how far equality between the sexes has to go.
To any men who have the chance to play a larger part in the care of your children, give it a go. I guarantee once you find that child inside yourself you won’t look back.