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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Dad responds to Lyn Craig

It's taken me a while to get this post up because I wanted to be able to supply the audio that I'm responding to, rather than blathering on in the hope that a reader or two might happen to have heard the same interview on Radio New Zealand last Wednesday. I've now got the audio on my computer but have to figure out how to upload the file to Blogger. Any advice?

Meanwhile, the interview can be listened to here, until they take it down.
Having listened to it again, I realise that it was not quite as insulting as it first seemed when I heard it in broken snippets at work the other day, but there are still several statements that Craig bases her research on with which I strongly disagree. And since I have a soapbox, I intend to declaim from it.

The headline grabber is that: "Australian Fathers spend 6-7 minutes a day with their Kids." OK, I'm not Australian, and the research doesn't cover New Zealand, and Craig is not even trying to present a picture of a regressive chauvinistic male population who leave the childcare to the Mums of the world. But what I protest is that a Dad who spends time "reading, talking and playing" with his kids, in her opinion, is not spending time caring for his children. Craig defines "childcare" as sole care and the work of cooking, tidying, changing nappies, bathing, dressing, picking up and dropping off from school etc.

What's a guy supposed to do? Get home and send the wife down the pub until after bedtime, in order to qualify as "caring for" his children?

Men also get no credit for spending time together with the family on the weekend, according to Lyn Craig. Oh, this is all good and well for the family, she says, but it's not childcare as long as the father isn't doing it on his own.

Give us a break!

At the risk of sounding like a backward male, I get up at 6am to go to work and get home around 4.45pm. I know that during that time Dessert Chef has the hard work of getting Isaac up, dressed, fed, entertained, fed again, entertained, changed, fed again, into bed, up, dressed, fed again, entertained, watered, etc etc etc until 4.45 when I get home. I know that this is hard work, that it is sole care, and that it is a completely different dynamic to working together as a family on the weekend or in the evenings.


From the time I get home until Isaac goes to bed, he's my responsibility. I entertain him, we play, I cook the family dinner (with everybody's help, usually), I give Isaac his bath while Dessert Chef does the dishes, I get him into his pyjamas and we read books for anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour, before I give him some pudding, brush his teeth, give him a bottle, and get him into bed. This is usually about three hours, but according to Lyn Craig, the only time that I would be able to count as "caring" for my son would be the 20 minutes of giving him a bath and getting him dressed. Sure enough, according to Craig, this gives me three times the effort that the average Australian Dad can lay claim to, but for three hours work I feel a bit cheated.

As a family, I know that we are very, very lucky. We can afford to have Mum at home looking after our son, and I have negotiated hours that allow me to have quality time at home in the evenings and weekends to do my bit towards being a Dad and raising my boy. (Sidebar - I put aside a career in a highly lucrative but terribly demanding part of my industry to be able to work those family-friendly hours. We may be a little worse off financially for it, but I have never regretted making that choice.)

Those three hours are what I look forward to all day at work, and so does Dessert Chef, because she knows that when I get home she gets to relax. That's what teamwork is all about. I take offence at the idea that my contribution is nothing more than a hobby.

I'm sure Lyn Craig didn't set out to engage in a campaign of reverse sexism, or to deride the efforts and advances made by progressive members of both genders over the past fifty years. It's not what she has witnessed and reported on that I take issue with. It's how she chooses to define what parenting is. I get the feeling that in her estimation dual-income households where both parents share the duties of child-rearing in combination with outside childcare would be an ideal.

We eschew this concept, for two reasons. For one, the decision to strive for two incomes, however necessary it may be, is all part of the problem that we are facing today with the global economic collapse. There is a line between staying out of poverty and simply being greedy. We choose to place our family above all else and keep our heads above water, rather than pursue the almighty dollar with our every energy. It's tough at times, but it's worthwhile. Secondly, what is the point of working and paying someone else to raise your children if you can possibly afford not to? I know that I'm likely to draw a string of invective about this, because it's one of those hot issues that everyone has a deeply held opinion about, but our feelings are pretty straightforward: the best people who can raise our children are us.

I'd love to hear what others out there think, and how people in circumstances different to ours cope.


Anonymous said...

Very impressive read!

Unknown said...

Generally, I like what you're saying. Don't have anything in particular to disagree with :)