“Ask me nicely” my husband said. My jaw dropped. I was pregnant for my second child. I was also cooking and needed to run to the kitchen to check the food. I had just tried to hand him our 10 month old daughter Dotun, and this was his response. I was speechless. I knew I was shocked and angry, but I didn’t know what to say. “No-one asks me nicely to parent Dotun as her mother. Why is there now some kind of protocol for you as Dotuns father?” This was my eloquence months later. But in the very moment, I couldn’t express the betrayal I felt.
“I didn’t feel like changing her diaper”. Another wowzer. Dotun was now 2+. I had given birth to Temi her little brother barely 3 months before. That morning, still exclusively breastfeeding and sleepless, I was trying to put Temi to sleep when Dotun woke up. I put Temi on my shoulder, made Dotun a bottle, and handed it to my husband to feed her, while I went back to putting Temi to sleep. I also asked my husband (who was still lying in bed) to change the diaper Dotun had now been wearing since she went to bed (almost 12 hours before). After Temi slept, I went back to check on Dotun. Her father still had not changed her diaper stating “she did not poo”. I went to make breakfast and when I came back, the diaper still had not been changed. I asked my husband why and his response was “I didn’t feel like changing her diaper”. Words failed me again then, but the eloquence came later.
Why didn’t I have the words in those two instances? In my opinion, it was because somewhere in my socialization, men are not equally responsible for caregiving. Most of the time growing up, I had always seen women carry the bulk of the responsibility of childcare. I also had never seen my dad or many men in my life take on this responsibility. This was the same upbringing my husband probably had. So while it felt unjust in the moment, I didn’t know how to communicate the problem, and my husband felt quite justified in his stance. Needless to say, he was not involved in more than the occasional feeding session, playing with the children or correcting them sternly when they were in his way.
Before we got married, we had discussed how I felt the roles in our family should not be ascribed by our genders but by whatever the family needed and who could provide it. He agreed. (I guess it sounded nice). Fast forward by a few months and I carried more of financial responsibilities because I earned more. I trusted my husband to do the necessary when it came to finances, child rearing and home making, without regard for whose ‘job’ society told us it was. But our upbringing on what ‘normal gender roles’ are, did not serve us well. It made me ill equipped to stand up for myself and properly verbalize through my anger/shock when he opted out of his responsibilities. My husband was unable to see that it was unfair not do more in regards to child care, neither did he seem to remember the promise we had made to each other. I wanted a fairness and equality neither of us had barely seen, and thus we were unable to truly make a reality.
We usually hear about representation in the work place or in the media, but representation of healthy relationships starts at home where our children are watching, learning and storing for later use. We really all are copy cats; products of our upbringing, and what we see represented as love, marriage, friendship, responsibility, we continue to replicate in our lives, and pass on to our children. It is nearly impossible to conceive of any alternatives to what we have seen. If we want better for them, we need to ask hard questions, seek out truths, reject what we know is wrong, and intentionally exemplify a better version of ourselves for them to emulate.
(Names changed to maintain writer’s anonymity)
Photocredit: Etsy – http://www.thepairabirds.com