Dear Dave

Friday 14 December 2007

We've got to let the mums win at something

Dear Dave,

Yeah, I know how you feel - Christmas suddenly seems to be upon us. Sounds like you're mostly on top of things, though.

We're getting there. We've converted the lounge to 'Christmas Land' (as Marie calls it) with the help of plenty of shiny baubles, an explosion of tinsel and a very irritating musical santa. Hopefully we'll get the cards done soon. We've given the kids a gift or two each already to spread things out. We're having a mulled wine party in a few days. (Scary Karen has promised to bring her accordion!) The shopping's mostly done. I've been to a couple of carol services. Everyone keeps asking Marie what santa's bringing her. Fraser keeps impatiently explaining to them that santa isn't real. The school nativity play was yesterday. There's Christmas music everywhere. Christmas adverts. Christmas food. Christmas lights. Christmas. Christmas. Christmas. Christmas. Christmas. Christmas.

Too much Christmas.

And there's still over a week to go. Goodness. I'm going to be burnt out before the day arrives.

Must think of something else...

Actually, there is something I've been meaning to write about for a while and it's kind of related to Chr... er, that other thing... in a round about sort of way:

A recent study has indicated that boys who have been cared for by their fathers for a significant amount of the time as toddlers perform less well at academic assessments upon starting school than boys who have been looked after by their mothers.

There are plenty of obvious questions thrown up by this. Why boys and not girls? Exactly how much less? Were the dads who were surveyed looking after their children out of choice or circumstance? How does this compare with children who are looked after by their grans? What sort of assessments? And what's all this got to do with Chr... er, the time of year?

Maybe the actual study answers some of these questions. (Well, perhaps not the last one). Typically, however, the press coverage didn't even ask most of them. It was all 'housedads could be damaging their childrens' future chances'! Men don't give children as much mental stimulation as women, apparently... or, at least, possibly. The study didn't have any definitive reasons for the discrepancy.

Of course, the instant reaction is for us to jump up and down in annoyance. How dare journalists accuse us of not stimulating our kids? They do fine at school. What are the researchers talking about? Unfortunately, this is twisting things to support our own agenda as much the newspapers have done. Men and women are not the same. There are plenty of situations and problems that, on average, men and women will deal with differently. Whether this is due to upbringing or genetics doesn't really matter - it simply is the case. This is bound to apply to childcare too, and thus it's bound to affect the kids in some way. Maybe what this study has discovered is true.

Don't hurriedly rush out to find a job and order Liz back home to stimulate Sam and protect his future, though.

There are a million things you could measure about a kid to evaluate good parenting. These include nutrition, behaviour, happiness, fitness, curiosity, dental health, vocabulary, politeness, bravery, cleanliness, stubbornness, resilience, knowledge, empathy, hand-eye coordination, kindness, imagination, road safety awareness and biscuit decorating ability. Chances are, dads are better than mums for encouraging at least some of these things. Working out whether it's men or women who come out on top for a majority of the list would take rather a long time, however, and, even then, it wouldn't necessarily help very much in determining who should look after the children. Is a slightly higher chance of the kid being resilient more important than a slightly higher chance of them being polite, for instance? That could be quite a debate and, in the end, the childcare duties in any given relationship will still come down to finances and temperament. Which is how it should be. Having parents who are solvent and enjoying their roles is going to do more to encourage a child's long term development than anything else.

Bearing that in mind, I'm quite happy to accept the results of the study. There was always going to be something that dads aren't so good at. I'm actually pleased that it turns out to be this. You see, I'm not certain that children doing less well in academic assessments upon starting school is necessarily a bad thing. Surely the whole point of schools is to teach children how to do well in academic assessments. I wouldn't want to interfere with the teachers' jobs and, besides, being a little behind the curve gives plenty of room for some quick confidence-building improvement. Even The Daily Mail pointed out that the research didn't investigate whether 'the damage to the boys' prospects' is permanent. There's every possibility the boys in question caught up in a very brave and resilient manner after a couple of months. Maybe the other ones, the ones who'd been taught to read by their mums, got bored, burnt out by the end of the second week and dedicated their lives to politely decorating biscuits.

