I’m frequently told how lucky I am. Not because I’ve seven beautiful children. Not because we’ve all been blessed with good health. And not because with huge amounts of stress and an unnatural amount of juggling I manage (just about) to combine working with rearing my family.
My good luck is firmly attributed to the fact that my other half pulls his weight.
Apparently, he is a “rare diamond” and I should hang on to him, which suits me fine. I’ve got used over the past 20 years or so to having him around the place and while the complex operating of the washing machine still remains somewhat of a mystery to him, he’s a dab hand at doing the bins and, thankfully, the bathrooms.
But beyond all that, he’s a pretty dab hand at being a dad and taking on the responsibilities of parenthood and family life.
Do I appreciate him? Absolutely.
Do I consider myself lucky? Well, is that not what partnership is about?
Surely this is what we signed up for.
Without a doubt, I do more around the house and a lot more when it comes to meeting our family’s needs. I am the one who will organise playdates, remember when vaccinations are taking place, and wrestle with DIY Viking longship creations the night before a just-announced homework project is due. I know when the Leaving Cert mock exams finish, who needs money for a new tin whistle and that we’re low on fabric softener – though in fairness in this house, that’s the standard position.
It’s not because himself is reluctant (although he was decidedly scarce as the Scandinavian masterpiece took shape at a painstakingly slow pace), but rather more to do with the fact that I am at home more and work fewer hours in the only role that seems truly to be valued – the one with financial reward. When he is here, however, he contributes wholly to the running of the household and the family’s needs and he is as likely to be still making school lunches, tidying up or searching for a child’s missing runner at 11pm as I am. The only difference is that he wouldn’t have known the runner was needed for PE tomorrow until I told him.
Expectations are less
Yet, for all his equal capability, expectations of him are less. Recently, I went away overnight with my eldest for some “girl’s time”, leaving himself with the youngest six. As usual the comments started. “Oh you’re on babysitting duty,” said one under a complete misapprehension as to the role and responsibilities of fatherhood. “You’d need that break anyway by the time you left out the kids’ clothes for him and pre-prepared the weekend’s dinner,” laughed another, who truly believed this to be the case.
My hubby is as capable of using the cooker as I am (the bar has been set low, mind you). As for dressing the kids – well he’s had 17 years’ practice. He hasn’t got any better at matching their outfits, something I tried not to dwell on as the WhatsApp pics came in that weekend, but they were clean and warm, if not a little “clashing”. Obviously, I’m not completely crazy. Had there been an important occasion that weekend, their outfits would have been dictated to within an inch of their fabric. Because that’s my forté rather than his.
I was recently asked to contribute to a media piece on the additional responsibilities and worries that mothers take on – and there are many. Halfway through the discussions, we realised, however, that the piece wasn’t a good fit for me – the make-or-break reason being that he goes to the shop to buy his mother’s birthday and Christmas presents himself. I feel I should qualify this by admitting my involvement in that process too. I am, after all, very fond of my mother-in-law and my hope is that she would actually wear or use the gift that is bought for her. That he takes the time and effort to be involved in choosing a gift for the woman who gave him life is apparently “unusual”.
Much laughing later I asked the question that seems obvious – “but why?” She is his mother, I’m not. I have seven children already. He is an adult, and we are a team.
I grew up in a house of four girls, where my father was as involved in our rearing and family responsibilities as my mother. I saw this as the norm. My daughter and six sons see this as the norm – and I’m realising now how much that matters.
So am I lucky, undeniably.
But so is he – though I doubt he’s told it as much.