Primary Parenting

I have a confession to make: When I first started writing this  back page column*, I was the perfect candidate for the job.  I worked from home, I was on the PTA, I fed children through professional phone calls: I was the archetype Modern Mother. Okay, I may have smoked heavily at the time and worn my pyjamas almost constantly (thereby giving Lisa the Publisher a little pause for thought on her first impromptu visit), but I was, nevertheless, in serious Mom mode.

A lot has changed over the three years (gulp, is it really that long?) that I have been writing this back page. First, I now have an office job. I have also given up smoking (again) and have started wearing real clothes (well, jeans). But much more importantly, I am no longer the primary caregiver in our family. I have become the Dad.

Being egalitarian of set-up, my partner Andreas and I decided way back that we would try and share this parenting schtick as evenly as possible. So while I was the front-line parent for the first five years, Andreas took over around two years ago now. And boy, has it been interesting.

First of all, I can not stress enough how fun it is to be the Dad. To go to a job you enjoy and to be able to work at it undisturbed by sticky fingers, google-eyes or guilt, to come home to clean huggable children who have done their homework, a cooked dinner (or well defined take-out plans), a clean house and a loving partner… hell, what’s not to love?


Silly question really, because I know you all know the answer. I don’t love not being responsible for my children’s day-to-day wellbeing. It’s really hard to hand over the management of sticky fingers and homework to someone else. I am the mother. Thousands of years’ worth of female ancestors are looking down at me disapprovingly. And, dammit, Andreas doesn’t do it quite like I would – he is too strict with bath time, too uninventive with lunchboxes, too schedule-orientated, too… not me.


I remember how my stay-at-home mother used to tear her hair out when people at cocktail parties would ask her what she did and then rejoin: “Home with the kids? So you don’t really do anything then.” I am more violent a person than my mother and I know if anyone had said something similar to me when I was home with my kids I would have quite cheerfully torn their hair out.


I watch how everyone assumes Andreas doesn’t have a “proper job” because he is the primary parent (“Oooh! How lovely! Your husband just stays home all day then?”), thereby comprehensively negating the juggling act of the millions upon millions of working parents. Dreas does have a job, he is a scientist who works full day at a university, but he juggles his lunch hour, our housekeeper, the school’s aftercare programme and Woolworths’ extended shopping hours like all other working primary caregivers. And does a great job.


I watch how I get treated for being a dad-mom – raised eyebrows from art teachers (“What is it that you do that we never see you? What a shame.”) or bafflement from colleagues (“Did you just phone your husband to tell him you’d be late for dinner? Ha ha!”) despite the fact that I am behaving no differently from the men that surround me.


And then… I notice how many other couples all about are having similar battles. I see Dads in Crocs, expertly dummy-plugging whilst doing a shop. I see suited Moms on the phone patting children affectionately, but distractedly, on the head. I see men exchanging parenting tips. I see women having after work drinks. Most importantly, I see all manner of happy messy family stuff in between. And I see how, in our lifetimes, we are set to explode the distinctions between Mom and Dad and start truly parenting together. Well, if not explode, at least seriously crack.


How exciting is that? This Father’s Day, I’d like to raise my knitting and my briefcase to all parents out there – to mothering fathers and fathering mothers and conventional duos and super- capable singles and say… yay to everyone whose eyes go soft at the sight of a child.


Celebrate happily, everyone.

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