Why is it that when I immediately and emphatically respond “No (expletive) way” to the question of whether I will be having a third child, so many see fit to dismiss my answer and to tell me that I will "definitely" change my mind?
This exchange, or variations of it, happens to me frequently. It also happens to my husband (whose response is similarly immediate, emphatic, and negative).
And we both find that, while most of the women who ask are accepting and supportive of our answer (often commiserating with us over the trials of parenthood), most of those who dismiss our answer are men.
Research released last week by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that the move into fatherhood does not much affect a man’s work patterns. Not only do the number of hours most men work per week not change once they have kids, but the percentage of fathers taking up flexible working arrangements hasn’t really changed since 2008.
It strikes me that this may have something to do with why some men seem to think adding another child to our family is a no-brainer. Because they’re not the ones whose entire life (and career prospects) has been totally upended by children.
On the contrary, it seems the only thing fatherhood does lead to at work is a nice little “daddy bonus”, where men can expect to enjoy promotions and pay rises following becoming a father, while their female partners get the exact opposite.
In fact, apart from taking up a few hours of childcare per week, many men’s lives don’t seem to change much. The AIFS’s research suggests that even the amount of housework fathers do isn’t particularly different to how much they did pre-baby, while motherhood sees those hours almost double.
And the number of blokes I know who, after working full time all week, continue to play sport all day Saturday, and feel quite entitled to do so as a “release” from their working week, is staggering. And how many fathers continue to make appearances at Friday arvo work drinks while the mums on the team are either “working from home” or have had to skip drinks again to pick up the kids?
Every time I go anywhere without my children (including to work events) I am asked where the kids are and who is minding them. Every time. My husband is never asked. Because they already know where his children are, because he has a wife.
I meet countless women whose husbands have never once gotten up to a child in the night. Women who have dealt with every night feed, nappy change, wet or spewed-in bed, and unsettled child who wakes over and over again. And they even justify doing it all with “he has to work in the morning”, as if caring for children is somehow not work. Or as if being female somehow makes you more capable of dealing with sleep deprivation (in fact, some studies show that the opposite is true! )
Why is it always older men who tell me they wish they’d had more children (even when they have four!)? Why is it that so many of my girlfriends are adamant that they’re done having kids while their husbands would love another? And why was it a male politician in 2006 encouraging families “to have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country”?
Why? Because their lives don’t really have to change.
Of course, some men do change their lives and the way they live them when they have children. Many men, my husband included, are dedicated fathers who feed and bathe and play and settle and soothe their children (day and night), and who take on their share of the mental load that comes with kids.
But the difference is that they do not have to and they are not expected to.
And men who do take on active parenting roles are both praised for the smallest caring act towards their child (he’s changing a nappy, what a great dad!), and subtly punished by a workplace culture that is simply not keeping up with the changing roles of mums and dads.
We just do not live in a culture that expects men to be as active in parenting as we expect women to be. We expect him to continue his life as normal while including playing with his children as a sort of weekend hobby. And that sucks.
It sucks for the women who end up doing everything or the vast majority while their careers languish, it sucks for the men who are robbed of a real and deep relationship with their children, and it sucks for our kids, the impact on whom too often seem to be forgotten in these discussions.
Men’s lives (and work lives) need to change when they have kids. Our culture needs to change its gendered view of how having kids changes our lives, which means government and businesses need to change their policies. Because whatever it is they’ve been doing over the last ten years doesn’t seem to be working. And let me be very clear, just one more time for those people in the back: I am not having another baby. Ever.