Like many in Australia I tuned in to the ABC’s Paper Giants on Sunday and Monday nights. I was born in the 70s and the footage of red rattlers~, paperboys selling at intersections, 20c tolls on the harbour bridge all brought back so many of my own childhood memories. Add to this the fact my Dad was a newspaper man for News Ltd, and for me the nostalgia of the series was like a beautiful warm blanket wrapped around what in essence was an amazing true story of a woman and mother: Ita Buttrose. No wonder I sat there mesmerised despite my sleep deprivation.
Putting the sentimentality of the series aside, one scene stuck in my mind. It was where Ita arrives home to her ultimately ungrateful, student husband after an obviously long and stressful day at work (picture all 6’2” of Kerry Packer in full flight yelling down at you) only to start dinner for him ‘Do you want onions with your steak?’ and then sit down to the sewing machine!
Now I have issues, namely two boys and a man, but none of my males expect this sort of service, thank goodness. But am I out there celebrating this fact – no instead I’ve been having hormone-fueled meltdowns over things like having to settle both kids most nights or because my husband reads the paper on the weekend while shoveling cereal into our 2 year old, which is not my idea of great parenting.
In fact the list of my grievances is quite long and I know the generation of women before me would probably not understand how or why given how relatively good I’ve got it. So I did some soul-searching as not so fond of the shouting fishwife lurking far too close to the surface. What I discovered was that expectations are the root of all evil.I grew up naively thinking that men and women were equal and I expected my husband to be my equal partner in parenthood. So I went to university, I focused on my career, I learnt how to rotate my tyres and change the oil on a car, I went overseas by myself, I climbed the corporate ladder. On paper there was no clue that my resume was that of a female’s.
Then I fell pregnant and went on maternity leave. Surprisingly the birth, the obvious difference in all this, had nothing on becoming a mum. Fatherhood and motherhood I discovered are entirely different experiences.
Consider these facts about my husband:
- He can sleep through a house-trembling, vomit-producing, full volume baby’s cry
- He feels no guilt about leaving the room for 40 minutes without explanation of where he is going while I’m left baby and a toddler either side of me – and it’s the weekend!
- He has never been a father before but he is entirely confident that every scream from an under 18mth old is teeth and therefore can be easily dismissed with panadol
- As soon as his head hits the pillow and sometimes before, usually during a conversation, he falls asleep
- I’m unable to fall asleep without first running through a checklist of room temperatures, locked doors, open windows, charged monitors
- A crying baby literally makes my stomach churn, let alone wakes me up
- I can’t make a decision without first thinking of someone else’s well being, god forbid I just go out and have time to myself.
No wonder I’m mad (in all senses of the word).
Don’t get me wrong; my husband is by all accounts amazing. He’s one of the ‘nice’ guys: honest and hardworking and always willing to help. He even makes an effort to come home early from work, and the best part is he’s more obsessed with household chores than I am.
So does this generation of women expect the wrong things from their husbands?
Should we be more comfortable with the fact that the way our brain is wired and our biochemical makeup will most likely see us be the primary nurturer of our children? Should we be content that our husband’s role is fundamentally different but equally as valuable to the family?
At the very least I feel there needs to be an adjunct to the women’s liberation message. I would hate to see another generation of girls growing up thinking that men are their equals in every way including parenthood when there are differences that mean you probably will take more time out from your career, you probably will earn less as a result, you probably will get less sleep when your children are babies and you’ll probably also get less leisure/alone time. In fact your world will probably be turned upside down and inside out and your husband’s will just shift a little to the right.
I’m not ungrateful to the Germaine Greers of this world; in fact I am completely indebted to them. I would have stabbed myself in the eye if cooking and cleaning while attached to sewing machine were expected of me. I also know that women’s liberation allows us to make decisions that do make us very close to equal if we choose. What they didn’t say though is that most of us would do this carrying around truckloads of guilt, resulting in a woman that is equal on the outside while beating herself up on the inside.
And I’m not sure this is all just society’s doing. There’s research* showing the relational strength of the female brain is in stark contrast to the systematic male brain, in part caused by a combination of differences in neural brain structure and hormones. In layman’s terms: men can’t hear a human voice when a team is running around a field kicking a piece of air-filled leather, and women can’t not hear every voice, emotion, vibe, raised eyebrow within a 50m radius, not counting social media.
This doesn’t mean I am comfortable watching someone as brilliant as Ita Buttrose perform the role of fulltime housewife and breadwinner, on the contrary. I just know I would be less agitated day-to-day if I hadn’t walked into parenthood with the expectation that my husband and I would equally share the mundane and exhausting tasks required to maintain a family. We don’t and that doesn’t make me unliberated it just means I have a brain of type E^ and he has type S and type E drew the short straw, well for now anyway.
Please don’t slap me Ita!
What innocuous thing does your husband do that drives
you to drink so to speak?
If you enjoyed this post you can find more from Nicole, at My Ideal Life.
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