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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Dads and babies

207 replies

BlingLoving · 24/03/2011 16:04

This is kind of a thread about a thread, so sorry about that.

I see a lot of threads commenting on the mother's right to make ultimate decisions for her DC, particularly when they're babies. Lots of comments about "you are his mother, you know best" or "mothers' instincts are the best source of decision making" (I'm paraphrasing obviously).

I am still waiting for DC1 to arrive, so am interested to see how I feel after that, but this doesn't seem fair to me. Clearly, in the very beginning of course I can see how that is naturally going to happen on the basis that the mother tends to be with baby 24/7 - especially if she's breastfeeding - plus she has all those hormones washing around from pregnancy and birth and so on.

But surely there comes a point, fairly early on, where, assuming that DH/DP is involved and engaged, his opinions and ability to look after his child are pretty much equal to the mother's?

I am getting clearer and clearer in my own head that feminism has to be a two way process - that for it to work, both men and women also have to stop seeing men as less competant at certain tasks and that both sexes have to step up and take on responsibilities that were traditionally allocated to one or the other. And this seems like an obvious addition to that thought process. What are other thoughts?

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TheProvincialLady · 24/03/2011 16:29

The vast majority of women care for - in a practical way - their babies and children FAR more than the baby's father. Even those who work outside of the home (and yes, I am sure there are plenty of couples who split is 50:50, but statistically a small number). I think that gives them the right to make decisions about feeding the baby, since they will be the one making up bottles or purees etc.

As to ability to care for the child - it depends. In my case, being a co sleeping BFing hippy type, my DH was not until recently able to deliver the same care, because DS2 was more attached to me as his primary carer. And I think that is absolutely fine and normal.

BertieBotts · 24/03/2011 16:46

I'm going to find it hard to argue about this because I have strong feelings on the subject which may or may not be rational. Just before I start. Grin

I think this rides on a lot of things. Mainly though the issue in question - ie how serious it is - and also the couple's relationship. I'll start with the relationship because it's the most problematic IMO.

I know mumsnet has a reputation for "shouting abuse", but control over parenting decisions is a very common abuse tactic, and one which is very difficult to spot. Please note I'm NOT saying it's abusive for a father to have a different opinion about parenting issues to a mother - but that when these disagreements are used to control, it's incredibly undermining. A lot of it rides on the way these differences are resolved. If the parents can have a calm, reasoned discussion, maybe do some research together, and come to an agreement which both are happy with then that is fine. Evidently there will be cases when both parents have extremely strong but opposite views - I think it helps in this instance to understand the other's motivation and reasoning behind the decision. Even if there is no way of reconciling both opinions I think there are always ways to compromise. If you can't reach this together without one person overriding and using bullying tactics to win then there is a problem there, and the one being overridden DOES and SHOULD have the right to stand up for their own views.

The other thing is that issues parents argue over are often extremely emotional ones. Subjects like length of breastfeeding, bed sharing, and discipline issues often have roots for adults going back into their own childhoods. This is why I think it's important to be able to listen to each others' motivation and be open to being challenged on your own. And be willing to do some research as well. And perhaps adopt an approach in which both parents do use their own approach, as long as one does not massively contradict the other. I was talking to my bf about discipline issues, in particular, as although there's no way I'd be expecting him to help out with discipline issues at this stage in our relationship, I wanted to explain to him how I do things so that if there was ever a situation where he felt he needed that information he had it. And he listened and he agreed with much of what I said, but then he said that he actually felt it was really important for parents not to parent in exactly the same way as each other. He felt it was important for children to see that there are different approaches to doing things. And I thought that was really interesting, since a lot of the time all you hear is "Parents must show a united front" and advice like to discuss bedtime routines or discipline techniques etc with a babysitter or a childminder or a separated father. But I think he does have a good point.

