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Seven: The Real Housewives - the complex and potentially conflicting roles of modern parenting.

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

We were home. Exhausted, glowing, I was very sore and both in awe of this beautiful healthy baby girl. There waiting on the doorstep was a toy sheep and a cookie basket from work. Both feeling overwhelmed, we tucked into the cookies and began our new normal, whatever that would entail.

Prior to children we hadn’t discussed or needed to discuss our roles within the home. My wife liked to cook, I liked to clean. She was good at putting up flat pack furniture, I at DIY. She liked to research new buys and I looked after the finances. We instinctively balanced each other, not conforming to a particular role.

Now home and we were parents, mums, officially adults and we hadn’t really talked about who does what when there are two mums. We had agreed I was going to be called mummy, my wife would be mum, and I would take a year maternity leave. I had also decided, much to my wife’s amusement, that during these months off I would learn to cook, keep the house in order and paint small canvas pictures as gifts for family and friends. Incongruous to my beliefs as a proud feminist lesbian, I did not realise I was aspiring to be the 1950’s perfect housewife.

After two weeks paternity leave, lots of microwave meals and more cookie baskets my wife returned to work. Oh god, I was alone and out of my depth. By the time my mum arrived to help she found an unwashed, crying, quivering wreck trying desperately to keep a small baby alive. This was not the serene housewife and mother I had envisaged I would be. With all this assumed free time I should be sewing children’s clothes out of curtains whilst learning to sing by now!

Those panic stricken first few months passed and I fell into a routine. Up and out in the mornings to meet my new NCT friends. After baby massage, music class or the weekly health centre weigh-ins we would drink coffee, talk, laugh and push our versatile prams for hours around the park. Before rushing home to maximise the precious afternoon nap time. This was my moment to sort the house, collapse on the sofa and watch the unrealistic ‘Real Housewives’. This being the only TV my baby brain could cope with.

Whilst draping ribbons over half asleep babies in a church hall some of the mums would recount horror stories about struggling fathers who could barely look after themselves let alone a baby. At home I had the opposite, my wife did everything to relieve the pressure. She would sweep up our daughter, bath, change and play with her for hours. She would research optimal sleep routines, stimulate our daughters mind with black and white patterned books and practise baby massage.

I was often told how lucky I was that my wife was a woman, that our daughter had two intuitive mums and how lovely it was to have help. The notion of being lucky I found bizarre. We had together decided to have children so surely this was just parenting, not help. However, my feminist modern parenting ideology conflicted with the aspirational 1950’s traditional role and I was finding it difficult to reconcile. If I am completely honest, I was a little jealous of those women in the church hall. Not because of the poor husband who could do no right, but that they owned all their maternal role whilst I was having to share some of mine. The feeling I was not fulfilling motherhood and failing in some way was creeping in.

I am so mindful of how many different types of parents there are these days, and this may be an isolated experience to me. A consequence of my traditional upbringing, a lack of self-worth that meant I doubted my parenting abilities too quickly. I can’t ignore that I was also overcompensating as the biological parent. I carried our daughter so believed I could share motherhood, share the name Mum, and at times go against my maternal instincts as I would always have that biological attachment.

The ridiculous thing is my wife didn’t ask me to hand over anything. She was far more progressive. Nurture outweighing nature and I now know she saw herself as a parent, even trying to adopt the name ‘the other mother’. She was comfortable looking after her wife and daughter, whilst feeling grateful she did not need to sit on church hall floors wafting ribbons and singing baby songs.

If I could have articulated my feelings at the time, then maybe I would have become more secure in my parenting role. Embraced the modern imperfect parent and not put such an emphasis on being the traditional housewife and mother. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn’t change the past as it’s all part of the parenting journey. But that feeling of failure was there and would grow slowly over the years and come back to haunt me.

Please don’t get me wrong, that first year was incredible. I didn’t paint any pictures or learn to sing and there wasn’t a sewing machine in site. But we were raising a happy, healthy daughter who took her toy sheep everywhere and brought such joy to us.

Talking matters!

It is hard enough raising a child and I am sure most parents lose their identity at some point. When you don’t have the traditional roles to model then it may get a little messy and confusing over time. If anyone can relate to any of this, maybe talk freely. Ask questions of each other and do not be afraid of the answers.

Are you being the parent you want to be? Are you getting lost by conforming to traditional roles? Are we sharing parenthood in a way we are both comfortable? Can you paint me a small picture and make clothes from curtains? And please, for the love of God, can you stop watching the Real Housewives?

An ask of the workplace

Please keep sending those cookie baskets and a soft toy to the new parents. It is the smallest of gestures but the loveliest of gifts!

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