I gave birth to my first child at the start of the pandemic. I had expected to be met with balloons, flowers and family turning up without asking, but Covid-19 hit and all of that was stripped away. My mum couldn’t hold my son for weeks, and my grandparents still haven’t met him a year on.
I know there are people worse off, and in no way do I want to diminish the suffering people have been through. I am lucky to have my family, my child and my partner. But I do feel strongly that in the early days of becoming a mum, I didn’t have a huge amount of support. And it was hard.
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression six months after giving birth; but it didn’t come as a surprise, because the way I had been feeling didn’t feel “normal”. I’d been constantly feeling like I was failing as a mother – as though I wasn’t good enough for my child. I would look at other mothers’ Instagram accounts and think: “They’re doing so much better than I am.”
Now, I look back and I can see I was trying my best. I was just a new mum, trying to find her feet. I wish I could tell myself, “no, you were doing amazingly” – but at the time, it didn’t feel like it.
And what really didn’t help was the praise my partner constantly received as he did what any dad should do: parent.
There were so many comments, so many swoony looks. So many large smiles as he did exactly the same as I was doing – with completely different reactions.
Although I had support from my family, I received so many negative comments from my partner’s side of the family, constantly questioning my parenting and asking why I was (or wasn’t) doing something.
To my partner, however, people would remark how “wonderful” it was that he was changing our son’s nappy, or taking him on a walk. They would look at me and tell me I was “lucky” to have a partner who was such a good dad.
And he is. He is an amazing dad. And I am lucky. But I’m not lucky to have found a man that “helps” me with our child – I’m lucky that I ended up with a man who steps up as a parent, as he should.
It’s not even about praise: it’s about these traditional gender norms that expect women to do 100 percent of the parenting, while the dads go to work, come home and put their feet up.
I’m tired of being the one to receive the brunt of the criticism, and I’ve spoken to many other mothers who feel the same – who feel that it’s unfair that women are expected to be absolutely perfect (and even if they are, criticism still awaits), while the dad is a marvel for “helping” with the kids.
I hate that phrase: “helping”. Dads aren’t babysitters. Dads are parents. And they need to be seen as such – after all, they had a 50 per cent part to play in creating a child.
I’m also not saying that dads don’t deserve praise — of course they do! But for the right reasons. Telling men that women are “lucky” to have them for doing basic parenting duties shouldn’t be one of them. What does that say about how dads are perceived?
In my experience, I’ve noticed comments like, “Isn’t she lucky to have you!” usually comes from the older generation. But it’s time to change – there shouldn’t even be any comparison between us in the first place. We should be seen as a unit. Two people who have created a child together, and who share joint responsibility for that child.
Gone are the days where women had to children alone and have dinner on the table at 6pm; where dads barely saw their children before they went to bed. Let’s banish the way dads are treated like gods for changing one dirty nappy, too.
I am not lucky — and never will be — for having a “helping hand” from a man who I had a child with. We’re just lucky to have each other.