My husband doesn’t like babies. That’s a problem, because in Canada, men are expected to share parenting duties. Women expect help from their husband when a baby is born, and I wasn’t any different.
When we first had the baby, he tried. He really did. He walked him and changed his diapers and held him and sang to him. But while I would walk the floors with a screaming colicky baby for an hour, my husband could only manage ten minutes before handing the baby back to me and saying, “I’m sorry, but if you don’t take him I’m afraid I’m going to shake him.” While I would change the diapers regularly, my husband would often hand the baby to me saying, “I think he needs a diaper change.”
All of this took me completely by surprise because my husband is a feminist, and an ardent one at that. You should see the arguments he has with misogynistic trolls on Reddit, Facebook, or news comment pages. He showed me all of the ways in which our world treats women as inferior, all of the ways in which femininity is derided. He is also the one who cooks in our family, and he is the one who does the laundry. He is not, in any way, the type of person to think that it’s the woman’s “job” to take care of the baby.
So you can understand how shocked and dismayed I was when he held the baby a tenth of the amount of the time that I did, when he changed a tenth of the diapers, and when he embarrassed me in front of our mutual friends by handing the baby back to me as soon as he started to fuss.
Yes, I was embarrassed.
Because in our society, where the mark of a good, caring husband is to take on a fair share of the housework, I was used to feeling proud of my husband. But now I had friends approaching me, concerned on my behalf because they had noticed that my husband was leaving the baby all to me. I didn’t know what to tell them.
The one time I mentioned to him that he “didn’t like looking after the baby”, we had a massive fight, the biggest we have ever had. He accused me of calling him a bad father, and was extremely defensive and angry. Looking back, it’s easy to see that he was ashamed, because he didn’t know why he felt this way either.
Then our son learned to talk. Suddenly, my husband enjoyed taking care of his son.
My husband became the gentlest, calmest, most loving and attentive father you could ever ask for. He is not a bad father. He is not a bad husband. He is great, and now he can openly admit it:
He really, really, really can’t handle babies.
Once, when Owl was still small, my husband was checking his blood pressure in one of those blood pressure chairs they have at the pharmacy. It was reading normally… until our son started to fuss. Then his blood pressure sky rocketed.
There’s something about the sound of a baby cry which my husband just can’t handle. It fills him with inexplicable helpless rage. Once the child can talk, once he knows WHY his child is crying, that effect seems to fade away.
So when we decided to have a second child, we made an agreement. The baby was mine. I would take care of it. He would take care of the older child.
Unfortunately, then his depression worsened and now there are some days when he can’t even wake up. So when our baby was born, I became the sole caretaker of our daughter, while still often being the sole caretaker of our son. Even on his good days, he helps with our son but the baby is always all mine.
Most of the time I don’t mind. I love taking care of my baby daughter.
But there are also days when I feel hard done by.
There are days when it seems like I should get to have a shower, even though the baby is too fussy for me to put her down. There are days when I feel resentment when my husband hands her to me as soon as she starts to fuss. There are days when I feel a pang of jealousy when I see a photo of a father happily holding his baby or changing a diaper. There are days when I wish I didn’t have to put the baby in a carrier and go outside to try and play catch with my son.
That is because I am incredibly spoiled.
Unlike most women around the world, I have been raised to feel entitled to a man who does his share of childcare. I have been raised to believe that this is how things “ought” to be. I have been raised to think that any man who doesn’t help with the kids doesn’t care about his family.
But then you look at the rest of the world. In most cultures, childcare is done primarily by the mother and this is considered normal and acceptable. Heck, just 50 years ago it was still considered normal and acceptable here.
How spoiled am I, how entitled am I, to feel that I deserve more, when I already have so much more than the other women around the world?
Is my lot really so bad, when I have access to safe prenatal care, a clean birth, and a warm and dry home? When I am safe from physical or verbal abuse, from environmental disasters, and from war? When my husband is an excellent father who still cooks and cleans when he is physically able to do so?
The problem is that advertising and the people around me have created a different idea of “normal”. They make me think that I am worse off, that my petty problems are large, because they don’t show me the true global “normal”.
So when I catch myself feeling bitter, and thinking that I “ought” to have more help, I remind myself of how exceptional my life really is – because I do already have more help than most women. I am so lucky, and it is time that I started thinking that way.
Does your spouse help with the baby? Is it more or less than the cultural norms where you live?
The photo is one of the author with her daughter. Photo credit to Nadine Inkster Photography.