The personal is political: my family’s childcare role-reversal

Today in the Irish Times the wonderful Anthea McTeirnan talks about family life.

The personal is political: my family’s childcare role-reversal – .

Not for us a stay-at-home mother prone to outbreaks of baking and bathos and a thrusting, briefcase-carrying, disciplinarian dad. We were going to do things differently. And we did. Sort of.

In 1995, just as our second son reached 18 months, a job came up in the sports department at The Irish Times. I was a freelance journalist, and this was a full-time, permanent, pensionable job, previously occupied only by men. I got it.

Swap roles
So we decided to swap roles. I was to be the main wage earner, Kevin was to go part-time and do the bulk of the childcare.

While choosing to have a stay at home Dad is still seen as strange, it’s not to me as my Dad became the stay at home parent when I was about 10, and my Mam was the one who went out to work, he did everything the 5 of us needed, all the school runs, volunteered in the school, parents association. One of my early memories of having my hair done was his big strong gentle hands trying to get my mane into a pony tail and swearing when the bobbin snapped.

He did a great job with the 5 of us, both my parents did. His mother brought him up with the belief hands had no gender and he surprised more then a few people when he’d change my terrycloth nappy himself as a baby rather then hand me off to my mother. There was no such thing as ‘women’s work’ growing up, there was just the things which needed doing in the house as part of being a family, which means caring and sharing it all.

In Ireland we have not statutory paternity leave or shared parenting leave after the birth of adoption of a child. It is something which I know we need. We need a better division of child care and labour in the home rather then the default thinking being it is automatically ‘women’s work’, and that starts with sharing the work load from the beginning.

It will also mean when an employer is looking at two candidates for a job who are in their late 20s to late 30s, a man is just as likely to need time off when having children as a woman might.

5 thoughts on “The personal is political: my family’s childcare role-reversal”

  1. Hear hear! I think what we need is parental leave, and leave gender specifics out of it. It would help remove the ‘stigma’ of being at an age where you most likely to have a child.

    Also as a dad, and about to become one again, I’d like to spend those first couple of months with my new kid.

  2. I love the line, “his mother brought him up with the belief hands had no gender.” Nancy Chodorow, a feminist psychoanalyst who has written about mothering, argues that employment law reform is not enough on its own. If parents themselves have been raised in gendered households, they will need to grapple with entrenched desires about traditional roles that are in conflict with their co-existing desires for change if they are to succeed in bringing change about. So that’s why I love this expression of hands having no gender!

    1. My Grandmother was a woman before her time in many ways, she believed that if she did not teach all of her 10 children to cook, sew and clean that she was failing as a parent. This ethos my parents instilled in me and my siblings and I endeavor to do the same with my own kids. My Dad still makes the best apple tart I have ever tasted!

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