My incredible boy is often praised for his kindness, his generosity of spirit, his gentle soul. Mums often come up to me in the playground and say how lovely he is “Do you know, your little man just told me that I look beautiful today” or “he has such a kind heart, he always has something nice to say”. My heart bursts with pride, I swell with emotion; yet I worry. It does him no favours in the playground. Wherever he goes there might be some little shit that is happy to pick on him when he cries if he hurts himself or helps another kid out rather than joining the gang to pick on someone. He plays with little ones, coos over babies and could out-shake any tail feather in a dance off (hey kid, be grateful you got your moves from your mamma – I met your dad in a nightclub, my moves were better!).
I have always assumed that this was just his nature. But how much of it is nurture?
My husband works: A lot. He leaves for work before the children wake and regularly returns after bedtime. He loves his job and always has. At his last engineering practice the mums called themselves the Arup Widows. Now he works for a smaller practice but the hours and dedication are the same and he now works 70 miles away. Was it something I said?
With no offence directed at my husband at all, like many mums I’m effectively a single mum during the week. I watch all the assemblies, go to all the parents’ evenings, craft afternoons and summer fairs. I run the house and make the rules; my children take most of their direction, discipline and behaviour from me. As we have no family close by (I’m starting to wonder if there is a pattern here!) I really am their main role model.
As a family of five our weekends are manic, trying to fit in a merry-go-round of parties, sports clubs, play dates and trying to fit in the odd trip to the tip or launching DEFCON1 in a desperate bid to shovel some crap into a cupboard and drag out the Hoover in case someone nips in for a cuppa. Fitting in one to one time is a rare luxury. We are by no means alone in this. Recent reports have shown that the majority of modern fathers spend less than 10 minutes one to one time with their children on a daily basis. And maybe that’s enough. They love their daddy to bits. But does this missing link matter and does it matter more for boys?
Should mums try to play Dad?
I don’t try to play Dad in the week, although I reckon I’d make a pretty good one. I have more balls than most men after all! I can fix a puncture, kick a ball if I really have to and can walk over Lego without squealing. I love making dens and can build fires, that’s qualification enough right? Well, actually no, not always. There are gaps I can’t easily fill and working dads are under so much pressure sometimes that it’s hard for them to fill those gaps too.
Don’t ask me to explain football (rugby I can help with, but football, sorry, wrong shaped ball). I hate cricket, I’m the one who stops them play fighting and am the more cautious parent when it comes to physical risk-taking. Mind you, that’s a good thing in my book, climbing an eight foot tree in flip flops or making a ramp for bikes out of 15 pallets and a carpet didn’t sound like a cracking plan to me. It wasn’t. They did fall. But they did learn. I doubt I would have given them the chance to try in the first place.
This week on holiday really brought home how I am never going to get this father understudy malarkey right. I just overheard a conversation in the garden about Cyberborg wasps living in your head and what would happen if you let out a million cyberborg wasps and let them have a fight with an alligator the size of a truck. Say what??? I never had an answer all those years ago for the best question ever asked either; ‘errrm, what will happen if I wrap my willy around a fork”. I think that one even left his dad stumped.
Do male role models matter?
I believe good male role models really do matter. We need to make more time in our family for father son and father daughter bonding to happen properly.
So we’re going to do things differently when we get home. We need to. Our first step is to put in place Father Friday. Daddy WILL be home from work at a time that means we can split ranks and give the kids one on one time with Daddy and I’ll do my best to butt out and let him do things his way in that time (even if it kills me not to ask why they are heading off to build a fire and make things with sharp stabby objects).