Some bloke on the radio said today that full-time childcare is easy and mums exaggerate about how tough it is.
There I was quietly squeezing an entire day’s work into my baby’s nap time, with the radio on in the background for sanity, when along came some hack from the Times called Tom, blethering about how mums are lying about how difficult full-time childcare is. Apparently us mums are all part of some sort of conspiracy whereby we’re deliberately making full-time motherhood look harder than it is. I kid you not.
So, for Tom and any other dads who reckon full-time parenthood is a piece of cake, here's a little letter for you to ponder in your spare time. (Unlike many mums, you shouldn't struggle to find a moment to yourself to read it - I can only assume you've got way too much time on your hands if your experience of parenthood is leading you to this absurd conclusion.)
Paternity leave is not the same thing as full-time motherhood
Would you ever watch a Premiership football match and announce that you could do what *they* do with your eyes shut?
Taking a short-term break - from a job that will be there for you to return to - to look after your baby does not make you an authority on full-time motherhood. So after five months at home with your son - yes, five *whole* months with only one child to care for - you reckon full-time parenting is easy peasy, eh? Tell you what, Tom, come and do a typical mother's role - try my ‘job’ of taking care of three children ranging between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old in between earning a full-time salary by cramming work into naps and evenings - and let’s see how long you last. Five months? I give it five minutes before you’re begging for mercy and pleading to be allowed to pee in peace.
Or perhaps you'd like to try a stint in the shoes of a mum who has no job to return to because of pregnancy discrimination? Then maybe you could have a go at spending a year tossing and turning at night with worry that your maternity leave might set you back so many rungs on the ladder at work that your career will never recover. These are realities for many mums. I hardly think your brief stint on paternity leave compares.
We’re intentionally making motherhood look hard? Please, like we have the time or energy
Have you considered the possibility that you find it so easy because you’re just not doing it as thoroughly as we do? While you were idling away your days of paternity leave singing nursery rhymes, drinking coffee and 'avoiding eye-contact with beautiful women who were breastfeeding their babies', did the laundry, housework, grocery shopping and cooking all just take care of itself? Because perhaps if you’d focused your attention on those elements of full-time motherhood instead of napping when your baby napped, you might have begun to appreciate that we’re not all chillaxing to quite the extent that you seem to presume.
In 18 months of looking after my third baby I haven’t once so much as plonked myself on the sofa during her naps. I'm not asking for a medal, but most mums I know will tell you that those precious minutes you spent snoring are the ones we spend doing all those other things that you appear to take for granted.
What else are women lying about?
So the idea has been floated that this conspiracy to make motherhood look difficult gives rise to the question of what else women are lying about. I don't disagree on this point. But I’ll resist the urge to speculate about what else your wife might be fibbing to you about.
It's not act of feminism to care for your own child
The part where you said you thought a few months of paternity leave would turn you into this feminist trailblazer? Exactly what part of caring for your own child makes you a feminist? The last time I checked, that just makes you a dad.
On that colleague who asked ‘Are you basically becoming a woman?’
See the part where you said you didn’t mind that comment? You should have. Because it’s just that kind of sexist twaddle which makes full-time motherhood harder than you think it is. Try finding value in fulfilling an altruistic role within a society which still deems looking after children ‘women’s work’ and then you might get a glimpse into why, from where we sit, it ain't all blowing raspberries, singing nursery rhymes, and drinking coffee.
You’re utterly overlooking the impact of new motherhood on a woman’s mind and body
So here’s an idea. Maybe you find full-time parenting easier than a full-time mum does because you’re doing the easy bit. Submit yourself to some utterly all-consuming physical transformation for nine months, followed by squeezing something the size of a watermelon out of your tiniest and most sensitive orifice, not to mention weeks of leaking and agony in your nether regions and the distinct sensation that your nipples have been slammed in the front door, and then let’s talk about what a walk in the park this whole thing is.
In the midst of all that we're also coming to terms with a love that could bend steel, and the unfathomable fact that every second of it is utterly worthwhile. Hopefully (unless you get us on a bad day) without taking cheap shots at our partners in the process.
Chuck in a cocktail of mind-bending hormones, sleep deprivation that could drive you demented - oh, and a wholly unsupportive partner who thinks you’re exaggerating about how exhausting and discombobulating the whole experience is.
And then I’ll be all ears.