InmaculadaConcepcion · 24/03/2011 16:51

I think it depends on the couple, TBH. Some men are very keen to be hands on and even if they're not naturally tuned into their DCs straight away, they soon learn. But some definitely aren't, so in those cases, Mum does know best. But I'm not convinced mothering is entirely instinctive nowadays, lots of women struggle, especially with the baby stage. And their DP/DH may well be in just as strong a position as they are to make decisions etc. about what the baby needs.

My DH is very hands-on and loves it. He has a great relationship with DD and I feel entirely comfortable leaving him in charge of her. But I know plenty of women whose OHs wouldn't feel at ease with the situation of being in charge of the baby.

It's one of those areas you negotiate as a couple - assuming you both get equally stuck into the parenting.

Treats · 24/03/2011 16:58

I'm with you OP - and this was my experience with DD (18m). I don't think I felt at ANY stage that I was more competent than DH to look after her (clearly I have faulty hormones Wink)

I did BF, but if I'm honest I didn't much enjoy it and embraced mixed feeding quite early on, largely because it meant that DH could have a turn. We took turns at getting her to sleep - and he was generally much more successful than I was. It wasn't my personal experience that being her mother made me intrinsically more able to care for her. DH and I have different strengths and DD has benefitted from both.

Personally - and I'm prepared to be shouted down - I think the mother has preferences about how she wants to parent, and this is the biggest influence on the extent to which the other parent is involved. IME, it's got little to do with 'nature'.

TheProvincialLady · 24/03/2011 17:09

I also think that it is pretty hard to argue against extended BF from the point of view of the child's health, current and future, and if a mother is prepared to BF past 6m/1y then a father would be pretty selfish to want to end that because of his discomfort or embarrassment. If it is causing issues within their relationship then the couple need to work on that together, but IMO stopping BF under those circumstances is the least desirable outcome.

dittany · 24/03/2011 17:48

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InmaculadaConcepcion · 24/03/2011 17:49

Agree about the breastfeeding. Lactation is one thing a man can't do so the father needs to bow to his partner's preference on that one and be as supportive as he can IMO.

It's the opposite in our case, TPL...when I said to DH I was intending to start weaning DD off the breast he asked if I was sure I wanted to wean her just yet (she's 14 months and still breastfeeding...) but he left it up to me and didn't put any pressure on either way.

InmaculadaConcepcion · 24/03/2011 17:51

Is it power or shared responsibility, though dittany?

Again, I suspect the answer to that will depend on the individuals concerned.

CaptainBarnacles · 24/03/2011 17:56

For me the problem is that women are often much better informed about issues to do with babies and childcare, and therefore better able to make these decisions. Plus as a number of posters have pointed out, they do more of the childcare/feeding in most cases, making it a bit of farce if the man starts to lay down the law.

Although it is often - and rightly - said on MN that SAHMs should have equal say over the household finances, even though they are not directly earning the money. I wonder whether there is a parallel here - a WOHD is earning the money to allow the SAHM to look after the kids, so he should have a say in how they are brought up? But of course the problem is that men (IME) don't really understand the ins and outs of e.g. BF and just want to go down the route that is easiest for them. (Sorry, this sounds a bit anti-men, but I have seen it a fair bit.)

I also wonder whether it is a vicious circle, women do more, so they know more, so they make the decisions, so men take a back seat, so men do less, so the relationship becomes more unequal to the point where the woman is doing all the child-related work and the man is the breadwinner.

It seems to me that men need to be more invested in these sorts of decisions, so that they take a more active role in family life. Not sure how you get there though.

dittany · 24/03/2011 18:06

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BlingLoving · 24/03/2011 18:14

"But of course the problem is that men (IME) don't really understand the ins and outs of e.g. BF and just want to go down the route that is easiest for them. (Sorry, this sounds a bit anti-men, but I have seen it a fair bit.)"

This is kind of my point. I don't understand how I can be a feminist, or perhaps as importantly, how DH can be a feminist, if either of us thinks that raising chlidren is more my issue than his and that I should be responsible for that research and planning and thought.

