Dear Dave

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Different priorities

Dear Dave,

Good to hear the routine is settling down and you're managing to get out of the house before half past ten in the morning. Shame you need to be back by eleven in order to give Daisy her third breakfast and change her nappy... before heading back out to collect Sam from nursery... only to hurry home for an early lunch... allowing you to go out for a walk to get Daisy to have a nap... so she'll wake up in time for a change and second lunch... before you have to go out again to take Sam to swimming lessons... and then rush back to give Daisy tea promptly... in the hope she'll feel peckish again before Liz gets home ready to burst and requiring a hungry baby to prevent her from exploding in a milky fashion.

It can be quite tricky fitting everything into the day when dealing with young children. Any delays, such as an unscheduled nappy full of evil raisins or a toddler taking exception to the colour of his left trouser leg, is liable to throw things out entirely. You can find yourself needing to be back home before you've left. This isn't too handy when you really need to get to the shops because all that's in the freezer is breast milk.

Lewis didn't finish his lunch, so I've enclosed half a cheese sandwich to keep you going. (Probably best to disinfect it, or something - I think he might have sneezed on it.)

As I said in my last letter, faffing with bottles can slow things down. Not having the handy, take-anywhere baby feeding attachments is certainly a disadvantage that we housedads have compared to our female colleagues. It's one of the obvious ways that life differs in a role-reversed family. Another is that both parents get to be home for the length of maternity leave. As you know, this makes the arrival of a new child easier to cope with but can have serious financial implications. All in all, there are many pros and cons to the way we do things. Even the lack of attachments can turn into an advantage for a housedad at three in the morning. (Don't look too happy about it as you hand over a screaming baby and go back to sleep, though. When Daisy starts teething, you'll be the one blearily watching baseball on Channel 5 for half the night as she cries and tries to eat the remote control.)

Yep, there are plenty of practical issues. You were wondering, however, whether housedads have a different approach to the philosophy of bringing up children than stay-at-home mums? Do we raise children differently through a mixture of genetics and principle?

It's hard to know. Parenting is a complicated business and to pin any particular part of the process down to gender would be a wild generalisation.

Tempted as I am to make wild generalisations anyway, I just can't bring myself to do it. So much of childcare - the rough and tumble, the nurturing, the discipline - is down to role as much as gender. Plus, my sample size of housedads I'm regularly in contact with is somewhat limited to you, so that would be a move beyond generalisation to straight forward invention. The best I can do is suggest that housemums and housedads may have different priorities.

For instance, I was in much less of a hurry to get my kids using cutlery and open cups than most mums at parent and toddler. This was maybe as much to do with Fraser as to do with me. He was so good at spilling drinks when he was small, I continued giving him beakers with spouts until he was nearly four. As for food, he still won't eat anything with sauce and is only just coming round to the idea that hot food can be quite tasty. When a huge proportion of what you eat is sandwiches, fresh fruit and raw vegetables, cutlery really isn't necessary.

That said, I did have to insist on a spoon for breakfast cereal so he stopped scooping up a handful of Rice Crispies and shoving them into his mouth in a way which dropped half of them. I really don't like a crunchy kitchen floor. (He eats his Crispies dry, by the way.) Maybe mums prefer civilised children. I'm just glad when the food goes in their mouths rather than on my socks.

I've also been relatively tardy teaching the boys to pee standing up. They hardly ever need the toilet, so there's no real incentive. The time we would save each day would be more than cancelled out by the time I'd spend doing additional mopping each week. Perhaps if it wasn't my job to clean up after them, then I might feel differently. I might believe that it's some kind of male rite of passage to learn to urinate while vertical and insist that they got the hang of it. Maybe housemums are more eager than me to encourage their sons' aiming skills because they have these kinds of expectations from their partners to placate. I'm just glad when the pee goes in the toilet rather than on my socks.

As for maintaining the balance between stimulation and unstructured play, I tend to leave the kids to their own devices more often than many mums seem too. This is perhaps down to having three children close together, though. I simply wouldn't have had time to sit either of the boys down and teach them to read, for example - I was always too busy chasing after a younger child. As for Marie, she's started teaching herself and she goes around pretending to read things already. The other day, she squinted hard at the instructions on a bottle of soap and said, "It says, 'Put on your hands. Don't put it on your teeth.'" (This was surprisingly accurate.) I suppose I could teach her properly but I'm in no rush. The school can handle it. Some mums attempt to educate their kids at an early age as something to do in order to avoid being driven mad by Teletubbies themselves. I have a high tolerance for boredom, however. I can think about nothing much for hours. I'm just glad... I have clean socks.

So there we have it, I suspect that if there were more housedads, more children would eat with their fingers, pee sitting down and be able to work DVD players themselves. Everyone would have clean socks.

Then again, maybe that's simply me.

Do housedads raise children differently? Never mind that - I think it's probably safe to say that every parent has a different approach to bringing up children. We all have successes and make mistakes. We all screw them up in a unique and interesting fashion. There's nothing to be done about it.

Just love them, do your best and get on with the job. Some priorities may vary but those are the ones we should all have in common.

Hope you get to the shops soon.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Good news if you don't like baseball! The BBC iPlayer now works on Wii. Download the Internet Channel, surf over to the website and voila! You can watch most of the last week of BBC output in jerky, VHS-o-vision from the comfort of your armchair, even in the middle of the night. Better get in there now while you have the chance - it only works in the UK but I still hate to think of the bandwidth usage if it catches on. Can you hear that shrill, almost-silent scream? That's our little corner of the internet dying...


Anonymous said...

More proof that I really should have been a housedad.

I'm always grateful for clean socks. And a pee free floor.

DadsDinner said...

You may not be a housedad, but at least you're married to one. That's almost as good.