“Should have had allergy test appointment by now”
The hospital letter said there might be a 13-week wait for my daughter’s allergy test, and I knew I’d lose track… Luckily it only took about 2 weeks.
Sometimes it is useful to be a feminist because it means that while sometimes we might not be able to change our situation, we at least have a chance to keep our own thoughts and disagree with the status quo.
Something weird happened today. A brief explanation: I am going to go to London to present a paper at a conference next week. It’s a weekday, and I’ll be gone all day, so my daughter’s dad is taking the day off and looking after her. That’s great and stuff, he is usually ok about taking time off work when I have a uni-related event.
The weird part starts here, and I really found it quite a shock.
Our local gym has recently started offering preschool gymnastics sessions, and as my daughter loves moving and running and jumping and, as of two weeks ago (it’s still so exciting when she learns something new), skipping, I thought I’d take her there one of these weeks. I haven’t got round to it yet, and while we were reading a story about dancing I suddenly thought, that’s it, let’s do it next week. But that is the day of the conference.
So I thought, brilliant, her dad can take her, she’ll love it, and it’ll give them something to do. Of course he can decide how to fill the day himself, but he’s never looked after her for a whole entire day before, and I know on days like that you can get a bit sleepy and/or crazy from the lack of adult contact. Plus he has a car, so it’ll be a doddle to get there and back.
So I told him my idea, and… ‘no, it would be too stressful’. Too stressful?!! After I have found out about the sessions, and (theoretically) booked a place a week in advance?! When I take my daughter we’ll have to take the bus there and back, which obviously takes longer so necessitates snack planning, plus possibly planning an extra-easy lunch as she might be tired and thus probably want constant cuddles.
That will be the 8th new group we will have tried out together, whereas all her dad does is take her to the library (which is great, I was pleased when he suggested it last autumn!) at carefully scheduled times to avoid the weekly dads’ session. Some mums have probably been to many more groups, but to be fair, we have stuck with our music group for two-and-a-half years so far, plus most of these groups were explored before I seriously went back to uni. Plus there’s also the small, totally un-stressful matter of taking an 8 to 36 month-old to uni seminars with food, toys, being on time despite buses, worrying about nap scheduling and toddler disruptiveness! And potential judging of parenting skills at the GP/dentist/baby clinic/nursery. All pressure which is solely reserved for my parenting experience!
So don’t ‘stressful’ me! With a car and absolutely no time pressure all day this would be a piece of cake.
But this way I get to enjoy another first, and the potential satisfaction of investigating and planning a new activity appropriate for my daughter’s current interests and skills, and hopefully her enjoyment and excited chatter as the result of it all. In short, parenting brownie points – they’ll be mine, all mine.
I like going to groups and activities because usually my daughter enjoys it and, while I’m confident and comfortable in my parenting approach, I find it useful to see how other parents interact with their children. In my experience, isolated parenting breeds abuse. I don’t mean that everyone should go to three groups every day and adopt another family including the parents, all I’m trying to say is re-evaluating our parenting practices every so often is a good thing. Plus staying in all day is dull.
I have been loosely following the Elisabeth Badinter responses, and while I think she raises some points worth thinking about (if only to re-evaluate our feminist position), I really don’t understand her notion of the über-mother who takes on everything and doesn’t allow the dad a look-in.
Unlike Blue Milk’s experience when she left the birthday party planning to her husband, my daughter’s dad would simply not do it. He is very generous with money, and time when possible, our parenting relationship could be much worse than it is at the moment. He would totally plan a birthday party if I told him the place, time, invited guests early enough, etc. But all initiative has to come from me. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a single-mum fraud because he gives me lifts, gets bits and bobs at the shop for me, and usually is available at the drop of a hat if I/we need him. All of this is very appreciated, and I know that many single mums just don’t have this. But when it comes to moving along with my daughter’s development (things like finding new activities, games, what parts of daily life/the world she might find interesting now, needing new clothes, responding to her questions about complicated things in an appropriate way), the responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders.
It would be great to have someone who understands that school applications have to be done in September, so open days have to be investigated, Ofsted reports have to be consulted, and short lists have to be compiled, and it’s all so hugely important and bloody scary that doing it all on my own seems sleep-robbingly overwhelming. Of course he’ll probably insist on coming to open days, but I’ll get to choose which ones, and what if it later turns out I wasn’t aware of some crucial information or missed a deadline or something. He wouldn’t be aware of them.
Take the photo above, for example. It was a reminder for myself that I put in the calendar to make sure that I couldn’t forget about my daughter’s allergy test. Did her dad set himself a reminder? I doubt it.
But the thing is, while trying to allow my daughter most possible chances and choices and securities in life is big and scary and most probably impossible, I don’t want to give away any of this responsibility. I want to be involved and plan things for her, because I don’t want to wake up one day and realise I haven’t been on the ball enough. And I enjoy doing all these things. It is daunting going to new groups, but it is also useful, not least for the local gossip like which schools have a good reputation but are actually not great in some respects.
Dads who don’t take part in the community aspect of child-raising exclude themselves from something which is a large part of an under-five’s life. Yes, it’s great that my daughter’s dad sees her as often as he does, he clearly wants to be involved in her life and thinks of nice things to do at the weekend, but if I didn’t tell him, he wouldn’t even know that she goes to a music group (nor have been aware of the chance for him to become a trustee, something which is marginally useful for his career), or her friends’ names, or the fact that nursery compile a folder of photos to document her development which allows us a brilliant window into what she gets up to without us.
I will of course continue to keep him in the loop because it’s good for my daughter. And of course many parents are prevented from much more than weekend activities anyway because of work, or they have a set-up which specifies that only one parents holds the responsibilities outlined above while the other one contributes something equally vital to family life.
I enjoy everything I do for my daughter, even when sometimes the responsibility feels too much without an equal partner by my side. And of course her dad is not a bad dad for not immediately agreeing when I suggest something to do in his time. It would just help on the difficult days if it was sometimes acknowledged that I do things that other people find too ‘stressful’ on an easy day. I guess that is the difficult thing about being a single mum with no family nearby: no one knows how much effort you put in to get through the day, and no one is grateful for that effort. But we have to keep going to meet our own expectations because no one will make you feel better when you think you’ve failed. There is no safety-net.