Let me start by saying that this is not a dad-bashing or husband-bashing post (well, not completely). Nor is it praise for dads doing what they’re supposed to do (well, not completely).

For three years now I have thought about equal parenting. Does it exist? While gender equality in parenting has come a long way since the ’50s, is there still this notion that parenting lies solely or even mostly in the hands of the mom? Do we pretend to buckle gender roles but still take on more of the responsibility? Have me made (much) progress?

Recently, I read an article that shook me: it stated that moms spend 74 hours on child care and house work compared to their partners’ 47%. After a forty-hour week, womxn are putting in more hours into their children than womxn in past generations who didn’t work. I was taken aback. So I’ll share four or five separate stories that have made me hate these memes. 

I’ll start with the one that angered me. I was at a conference and heard of a mom with three autistic children. Her husband is “conservative” which is the best word I can think of to describe the actual word I have in my head. She does everything – from the cleaning to school runs to parent teacher meetings to handling meltdowns to paying bills. Everything! I have one autistic child and I struggle. To say that she had reached the point of burn-out is an understatement. He would literally come home, sit in his chair, and wait for his dinner and slippers. She had no-one to talk since being an autism parent can sometimes be so alienating. I don’t know her name since the workshop ran on an ‘anonymous’ basis but I think of her all the time and how she’s coping. Is she taking any time at all for self care? Is she self-medicating and crying on the bathroom mat every night? Does she feel absolutely alone? I kept thinking how someone’s idea of love could be – I will marry you and make babies with you and make you work yourself beyond the point of a breakdown. I still cannot wrap my head around it. 

The next story is a conversation I had with a colleague some time ago that was eye-opening. I said, “I am so lucky; Will helps me so much.” She responded, “Why are you saying that? Why are you lucky? That is his responsibility as much as it is yours. You didn’t make those babies on your own.” She was absolutely right. By making statements like, “My partner helpsme” I was implying that parenting is the sole responsibility of mothers, and that dads are just in a “supporting role”, a guest star in a situational comedy. Any dad is not helping you, he is raising his children. Parenting is, and will always be, a 50/50 responsibility.

With our first daughter, I had made arrangements for my mom to take two weeks’ leave and show me the ropes. If I am completely honest, I felt as if I was doing her a favour to give her some quality time with her first grand daughter. I didn’t need help (LOL). I was determined to do this on my own without momma coming to save me. Being a mother comes naturally, right? I would rely on instinct and the amazing example I saw growing up. But life likes to have a good chuckle when you’ve made plans. I don’t need to tell you that my plan went to shit almost immediately. Lily came during my mother’s December holidays instead of in February which meant my mother couldn’t “show me the ropes”. And Lily didn’t sleep. Ever. She ate every hour to half hour. The first night home with her, I had already been up for 72 hours. The three nights prior to her big homecoming I did the hospital sleep-in to ensure that I’d be ready to care for a tiny little human. Lily was up both nights. The only time she shut her eyes for a few minutes was when I sat in the hospital chair with her, but my fear of dozing off and dropping her took over so I stayed awake all night. When we got home, Will told me to express milk and sleep and he would take care of everything. From the day we came home he’s always taken every second feed at night, 5 out of 10 diapers (7 if I’m honest), plaited hair and packed lunches so the next story in this instalment, has me really embarrassed. 

About three years ago I had what I can only describe as a breakdown. I found myself crying on the floor of Builders Warehouse, and continuing to cry for a full hour in the fetal position. It came from a place of extreme sadness and being unbelievably overwhelmed. Looking back, there were telltale signs – sleeping on the couch in my clothing, withdrawing from my family, emotionally shutting down as a means of protecting myself. I had reached the end of my tether. But how could I tell Will that I wasn’t coping? He was there for me in every way. There were moms out there taking care of every feed at night and not feeling this way. So I remained quiet about my feelings of complete incompetence as a mother, about my levels of exhaustion and my extreme sadness of events that I’ve shared before.

Thereafter, we had a good long chat about why I felt this way. It was only then that I realised just how much I had placed on my own shoulders. Through no fault of his. We had made the decision to do some home renovations "for a fresh start". Apart from work (and freelance work when I came home), I had also placed myself in charge of cleaning (to be honest, 3 weeks of washing would pile up) and over the years I “was in charge” of making sure that Lily had an endless supply of vitamins and medication, I handled pick ups and drop offs at school and to and from therapy, left work for those ‘fever calls’, spent hours on the phone with the medical aid to continue authorising claims they didn’t want to approve, taking Lily for extra immunisations (she wasn’t allowed to get sick as a kid), handling all the renovations, paying the bills (and making arrangements for ones we had already covered), being home for every plumber, electrician, painter, gardener site visit), attending parent teacher meetings and being front and centre for every concert, recital, bake sale, costume party. I had taken on too much. As much as every mother. For the most part, everything ran smoothly, but a small, otherwise insignificant, occurance flipped me over the edge. And when it happened, I found myself crying non-stop wondering if we hadn’t suffered enough and when things would finally stay on course – just for once. That day, Will and I made an arrangement to alternate between therapy drop offs and pick-ups for Lily, and split the responsibility of everything 50/50. We decided to play to our strengths – and it worked for us. Chatting to friends of mine - with two moms or two dads at the helm of the household - was exactly the same - there was always one more organised partner or one who felt that their responsibilities far outweighed the others'.

