Enough! No More Praising Dads For Doing The Basics

As Louise Redknapp speaks about the fallout from her marriage split, Fiona Cowood says it's time to rethink how we talk about men and parenting

Louise Redknapp marriage split parenting

by Fiona Cowood |

Louise Redknapp earned a spot on the Unexpected Feminist Icons pinboard last week, after she spoke out angrily against the way a predictable portion of the British press dealt with her marriage break-up.

To recap, after 18 years of seemingly blissful marriage to former footballer Jamie Redknapp, Louise appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, totally aced it, moved out of the family home and went on to score the lead in Cabaret. The tabloids were furious with her, outraged that angelic Louise would dare get bored with being a Surrey housewife and strike out on her own. Speaking about the press coverage, Louise told The Guardian last week, ‘I felt really, really bullied. It made me want to scream. Just because I went back to work and my marriage wasn’t working out doesn’t mean I wasn’t with my kids. And, yeah, when I was in Cabaret I wasn’t putting them to bed every night, but it’s no different to a man in the City working late.’

She went on, ‘Jamie would then take the kids on holiday and the papers would say: “Oh, what an amazing dad.” And he is an amazing dad... But no one patted me on the back when I’d taken the kids on Easter holiday on my own for the past 10 years. Jamie had to work doing the football, it was school holidays, so I’d take them on holiday and never once did anyone say: “What a great mum.” It was really tough sitting back and not speaking up.’

Reading her words, I found myself vigorously, furiously nodding along, because what Louise describes – dads being applauded for basic-level parenting – happens all the time and makes me mad. Some men actively fish for applause on their ‘dadding’ – a word my friends and I coined to describe the type of dad you often find in a park on a Saturday morning, loudly playing with his offspring, often parading them on his shoulders, back and forth in front of the other parents who are just trying to keep warm. But, more often, just the sight of a dad being a bog-standard parent is enough to get the compliments flowing spontaneously from all sides.

He remembered to bring a bib! Whadda guy. She’s got a coat on! SUCH a good dad. Recently, while I was having a child-free lunch with some old friends, my husband texted me a photo of our middle one eating a burger the size of her head at a local café. It wasn’t the size of the burger that shocked my friends, but the fact he’d taken all three of our children out to eat, by himself. ‘He’s soooo good,’ they agreed. Yes, he is a good dad but, really? Are we that amazed he’s doing something I do all the time? Praising fathers in this way is unfair to mothers who do this stuff day-in day-out, but it patronises and infantilises men, too – especially those who are doing their fair share (or more) perfectly well. It assumes men are incapable and that everyone should stay in their lanes, ie, let the mums do the thankless grunt work, while the dads turn up, chuck the kids in the air for two minutes and bathe in the plaudits.

But this double standard is everywhere and omnipresent. It’s the reason social media had a collective heart attack over Daniel Craig’s #papoosegate. It’s the reason Chrissy Teigen was shamed for going on a night out soon after having a baby – but nobody had it in for her co-parent and co-diner John Legend. It’s why last month, Sophie Ellis-Bextor begged journalists to ask her about something other than her childcare – ‘I am a singer. I am a mum, I will sort the childcare,’ she tweeted. And it’s why, when Prince William recently revealed he styles his daughter Charlotte’s hair – ‘Never try to do a ponytail! Nightmare’ – it made headlines round the world.

So why, when so much has changed (in some parts of the UK, you can’t move for dads wearing babies, muslins swinging from their back pockets) are we still stuck in this throwback groove? Why are dads praised for being ‘hands-on’ when that word is never attached to a mother? Surely, it’s to do with the fact that mums still do the bulk of domestic heavy-lifting. Last week, a study commissioned by Goodfella’s revealed 87% of five to 16-year- olds, when asked who is in charge at home, chose Mum over Dad – and no wonder.

Despite all the talk of modern men and flexible working, the stark reality is only 1% of new parents used shared parental leave to split childcare last year, according to the TUC (who say dads need longer, better-paid paternity leave without having to rely on mums giving up some of theirs). And a recent study from NatCen Social Research shows that even among parents who both work full-time, mothers are doing about twice as much cooking and cleaning than their partners.

Tina Miller, professor of sociology at Oxford Brookes University and author of Making Sense Of Parenthood, says that society still has ‘very high and maternally-etched expectations of women’. In other words, we expect mums to be naturally good at this stuff so they don’t deserve credit for it ‘We use a very different set of rules for what we expect of fathers and mothers,’ she says. ‘Fathers almost can’t do anything wrong if they’re out pushing a baby in a buggy. I think we’ve come a long way with fathers being involved in their children’s lives, but gender equality begins in the home, not in the workplace. Unless we can get away from this sense of the primary responsibility for children lying with the woman, then we are going to continue to have problems.’

The work of unpicking what men and women are expected to be naturally good at is going to take time, but we could start by combing through what we say on a daily basis. at means no more ‘daddy daycare’ or dads ‘babysitting’ their own goddamn kids, and a lot more cheering for the women who’ve been doing this stuff for years – to the sound of silence.

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