The writer Niamh Mulvey once said that becoming a mother was ‘like learning misogyny – something with which you thought you were familiar – in a whole new language’. I think about that quote a lot, especially when I receive random compliments in public.
As a man who writes about parenting, I’m wary of giving the impression that my views on this or that aspect of the task are more exciting and marvellous because I’m a man. On the contrary, they’re better because of that notepad I found at the bus station, filled with humorous ways of saying ‘this thing is like that other thing’.
I digress. I sometimes get looks of approval from people just for pushing a pram. Some poke their heads inside, delighted I’ve refrained from cramming the baby beside 40 cans of lager and a few copies of Loaded. My wife has never had someone reach across a bus seat to say how wonderful she is for looking after our son, whereas it’s happened to me twice.
Many mothers I know speak of feeling scrutinised and judged if they step out with their baby while looking dishevelled or exhausted. I, on the other hand, once took my son to the park with toothpaste all over my chin. People regarded me fondly for trying my best despite my gender, with the warm encouragement you might give someone doing the London marathon dressed as the Honey Monster. One friend of mine was feeding his son in a café last year when an old lady slipped him a £1 coin.
All of which is lovely, but I do wonder why few of my female friends have similar stories. Also, like so many aspects of the patriarchy, there is something infantilising about this treatment. An adult man, performing the basic tasks of parenting, receiving the reception usually reserved for a talking chimp.
Perhaps we’re being praised in the way you might cheer a dog for not eating its own shite, in the hope it will delay us – men, not dogs – from abandoning our dependents, leaving forever to focus on our fantasy football teams full time, or start that terrible podcast about Kasabian.
Either way, I love it when people say nice things about my parenting, and not just because I’m a venal fool who craves approval. I work hard at parenting, and gosh-darn it, I think I do an OK job, so praise me all you like. But rather than becoming inured to the novelty of everyday dadness, we should stop taking mums for granted, too.
There’s nothing wrong with passing a sleep-deprived dad in a café, and a £1 coin here or there hurts no one, it’s just that such praise should be more equitably distributed among the sexes. Maybe, and this could prove controversial, we might even weight it slightly in favour of whoever washes their face before they leave the house.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats