Dear Dave

Wednesday 5 March 2008

But he always does the cooking

Dear Dave,

Glad to hear you all survived Mother's Day for another year. Taking your mum out to a restaurant was a smart move - it will have thrown the attention off Liz. Just as Valentine's Day can be awkward for single people, Mother's Day is a bizarre emotional minefield for role-reversed parents. I remember, way back on Father's Day, I mentioned how the advertising and social expectation were geared up all wrong for housedads. Well, Mother's Day is worse for our partners.

On Mother's Day, traditional mums get thanked for all the unsung work they put into doing chores and keeping the household running. It's an opportunity for them to have a break while the rest of the family takes over for the day. Those mums with a househusband, however, get to feel guilty for not doing all the things that traditional mums are being praised for. Even the simple question, 'Is he taking a turn and making lunch for you today, then?' can seem threatening. Answering, 'Yes,' implies the mum does the cooking normally. Any other response is going to lead to confusion and an eventual admission that it's really the dad who does all the housework. Before you know it, the mum feels like it should be her that's gratefully making the lunch for a change, even though that's what Father's Day is for.

It is in our house, anyway. Most places, I'm guessing Father's Day isn't quite the same. You see, there's a marked difference between the sentiments surrounding Mother's Day and Father's Day. Mums get a hard-earned rest; dads get a less-than-complimentary card and some encouragement to spend the day interacting with their family. Mother's Day is to say thank you for all the work, while Father's Day is to go play football in the park. Mums are appreciated for what they do; dads are appreciated for existing.

Hardly seems fair, does it?

Mother's Day does come with more handmade gifts, though. Marie made a card at nursery, Sunday School delivered decorated crockery and Anchor Boys turned up some... well, the only way to describe them is model houses constructed out of cleaning equipment and sharp pins.

Sarah was thrilled.

Even if we had a 'normal' lifestyle it would be hard for her to know how to take being given a couple of pot scourers and a duster for Mother's Day. Since she doesn't actually do any washing up or dusting, it's particularly difficult.

While making these gifts, the Anchor Boys were asked, "What are some of the things that your mum does that you need to thank her for?"

The other children piped up with suggestions like cooking and hoovering and cleaning.

Our boys just looked confused. "Mummy never does those things. Daddy does them."

No one really paid any attention to them, however. Adults tend to suspect that my kids are mistaken when they say stuff like that. Sometimes they chuckle at the very idea, even if they know I'm a housedad. It makes me wonder how they imagine our lives operate. Do they think I expect Sarah to come home from work, make us all tea, get the children ready for bed and then scrub the toilets?

I guess so. I suppose there are plenty of families where both parents are working and the mum does come home and do those things. The hype surrounding Mother's Day actually seems to suggest that that set-up is only right and proper. Mums are heroes and saints who get us all where we need to go, on time, in clean clothes and with a healthy packed lunch. They do it out of love and duty and with only the annual promise of breakfast in bed, a handmade card and a small box of Cadbury's Milk Tray to look forward to. (Actually, there's been some inflation since our day and the handmade card and chocolates have been replaced by a massage voucher and a Nintendo DS but it's still small reward for being a supermum.)

This is all very well, but building up being taken for granted as somehow virtuous, isn't very helpful to anyone except the dads who aren't pulling their weight. It even makes life more difficult for mums who don't have a traditional role - it can make them feel inadequate for not being a domestic goddess. It certainly gets to Sarah sometimes and that's despite the fact she does the laundry and helps out a great deal with looking after the children.

I have pointed out that going to work each day and earning the money to feed, clothe and house us all is quite a big deal really but, apparently, that doesn't count. She's supposed to be taking the kids on nature walks, preparing gourmet meals, organising art projects, redecorating the lounge and removing the stain round the bath, all with a twitch of her nose.

Yep, it's not easy being a breadwinning mum. As well as having to work in a man's world, there are all kinds of societal expectations of motherhood to overcome. Sometimes it's hard to see past them:

She may not hoover, but the kids do have a lot to appreciate Sarah for (and so do I!). The truth is, though, it doesn't matter what she's contributing. She's their mum and they appreciate her anyway. Hopefully, they won't be persuaded out of that by adverts and misinformation as the years go by.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Admittedly, the kids aren't always great at expressing their appreciation. I had to remind them all to wish Sarah a happy Mother's Day this year, for instance, so I should probably put them into training for next year. That way they'll come up with suitable gifts and be more prepared for daft questions.

Never mind, at least they had the sense to give the pan scourers to me...

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