I don’t know where this pressure to “have it all/do it all/be the perfect parent” comes from, mums. Do we just continue “taking care of everything” post maternity leave? Is it some unspoken test or conspiracy co-opted by the patriarchy to let us know, “See, we told you your place was in the kitchen popping out babies and not simultaneously in the workplace. You wanted equality but look at you now, exhausted and burnt out.”
Is it this incessant need for control, believing only we can “do it properly” (without ragging on Will, because there are days where I take off and do sweet f*ck all – but it took two months post him taking over half the bills for us to be sitting in darkness, without water :)
 Or is it this culture where motherhood somehow (foolishly) became the antithesis of being career-driven and ambitious? As if motherhood is the easy way out. Bull! And we feel the need to prove ourselves twice over? We have these terms – you’re either a ‘stay-at-home mom” or a “career mom”. I’ve never heard the term “career dad”. 

I don’t know where it stems from or why we twist ourselves into unrecognisable balls of tension but a good friend of mine shared Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts with me and I could feel my mindset shifting. One of the podcasts was an interview with Cheryl Strayed who said, “We do tend to be a culture that thinks in dichotomies: We’re either a terrible mother or a good mother, we’re either with our kids or not with them at all.” There is no in between. Do we feel that if we don’t operate on all cylinders, if we’re not out-performing ourselves constantly, or we’re not pushing ourselves beyond the point of sanity that we’re somehow terrible mothers? In all seriousness, moms, our kids will be just fine if we operate at 90%. Or even 70%!

When did this culture of burning ourselves out begin? You have to rise at 4am to make gluten-free sandwiches, crusts cut off, with fruit chopped into stars, pips removed, and a note covered in glitter (remember that Johnny doesn’t like strawberry jam and Evie does), bath the kids and brush their teeth and hair, ensure the non-toxic spray has dried on the project you made until 1am last night, bake the sugar-free cookies for the bake sale, do a school run, order those school sneakers online because little Vuyo had a growth spurt, mold their emotional wellbeing, call the medical aid to get authorisation for Maddox’s fillings next week, hound the panel beater who’s had your car for 8 days, fill in those horrendous forms, call the plumber about that annoying dripping you remember hearing at 2 am last night, get the electric fencing fixed, drive to work coffee in hand, kick ass, and have enough energy to do the cooking, light cleaning, bedtime stories and end of day school catch up. If you look at the amount of hours in a week – 168hrs minus the 40 hours for work minus the 74 hours we spend on childcare, that leaves us with 54 hours - equaling 7 hours a night to sleep. And within that 7 hours we still need to take care of our health and work out, have immaculately styled homes worthy of Instagram, shots of blemish free kids frolicking amongst autumn leaves, an active social life and have time to create the “perfect marriage”. It’s unsustainable. And I simply cannot believe there are partners not pulling their weight.

With all that said, there is another side of the coin. From my personal experience, and other dads I’ve met and bloggers that I follow, my eyes have been opened to the responsibilities that dads carry, amongst them being the pillar of strength during heart-wrenching or difficult times - putting their own emotions and fears aside to be the stone-faced hero – taking the troubling chats with doctors and teachers, filling in the forms you never thought you’d have to fill in as a dad, sometimes assuming all roles when moms have reached their thresholds. Handling those sometimes aggressive outbursts from kids and taking the punches (literally!). Teaching kids why it's important to have and show emotion, and how to handle frustration. It’s a job they’re rarely given credit for.

So looking at those memes totally disrespects those fathers out there who hustle, who make sacrifices, more than most, who do the hard work, who take the dreaded calls, who remain sober-faced in tumultuous times, who take the time for foot rubs and build forts and castles with duvet covers, who tell stories with flashlights in varying voices, who cut off crusts and kiss ‘ouchies’. And at the same time gives dads who do next to zilch permission to continue doing so. 

Equal parenting and splitting responsibilities fairly is a must – your children are watching and your actions will determine how they act in the future. What message are we sending to our kids when one partner is constantly exhausted while the other plays video games? What will their view of gender roles be? We are teaching them the fundamental rules of respect.

And that’s why I’m tired of seeing these f*cking memes.


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