Dittany - mostly I agree with you on feminist stuff but I disagree with you on the power thing. Men have to give up power and share it with women, but for that to work, what "power" women have they have to be willing to share too. Otherwise, it's not equal, it's just a system that prefers women instead of a system that prefers men.

It's true that I do give birth so there's a sense of "that's just how it is" but going back to my point, surely relativelyty soon that differentiator should cease to be the fall back position for women.

And I'm afraid I don't think the BF decision is a women's alone. It shoudln't be. If I choose not to bf because I'm not comfortable with it, that's considered a valid argument so I feel a man should at least have the right to an opinion on that.

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dittany · 24/03/2011 18:30

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EngelbertFustianMcSlinkydog · 24/03/2011 18:38

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BertieBotts · 24/03/2011 18:40

"If I choose not to bf because I'm not comfortable with it, that's considered a valid argument so I feel a man should at least have the right to an opinion on that."

Well yes - but it's a valid argument because you are the one who has to do it. If a man didn't want his partner to breastfeed because he felt uncomfortable with it I'd think that was a ridiculous argument.

BlingLoving · 24/03/2011 18:52

No Dittany, I don't want to "hand over power". I'm saying that if I'm going to fight to be treated as equal, I don't have as much credibility if I'm also fighting to stay on top in other situations.

Bertie - you're right that as the person doing the BF (or not) that of course in that case I have more rights. Just as I have more say over how I choose to deliver this baby - it's my body, not DHs. I'm not disputing any of that. What I'm trying to get my head around is at what point do we go too far in the opposite direction where only women get opinions.

Of course, much of this is completely irrelevant because as has been indirectly pointed out, we're nowhere at a place where things are fair and equal in other areas so getting it right in the case of babies is hardly going to change the world. however, I'd like to think that if DH does the same research as I do, and takes the same level of interest as I do, that his opinion will be genuinely listened to by me, without being simply dismissed as irrelevant because he's a man.

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BlingLoving · 24/03/2011 18:54

And I think th epoint someone made earlier that in the same way we would all fight for the SAHM's right to have an equal say in how finances are managed, even if DH is doing all the earning, is a good one. slightly different of course as a SAHM is working just not in paid employment, but ultimately the point is that both parents are responsible for the family unit.

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dittany · 24/03/2011 18:55

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InmaculadaConcepcion · 24/03/2011 19:00

I totally agree with Bertie and dittany about the breastfeeding. What if the breastfeeding is painful for the woman and she can't stand doing it any more? If the man says, "No, you should bf our DC for a minimum of X months, you can't stop now," then I would want to tell him where to stuff it. And given the amount of evidence about the benefits of bf for babies (not to mention the emotional connection between baby and mother etc.) if the man wanted the woman to stop it because he felt "uncomfortable".... Well, once again, I would tell him where to get off.

But I think we have to tread carefully when we talk of maternal "power". I agree, if a man is using the situation to undermine the woman when it comes to important parenting decisions, then yes, that's not on.

But I also think regarding motherhood as some sort of power base is tricky because many men are all too happy to throw up their hands and step aside from exercising parental power because it also means parental responsibility. So once again, it's all down to the woman to hold it together.

Before the nuclear family held sway, women had solid support networks and extended family set-ups within which they could get support and advice etc. (from other female members of the family, usually). Now many women live miles away from such support systems and their partner needs to step up and give them that support. To take on some of that awesome responsibility over this little life he's (usually) been involved in creating.

With power comes responsibility. The woman shouldn't have to shoulder it all alone, if she has a partner who is willing to take on his fair share.

Gently · 24/03/2011 19:01

Hopefully without being in the least patronising or 'just you wait and see', I would be genuinely interested in whether your feelings remain the same a few months after you have given birth. In some ways, I found it much easier to be objective prior to actually having a baby, and then once they are with you, the hormones kick in for better or worse, and feelings definitely changed - I think at this point I felt like I had more control. But I'm also a co-sleeping extended breast feeder (with dp's full support), and maybe this makes a difference?

ecobatty · 24/03/2011 19:07

I think it really does depend on how the mother chooses to do the baby phase.

