"When our first daughter was born my husband and I made a family rule: no man would ever babysit our children. No exceptions. This includes male relatives and friends and even extracurricular and holiday programs, such as basketball camp, where men can have unrestricted and unsupervised access to children.
Eight years, and another daughter later, we have not wavered on this decision.
Group slumber parties are also out. When there is a group of excited children it is far too easy for one of them to be lured away by a father or older brother without being noticed.
When my daughter goes on play dates I make sure that she will be supervised by a woman at all times. So far she has only slept at one friend's house."To support this position, she quotes various statistics on the sexual abuse of children.
From time to time I have written here about the issues and difficulties that can arise when the father takes on the primary child care role. This includes suspicions held by the mothers of school friends, suspicions that have increased with time because of growing fears about pedophilia. While I don't regret the experience, I have many happy memories, I would hesitate now to recommend the course to others without at least full recognition of the costs involved, together with a strategy for managing them.
In another piece, School holidays are here. Mothers, get to work, Ms Edwards complains bitterly about the failure of men to step up the child-care plate during holidays. Again a quote from the start of the piece to give you a feel:
The first year it happened, I was in shock. Now I’m just pissed off.
Before my daughter started school, I had no idea that school-aged children had 12 weeks of school holidays every year. TWELVE, people! And some of the private schools have 17 weeks, which just goes to show that you can pay more and get less.
It was just too crazy to even contemplate. Who’s supposed to look after all these children for almost one quarter of every year?
Oh, that’s right. Mothers.Or later:
Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughters and enjoy spending time with them. Although, I’d be lying if I suggested that the idea of entertaining a seven year old for 42 days in a row doesn’t make me feel a little overwhelmed. Gone are the days of kicking the kids out of the house after breakfast and not seeing them again until dinner time. And sitting them down in front of a TV or iPad for hours on end is just a recipe for mother guilt.
But this isn’t an issue about quality time spent with children. It’s an issue about the inequity of who does the caring. It’s about the invisibility of said caring work and the impact that has on women’s careers, aspirations and wellbeing.Ms Edwards also notes:
Part of the problem with our schooling system lies in outdated assumptions. From volunteering expectations, school meetings in the middle of the day and school holidays, women’s time is not regarded as valuable. Too often it’s simply assumed that we’re all just sitting around idly waiting for the school to give us something to do between other domestic and caring responsibilities.
The burden of school holiday care falls almost entirely on the shoulders of mothers. The short-term consequences are stress, frustration and financial inequality. But the long-term consequences, over 13 years of a child’s school life, can be devastating to a woman’s financial security and wellbeing. This is an inequality rooted at the heart of family life and all the equal opportunity legislation in the world will not solve it.School holidays can indeed be demanding and I've been through the full thirteen year cycle with two girls plus university. There is daycare or camps or sporting activities. There are kids coming round or going to friend's places. There are the visits to parks, sleep-overs. The pattern changes over time as the children grow older, moving into secondary school and university, progressively achieving autonomy. For many primary child carers, there is actually a feeling of loss at the end as the routines that have been such an important part of life disappear. At least, I found this.
In all this, responsibilities do need to be shared as they were in my case within and indeed between families. Mind you, Ms Edward's kids would not have been able to participate fully in this process with my kids, given that the ground rules laid down effectively preclude fathers in the absence of a female. In this context, when I first read the Canberra Times piece and before I investigated, I thought that Ms Edwards must be a stay at home mum or at least working from home since that was the only way she could make the ground rules work.
I do agree with Ms Edwards about the out-dated assumptions built into the school system, although I came at this from a different perspective. Whereas Ms Edwards has, I think, an institutional focus, my problem lay in the way that so many of the arrangements, informal as well as formal, were geared to and dominated by mothers, creating difficulties for male participation.
Finally, in writing I have tried from time to time to separate and discuss the various issues involved in increased male roles in shared parenting into those common to both parents, those that are especially female, those that are especially male. Change requires each group to be addressed.
In this context and despite her feminist proclamations, Ms Edwards approach as outlined in the Canberra Times simply reinforces one of the barriers to increased male participation. I was left feeling sorry for her daughters. Only one sleep-over in eight years for eldest? Without sensible relaxation of the rules, this can only get worse with time.