When Men Lean In

Today, hubby B took Little Girl C to a birthday party at 4.30pm. On a Monday. Yes, he was busy, yes he had work to do. But he had the flexibility to do this today and put himself forward to it. I did not have to ask. A thousand pounds weight was off my shoulders.

I was frustrated with the timing of the party the moment I got the invite, as I usually have hard to miss meetings on Monday evening. I forgot all about it until this weekend, when I realized I had not arranged my magic domino to cater for this. Anxiety spread as I thought of the run out of the office at 2.30 pm to be at school in time for pick up and be just in time for this party. What would my team think (probably nothing of it, but who knows!). I would then spend the next 2 hours at Gambados, probably complaining to myself more than I should and worrying about not being in the office, while worrying that most mothers make me feel a bit alienated anyway. It is just a party. I considered the alternative, which was to just cancel. I had not told Little Girl C about it so wondered if she would find out. Lying by omission is not my strength and I could imagine her sad little face. I know she is very fond of this girl. The outlook was bleak.

And then hubby B asked – ‘what time is this party?’. Maybe he felt the black cloud over me. He is not always the most perceptive but he knows all too well about the mum guilt these situations bring to me. As he said those magic words my spirit lifted. And he proposed he would take her. He leaned in.

Women don’t make it easier for men to lean in:

  • Women don’t ask: either because men have to guess or because we think we “should” be the ones doing something, women typically will not ask, or sometimes ask last minute when faced with limited options, when it is often too late to make arrangements;
  • Women are afraid of what others will think: yes, the shame that you are working and not able to take your daughter to the party on a Monday at 4pm is one that is unforgiving. Especially as you are most likely to be there with your phone on your hand while you try and manage bits and pieces over email;
  • Women don’t trust men to do it: well, maybe it’s ok if you don’t take a card, maybe it’s ok if you don’t take a present, it’s ok if you want to come early. All this to say, perhaps you are less capable and it’s ok. Well, Little Girl C went to her party with her gift, her hand-made card, and on time. Fine, she complained daddy was not great at wrapping the gift and left a few bits showing, but I am sure it went unnoticed by the birthday girl;
  • Women don’t think men want to do it: let’s face it, none of us wants to go to Gambados or any birthday party filled with 6-year-olds on a Monday evening (even our own kids one probably). But there is not much difference between mothers or fathers. We all dread large playgrounds with dozens of children running around, loud music and entertainers. Men want to do it as much as we do because it makes children happy. And we are bad mothers not to enjoy doing it profusely;
  • Other women don’t make it easy: I still remember the first (and only) time that Hubby B took Little Girl C to Monkey Music. He got the side looks almost as much as I did in one of the first times I went. In fact, one of the mothers asked me who I was, as I was not the regular attendant. Talk about prejudice. One of our friends that is a stay at home dad chose not to take the kid to monkey music but rather another competitor as they talk about “parent and child” rather than “mother and child”. Good marketing of the future;
  • Women keep on second guessing: I think I called 3 times during the day to check that the plan was still going ahead. Not that I thought it was too good to be true, but always to give him an out. Women tend to make it easier for men to get out of it, and in fact, sometimes they will take the chance, assuming the woman actually wants to go. And many times, they do, but there is no real need and in fact, their time is better used elsewhere. Mummy guilt is a b***;
  • Women feel left out: yes, it’s true. I was left out another event in my daughters’ life, another of those that I think I “should” have attended. When Hubby B decided to accompany a school trip to the movies a few months back, I was left out. But I was beaming with pride, and so was Little Girl C.  No signs of trauma.

This is not my valentine’s post to say how great Hubby B is. He was in fact petrified to find out that I was writing about him today and may actually try and delete this tomorrow if he gets access to my computer. I may even get some hate mail from blaming women for men that don’t lean in. That is not the point, it is actually a self-awareness moment and many may not relate at all. And it is also a celebration moment, as I do appreciate that he took this step.

Men don’t make it easier either for any of this to happen either. Don’t think that I don’t get frustrated (at multiple times) about how hard it is to take care of “everything” and the feeling that if I am not there it does not get done. But the reality is not as black and white as that.

The Mental Weight

It is widely spoken that men don’t often share mental weight. We can share lists of to-dos, get as many apps or google calendar invites as we want, but the point where we need to ensure everything is done does still often rely on women. Now, having said that, and because I recognised I was also not good at relinquishing control over the day to day stuff, we (or an alter-ego of I) have decided that for some (limited) tasks, I have no ownership and I do not worry – they typically include flights, hotels and general holiday plans, more ad-hoc and less regular, but nonetheless something I can exclude from my planning (most of the times). Other things include house maintenance management and car management. No, I am not asking him to become a handyman or mechanic, I am generally happy that we outsource those services, but I don’t have to manage any providers. We are not at 50/50 on mental weight – any one sharing worries with me would be insane to do this – but we split some overall areas and that helps ease it out. And when I am on overload – I am a loud communicator.

The Planning

A house with 2 children, 2 full time working parents and a live-in nanny requires quite a lot of planning – meals, food shopping, school work and activities, after school activities, uniform keeping, school notices, mother’s whatsapp groups information, birthday parties, doctor’s appointments, amongst others. Then all the bills to be played, things that need to get bought, stuff that just magically shows up on my inbox and requires a solution. I am a planner, so I don’t share much of this work. My brain plans and organizes all day long. But I try and communicate clearly and I keep trying new apps and systems to ensure I am not the only one knowing about things. The good old fridge whiteboard with the days where Little Girl C needs her violin book or the days where Baby S gets to go to Judo. The good old Google Calendar for events and even some recurring reminders to please take the piano book to school. But mostly I rely on my bullet journal for planning, and that is certainly not very shareable. It is not to do with privacy, just practicality.

The Execution

There is always a lot to do, but the execution is the easiest one where men can take the step to lean in. There is always the old cartoon of the men asking “what do you want me to do honey“, which aggravates lots of mothers with equal work responsibilities and time constraints, but let’s face it, this is progress. And we should never shy away from allowing execution to be fully shared or even skewed towards our partners. Such as the birthday party. Sometimes on Saturday nights, I joke that perhaps we want to start fasting as there is never any movement from Hubby B to acknowledge that food needs to be prepared and one of us needs to do it. It is becoming a recurring joke, for lack of a better term. I think he puts it in the planning category unless I specify otherwise.

However, every morning, it is Hubby B that gets the kids ready. As much as I leave clothes ready, school bags prepared and the nanny starts early to help with breakfast, indeed he is keeping them with the program and ensuring they get to school on time. When I stay behind or am late for work (or they wake up early), I am there as an extra and have very limited responsibilities to get them ready. In fact, I am mostly there to ensure a morning cuddle, as I leave the morning rush to him. Does it sound to you like a Daddy? Yes, those are my mornings, for good or bad, and Hubby B is in charge. It is no easy task, as I can attest on Fridays when I do the school run. Inevitably, there are always unforeseen events that I did not plan for, and yes, I do feel left out sometimes, but it takes two to tango.

It is only when they truly lean in some tasks that are truly indifferent to be done by men or women that then we will have equal opportunities to spend time doing what we love – whether that includes the kids or not.

Today, Little Girl C was a proud kid with her daddy in her birthday party. I wish there are more fathers taking that step. They don’t need to stop working and become stay at home dads (if they don’t want to). All they need is to have the same mental flexibility as most women do to put solving logistics problems for the children top of their mind. And to know that cutting an afternoon of work is just as hard for men as it is for women. And lean in.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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