I read a lot about parenting equality while pregnant. Mostly feminist writing about how parenting remains unequal, and how there is persistent male privilege in parenting.
True, insofar as parenting standards are much higher for women than men. A man who is great by the female standard is superlative by the male standard. A man who is adequate by the female standard is great by the male standard. Even in an equal-ish relationship there’s going to be an issue of the public recognition being out of whack. Which is a super bullshit irony because even if things are equal from the day the baby is born, only one party was pregnant and gave birth, so maybe that party should get the most credit, hmm?
That stuff affects the equality of the relationship between the parents, but when it comes to the relationship between each parent and the child, well, they can never be the same and nor should they be. They are unique relationships, and it’s nonsense to compare them to each other. Relationships can change over time, and adults can even end up having a good relationship with a parent who was only a vague presence as a child.
I think a lot now about my own childhood, revisiting memories in the light of parenthood. Once my mum was in Tauranga for work, and it was decided that my dad would take me and my brother down on the train on Friday after school and we’d all spend the weekend at the Mount and drive back together on Sunday afternoon. Organisation is not a fabulous strength of my dad’s, but he is excellent at imbuing things with a sense of adventure. Realising there wasn’t enough time to pack properly, he instructed us to put our clothes and things in large plastic rubbish bags and we set off for the train looking like a family of vagabonds. He didn’t pack food for the train ride, or entertainment. I had a book and he had a dictaphone that he was taking down to Mum so she could make a record of the work she did during the week. I dictated my book and made up fan fic then played it back to my brother (the book was called Put a Sock in it Percy, about a cat who ate some glue in his owner’s invention lab and learned to talk). The train people gave us lots of bags of peanuts. It was a memorable and fun adventure. My mum was possibly displeased at the haphazardness? I don’t know, it never occurred to me as a child to look at it that way. Mum was good at organising things, Dad wasn’t, c’est la vie, we had an adventure! Peanuts!
There is an unavoidable equality in parenting stemming from the fact that one person can’t control the relationship two other people have.
My husband loves being a father. He had plenty of opportunities when we were dating to demonstrate that he is good with little kids, so I knew that becoming a dad would suit him, and the little dude is obviously the apple of his eye. They have fun together and the little dude clearly has a strong and secure attachment to his daddy. It’s the best warm fuzzy feeling for me seeing how much they delight in each other’s company. My husband and I bring different styles to the parenting dynamic, which is all good. On the other hand, I’m around more, so it is inevitable that there are times when I know exactly what the little dude wants or needs at a given time while my husband isn’t sure. If, perennial if, we both worked part time and the little dude had slightly less time at creche and more time with his dad that’d be grand for everybody.
I find myself doing more chores and more of the incidental parenting (things like taking the little dude to the doctor, or being in the garden pegging out the washing while keeping an eye on him), while the fun parenting stuff is split fairly evenly. My husband does more paid work, less chores, and less incidental parenting. It’s not an perfectly equitable split, but it’s ok for now. There are only so many paid hours one family can work and still function. There are also a certain number of chore hours that need to be done. The split we have at the moment leaves us both feeling like we work very hard and depend on the other to keep things running along. That said, I would strongly prefer an hour of paid work over an hour of chores, it’s more interesting, and it’s building my career, and it’s paid! My perk for the extra chores is the extra time with the little dude, even if that’s not always fun stuff time. It’s a perk I’m glad to accept.
You know what really peels my turnips? (whenever I’m annoyed I like to coin a ranting Swede-ism) Those incessant advice pieces that suggest chores imbalance can be resolved by the higher-chores person (usually a woman) doing less rather than the lower-chores person (usually a man) doing more. Hold up a second! How tidy did you think my house was to start off with? There’s no room for less to be done! We are drowning in a sea of tiny dirty socks and banana and mandarin peel and there are half eaten cruskits in unexpected places all over the house and the dishes haven’t been done since the cleaner came on Wednesday and yes we have a cleaner (we love her she’s awesome) and it’s still like this!
Anyway, the point I’m making is that equal parenting is kinda an incoherent thing to discuss, because the little dude doesn’t care whose waged labour buys his tiny socks and whose unwaged labour washes them. Equality within the parenting relationship only matters to the parents. And this is less about the exactitudes of how labour is divided and more subjective, does the division work for both parties, are both parties equal in discussions of who does what, is the relationship premised on equality or is there a power imbalance? This is another potential angle to male parenting privilege, of course. Sometimes I feel pissed off that I do more chores, because why should my unpaid labour subsidise his paid labour, why does he get recognition for long hours at the office but I get no recognition for staying up late washing dishes… but mostly I’m ok with it so long as he acknowledges that I’m working just as hard as he is, just at different things. As I said in an earlier post the big picture issue is the availability of paid work that enables both parents to do a mix of paid work and home stuff in a fair way. I’m like a broken record on this one. A thirty hour week would herald a new age of wonder and joy! Just me and my keyboard typing truth to the internet. That’ll affect social change, for sure 😉 #outlet.