Are you Carrie Bradshaw or Mother Earth? Can child-free women and mothers ever be friends? According to certain sections of the media, you have to pick a side. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Of course we can stay friends – our wombs do not define us.
That’s what I’d have said a year ago too – the fact that I (child-free and planning-to-remain-that-way) can enjoy Prosecco and lie-ins doesn’t separate us after formative years spent together. Except, at 36, I’ve realised there is a divide – and I no longer have a single close friend with children. It’s nothing to do with them being baby-bores, or the children themselves – it’s because they treat their male partners like an extra child. An extremely annoying, hopeless child that means that I’m le out in the cold – sometimes literally.
While my former friends put their social lives totally on hold, their boyfriends and husbands seem to barely compromise theirs. And the worst part is that they let them. It’s the last bastion of 1950s-style housewifery that even my most forward-thinking friends can’t seem to get over.
I first realised this when a friend was two hours late to meet me for dinner. To make it to this dinner, which was at a place convenient to her, I had to go into work hours early to be able to leave on time, to catch a £30 train and then get a £25 taxi. At the time, I begrudged none of this – she has two small children and it’s far easier for me to compromise than her. But dinner was at 7.30, I’d bought us a bottle of wine, we hadn’t been out just the two of us in 18 months and, by 8:30, there was still no sign of her. She finally arrived after the restaurant had stopped serving food, with a breezy: ‘Oh, Dan is rubbish at putting the kids to bed so I thought I’d do it and we could just have coffee.’ Dan, father of the kids, was at home. Dan had nothing else to do. Dan was the extra child that she just couldn’t leave alone, now rammed firmly between me and my friend – and me and my dinner.
As the whole bottle of wine had long since been drunk by me on an empty stomach that now had no chance of being filled, I was fairly laid-back at the time. The next morning, though, I was furious. I realised it wasn’t the first time my friends had let me down due to the supposed incompetency of their partners. And I bet, if you think about it, you’ve suffered the same fate.
There was the weekday brunch a month earlier, where a friend – whose husband hadn’t worked in a year – still had to dash off early to pick her son up from school as ‘he never remembered what time to pick Al e up or anything the school tells him for the next day’. There was the friend-of-a-friend who hasn’t left the house in FOUR YEARS without one of her three children because her husband ‘couldn’t possibly cope with all three on his own’. There’s the friend who cancelled an intimate birthday dinner for another friend who had lost a job and a boyfriend in quick succession, because ‘her mum had a cold and it wasn’t really fair for her husband to have to babysit on a Saturday night’. Is it really babysitting, if you created the child?
Ah, ‘babysitting’. Along with ‘daddy day care’, I find the language many of my friends use about their partners and their children so problematic. This kind of twee diminishment seems to say it’s OK to be a less responsible or regular carer to their kids. It’s a novelty or a joke when they take on some of the childcare. Sure, it’s cute when you add a hashtag and put a nice picture on Instagram, guys – but it feels to me like the whole movement minimises men’s involvement and allows them to be less accountable.
The strange thing is that all these men seemed to be more responsible before they had kids. They bought houses, organised 40-strong stag dos in little-known European capitals (if there’s something that requires greater organisation, I’d like to know about it) and engineered impressive proposals. But now, ask them to get on a bus with a buggy and all hell breaks loose.
This isn’t an anti-mum rant. I get that kids are unpredictable and sometimes you do just have to cancel or leave social commitments. But couldn’t you treat your partner a little bit less like the teenager down the road you pay a tenner an hour, and a bit more like a co-parent?