Who knows?

And you're still wondering what this has to do with Chr... the current up-turn in sales of turkeys and Brussels sprouts...

Well, I guess my first point - that housedads aren't an abomination against nature - doesn't actually have anything to do with Chr... Frosty the Snowman... but, given the context of this letter, it's not really much of a point either. You probably saw it coming. My second point, however, is about stimulation:

I grew up somewhere so dull that I used to sit watching the test card for entertainment. Maybe if my mum had sat with me and taught me to spell then I'd be a genius now, but I doubt it. I'd probably just have been a know-it-all who made life difficult for my teachers in primary school. I might also have lost a very useful trait. As it stands, I have a very high tolerance for tedium. This makes my job a whole lot easier. I can play Snakes and Ladders for hours at a time without going mad and watch the same episode of Tweenies endlessly without gibbering. I should really thank my mum for leaving me to my own devices so much as a child. (I'm not going to, though, just in case it comes out wrong...)

So remember, next time you sneak off to check your email, you're not ignoring the children, you're building resourcefulness and self-reliance. After all, there is such a thing as over-stimulation.

If you're in any doubt, think of Christmas.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS I've got a peculiar ringing in my ears now. I think it's jingle bells...


Anonymous said...

I saw this article too, and despite knowledge that the press really will write any old scare-mongering gibberish to justify their existence, I was still terrified.

Soon to be embarking on a new career path of looking after our son full time, I really didn't need my unsure self-esteem bashing any further. My wife is outgoing, confident and talks to our son all the time, and I'm poor on all these counts.

However; (to justify my comments in the opening paragraph) we are also now being told frequently by the press that we (particularly us Dads) are letting our boys down by not teaching them the things now banned by Health and Safety (*), and wrapping them up in cotton wool so that they cannot become the adventurers and explorers necessary to develop the life skills, independence and risk assessment required to stay alive in the big wide world.

To reassure myself; any information or statistics (that aren't total fantasy) will have been provided for the average.

Average sadly seems to lack the common sense or balance in life that you've talked about here. Average isn't very well educated and may not actually even want it's children. Average must be directed by the media source that is momentarily holding it's rather limited attention...

((*) I recently visited the Health and Safety website and it's actually rather sensible. It seems that we actually just like to blame H&S to cut costs and avoid being sued)

I think I've got that all off my chest now thanks! (You started it by mentioning Chr#####s!)

DadsDinner said...

Yep, sometimes with all the media reports of 'failing' dads, it feels we just can't win.

It's not true, though. You'll do fine. Love and attention are the important things.

Anonymous said...

(Been away over Christmas, so I know you've moved on from this now!)

I hope my forst whinge doesn't sound all "poor old us men", because I think the same media attention, if not more, falls on women. I really believe Mums have a very hard time trying to achieve all that is expected from them; far more than us Dads! I thought it would be so hard for me, but gradually I've seen that the pressure and stress on my wife is huge. It goes without saying that she is an awesome lady!!

DadsDinner said...

Yep, been away too.

I think I've touched on it a couple of times before but I do tend to get extra credit for looking after the kids simply because I'm a man. Oddly, this reaction seems to come in particular from housemums who are doing exactly the same job. Go figure.

Meanwhile, my wife has to endure general disapproval because 'mothers should put their children first' and 'working mums aren't dedicated enough to their jobs.' This is prejudice at the best of times but it makes no sense in our case, where I'm at home to look after the kids.

Maybe I need to set up a support website for the partners of housedads...

Anonymous said...

I know that; now we've announced our plans, all my wife's friends are treating me with a weird reverance...??? I still see this whole thing very much as just a different kind of job (easier for me 'cos I've had a few).

She has given our son more love and attention in the first few months than I'll manage in a year. She's a great business woman with a fantastic career, (just hopeless with housework and laundry etc.) and if she can pull it all off (I have every confidence), then she'll be the better man than me (... so to speak)!

BIG THANKS for sharing your experiences anyway.

Good luck with another blog; all this extra time you've gained now must be making you light headed! (Ha-ha!)