Infantalism and the modern man

This is my declaration against memes calling men our children

What I wasn’t told when I had a child, was that I was joining a club who were all supposed to make the same jokes about motherhood. There are an awful lot about drinking wine (or gin) to cope with the trials, many dedicated to not enough coffee but the one I get sick of the most is the one that infantalises my husband as my child.

There are times I have found myself getting resentful of my partner as a parent. Those early days when I had to wake up (and the now days when I also have to wake up) are the worst. The tiredness associated with parenting had already taken me to new heights (lows) before I developed a fatigue condition. And if I wanted to, I could make a joke about not enough coffee in the world, but I won’t. I will just say that in this one area there is an imbalance between the one who always wakes for their child (me) and the one who gets kicked in the back to wake up (him.) That means the other times of day have to be more balanced out. When weekends come around, or holidays, I start to insist on him doing specific jobs to balance out the fact I have dealt with wake ups in the night.

But it has been even more crucial to make these stipulations, though I acknowledge he is working during the week, because the fatigue I am experiencing can be so much worse if I push myself too hard. This has been hard to have to list and explain what exactly needs to be done if I need him to do it. Whilst also hard to communicate it all in a fair way (given tiredness can also make you snappish). I learnt a few years back that this is called “the motherload” and the idea has really stuck with me. The emotional labour of listing and knowing what needs doing, when it has to be done and how you do it a certain way is a mental burden that we often discount. Writing recently about my brain fog at Christmas, I talked about passing on some jobs completely so I don’t have to think about them. This is because my executive function, which includes planning out, is reduced with the fog. So I have had to develop systems where certain jobs happen on certain days to combat the chaos of my brain.

Sorry, I don’t have time or energy to supervise another adult

In addition to the motherload, you can also become your child’s “default parent” This does include school always calling you but also that my son only currently wants to play with me. That means me, sat on the floor or doing a puzzle, most likely being instructed what to do and trying to give as much attention as I can. And it is tiring, though we have fun. But when I leave my son to my partner, they will sit happily ignoring each other on screens and when he is ready to play again, my son will seek me out.

The problem with both the motherload and being the default parent is that it does make your husband another child. The relationship is unbalanced by the power dynamics where you are the person who has the answers. The peacemaker. The arbiter. And it is not conducive with the adult company that we both deserve in each other. Worse still, I worry it is teaching my son to perpetuate the myth that mother is the one who holds onto the competence.

It has really made me think about the future, that we have to find ways in our relationship to have a good balance. But also that we have to challenge the sexist ideas that kick around about men’s incompetence. A cynical viewpoint would be that not knowing how to run the hoover and asking what to pack in the day sack are a “learned incompetence” that keeps me doing all the workload in the domestic sphere. But I choose to believe it is not on purpose, just something that has become a pattern of life. It means some things have to be explained to our perfectly capable modern men and little men of the future too.

Taking on the task of raising a little one is no joke, and though I enjoy lots of funny sites that I have listed below, I think it’s time to retire the commentary that men can’t do it all. They are afterall, just as capable of battling through parenting life as us.

My favourite funny mummies online are here:

Scummy Mummies

Hurrah for Gin

Brummy Mummy of 2

Sketchy Muma

What it’s like to be different

So, right now we have it easier than a lot of parents. But we also have it different.

Watching my friends struggle through the rigours of home learning these last few months, often holding down full time work, I have been in awe. It is an unfathomable situation for many and I have written before about how much I admire my friends going through this pandemic. The education expectations have been heightened this time so there has been even less chance than last year to take time for yourself. And so in many ways we have been lucky, our son has gone to school so that he can have his routine and a differentiated curriculum. He also needs extra support like OT and Speech and Language which school have to make best efforts to fulfil under the terms of the EHCP.

We had our own mini-experience of the challenges of home learning in lockdown three. We had to coax our son through remote school during our ten days isolation. This included me sitting on the end of the sofa in a mask or shouting from my isolation bedroom to get him to engage. Obviously my husband did the lion’s share (I was ill with covid).I was amazed that we actually managed any of the tasks set. Like lots of children, he has zero motivation and two baffled parents trying to explain a curriculum that looks nothing like anything we ever learnt. So we did what we could and rewarded any effort with the iPad. He wasn’t too fussed about staying in all that time but I was very ready for the routine (and sleep that come with it) to return.

We are really privileged to get the help we need. Amongst all those people struggling to educate their children at home are many children with disabilities and special needs who don’t meet the criteria of going into school or cannot because of health risks. Special Needs Jungle reported recently on the number of children who have their “Provision Denied” in the current circumstances. Without specific actions to address this, their research suggests there may be even greater gaps in learning for these children. As such I feel a real marked difference from many of the parents I know, whether parents of children with special needs, or parents of neurotypical children.

Because he needs something different, we also happen to experience the world a little differently. There are sometimes little shocks like when I hear babies babbling. I didn’t know until much later that my son didn’t babble. He is a talkative fellow now, he just needed some extra support to chatter away to us. At times there are slights which sting, friends will listen to me talk about challenging behaviour and compare my son to their much younger child. Although I too will find it helpful to see a rough picture of child development and (ignoring the age categories), celebrate that he has reached a milestone of new behaviour. He became an appallingly bad liar recently which I am secretly celebrating as a major stage of social understanding that is completely new for us!

Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

I don’t mean to compare my life to others, and especially not to people’s highlight reel on social media. But I share these experiences to explain that we are on a different path. It is a country road we are taking. Not even necessarily slower to get to the same spot. If you happen to be stuck in traffic on the motorway, (for example when you are unwillingly home-schooling your child and I am not,) our car may get somewhere quicker. We may even end up in the same places sometimes (for example our son may end up in a job or at university the same as any other children I know). But we are not travelling there the same way. and the picnic I packed is a little different.

This experience of feeling a little different, reminds me of what my son might feel at times. He is not really sure why he goes to school at the moment, for example. Difference can feel isolating at times. But part of my lesson about acceptance is what I see in children in his class all the time. True inclusion in society is not ignoring that there is diversity in experience, but acceptance that not everyone goes about things the same way and just getting on with the journey that you have to take.

Are you counting down until your children go back to school or will you really miss the fun you’ve been having?