No, unfortunately, those of you looking for ways to entertain a hyperactive 6 year-old need to look elsewhere!
This one is another one M. suggested – on how men relate to and are perceived by the mothering community.
I would put it amongst one of the more uncomfortable moments in recent years – attending the baby massage course with M. and Sunshine. I was very definitely in a female world. Men were basically tolerated but little more (actually, I was the only guy there). This was a world of soft little songs for the babies (with actions, of course!), of cushions and gentleness and talking through problems at length.
I felt out of place. Really I did. Sunshine fell asleep, luckily, meaning I could just observe, but I knew that what made him happy and content was loud synthesizer music or a good blast of David Bowie (which would make him grin from ear to ear). I didn’t join in with the song, because I found it pointless to sing it 9 or 10 times and my voice was much deeper anyway, meaning I could have just sung a solo. When the women talked about their problems, I thought “Well, you should just do this and this and you’re sorted.”, but of course, that was not required.
My friend Steve, whose wife was also in M.’s ante-natal class, and who is taking 2 years *paternity* leave (go Steve!), said he felt much the same when he attended such a group. Men? Looking after babies? No, surely this isn’t right. Go and get the mother and go off to a hardware store! Interestingly, he and I can talk through all the issues that mothers discuss with each other (except breast-feeding of course). So surely we should be accepted as capable care-givers?
Whereas women are discriminated against in the world of work (sad, but still true), we men are definitely discriminated against in the world of babies. In the same way that a woman wanting be a car mechanic has trouble fitting in and being accepted, a father who wishes to assume full-time care of their offspring is looked at askance by the women around him. In both cases, the person may be fully able to do what they need to, but those around them may not *consider* them to be fully able.
Of course, men are, by and large, still the breadwinners and are often away from home for most of the day before getting back and being presented with tired offspring and an even more tired partner. Those of us who choose to stay at home have a myriad of benefits from doing so. We get to experience our children all day, every day, seeing all the problems and becoming someone, to whom the child builds up a very close relationship. But if we go out with the baby, we’re suddenly outsiders.
I guess that some of it is due to the way we are. Men are not usually meant to be soft and gentle and sing little songs. We’re meant to be loud and out there and working with our hands. All these tiny things that babies need somehow look out of place when held or used by men. We men try to look for solutions to problems, rather than needing to talk them through. Also, many of the activities involved in such courses and groups seem silly and superfluous to us men. It makes us look foolish in public and, all too often, that just doesn’t suit us.
For my own part, amongst friends, I have not experienced problems with my attitude to fatherhood. It is good to talk to those with children themselves, as you can relate to the issues and gain experience (thus offering more solutions!). But talk to a stranger on the subject and the walls go up immediately. They mistrust your intentions, and you go away with your tail between your legs.
It took some time for me to build up a relationship with M.’s gynaecologist, for example, who needed to learn that I was there because I a) was working from home and would therefore be looking after the baby and b) genuinely cared about and was interested in what my wife was going through. This was a team effort, not her with me tagging along. Of course, if you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll know my opinion of our midwife’s actions…
Ok, so if we’re no good at actions and songs in public? What CAN we do? Well, I’ll be addressing that in Part 2!