Why is a father looking after his daughter for a week so surprising? - Women's Agenda

Why is a father looking after his daughter for a week so surprising?

Last year I was on maternity leave with an eight-week old baby when the summer shutdown rolled around. It meant we didn’t have to juggle a childcare centre close-down with annual leave and our respective workplaces slowing down. (I know this puzzle of making annual leave and kids’ holidays fit together only gets harder when they’re at school.)

Last year I didn’t have to give it any thought but the previous year took some initiative. The Christmas holidays fell in the middle of my husband’s three-month rotation in a regional area. He was living and working five hours away from Sydney where we live. At the time I was working four days a week and our eldest daughter was attending childcare on those days, so we stayed in Sydney and he came home on the weekends when he could.

Unfortunately, when it came to the Christmas break our daughter’s childcare was closing for two weeks but not the same two weeks my workplace was closing down. And, not the same fortnight my husband had been assigned for his leave.

To ensure the three of us had at least one week off together, we needed to arrange alternate childcare for one week. We don’t have family in Sydney and, at that point, we definitely couldn’t afford a nanny for four days.

My husband came up with a solution. There was a childcare centre opposite the hospital where he was working that he’d noticed. He went across and discovered they were going to be open for the week before Christmas and they had room for our daughter. So the weekend beforehand he packed her bags and they set off together for her first school excursion. It ended up being an interesting exercise in gender roles.

At that point I had been carrying the motherload singlehandedly for two months so it was a welcome, deserved even, change of speed. In those two months no one – not a single person — asked me with any urgency “But where is her father?” By way of contrast no one didn’t ask my husband “But where is her mother?” (I may be wrong but I imagine the undercurrent to this question is “Oh she must be smoking crack, stealing cars and terrorising the streets because what on earth else would a mother do if she didn’t have a child in her care?”)

The response that my husband received for looking after our daughter on his own for a single week was surprising. His co-workers, patients and acquaintances from a variety of ages and backgrounds were genuinely perplexed. On the basis of their collective reactions you’d be forgiven for thinking that I, simply by virtue of being a mother, had the equivalent of a PHD in responsible, adequate and engaging parenting whilst he was incapable of securing a diploma in anything child-related. Those scenarios are equally implausible.

The other question that baffled my husband was this: “How long do you have to look after her for?” Neither one of us have seen a contract with an end date, but, all going well, it will be our lifetime.

No one meant any harm by these questions but it was telling. That so many people of different ages, genders, backgrounds and professions were genuinely baffled that a father would look after his daughter for a week, says a lot about the way society still perceives mums and dads.

How are you managing the school holidays and annual leave? Or the childcare centre close-down with your office shutdown?

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