If you are bfing on demand, then that necessarily restricts the dh's ability to take charge of the baby. The mother will necessarily have a stronger bond with the baby in the beginning because of this.

In this case, the mother will be shouldering the majority of the burden of childcare and the father's job is to support her in whatever way she needs.

However, as the dc get older and become more independent the father will become more able to take responsibility for them for extended periods - at which point his way of parenting will become a more significant factor in the childrearing.

I agree with the poster who said that it is beneficial for children to be exposed to different parenting styles from both parents. Dh and I parent very differently, and have quite open (amicable) discussions in front of the dc as to our disagreements.

The rule is that in the end whoever has responsibility for the child in that particular moment makes the decision.

Ds1 has accepted this very well and now practically never says 'but Daddy lets me' any more - and neither dh nor I are having to compromise on the way we treat our dc.

BertieBotts · 24/03/2011 19:07

If you respect your DH, of course you won't dismiss his opinion just because he's a man though!

FWIW I experienced the same as Engelbert - XP was controlling and wanted to make decisions I didn't agree with e.g. move DS out of our bed and into his own room. He didn't get up at all at night to help, even if DS was ill, even if that was at the weekend. There was no way in hell I was letting him dictate where DS slept when it would mean extra work for me, he wasn't likely to share this burden at all AND it went against my principles etc which I'd researched and decided on what I thought was best for DS. His reasoning was "I want more sex" and "It's weird". I wasn't willing to listen to that opinion because "it's weird" is a non-argument, and I tried all sorts of compromises on the sex front but he was never happy with that anyway. It wasn't anything to do with him being a man.

Recently I was having a hypothetical conversation with bf and he said "If we ever have kids, I don't want them in our bed and breastfeeding past the age of 2." And at first I was all offended and thought, no, I'll do what I think is best - but then I was thinking about it and I thought actually, bf isn't crazy and controlling like XP was. He's reasonable and a, he'd be willing to have an actual discussion about things and actually listen to my reasoning, and b, I'm 100% sure we could both think about the reasoning behind each of our choices and come to a compromise based on those. So his opinion carries more weight, because I know he'd listen to mine.

ecobatty · 24/03/2011 19:10

I disagree with Dittany that there is no evidence of harm from this.

I think boys are seriously lacking in male input in many sectors of our society and would greatly benefit from having fathers that are much more involved and engaged.

onepieceoflollipop · 24/03/2011 19:10

Dh and I have a fairly "unusual" relationship (in comparison with the rl families/couples we know anyway)

He has always pulled his weight wrt childcare, despite working ft. I was undecided whether I would return ft (in the event I didn't). He waited until I made my decision but also said if my decision was ft then he would probably cut down to 4 days as he would prefer the dds to have 3 days with a parent rather than 2 in the week if possible. (there was no pressure on me regarding this)

He has always done bedtime/bathtime since the dds were newborn. (obviously I did the bf when this was applicable). He supported me with feeding choices, including firm words with his parents when they tried to embarrass me about bf. With dd2 I expressed and he and dd1 gave ebm in bottles but it was my choice to bf/express or ff.

I am often wound up in rl when people tell me I am "lucky" as if it is somehow miraculous that a man may want to spend time with his dcs. Sometimes people suggest that it is hard on him if he has to look after his own children while I work all weekend. (rather than go fishing/betting shop or wherever)

InmaculadaConcepcion · 24/03/2011 19:11

Yes, Gently, I know I was fiercely possessive of my "turf" to begin with - no one else got a look-in when it came to how to care for DD. Also, DH was nervous of taking charge of her even while a took a short shower as he felt so powerless if she cried because he figured the only way to stop her crying was offer her the breast.

With DC2 (hopefully) I wonder if I will be as precious? And DH and I will both be more confident, second time round, so I suspect I'll be more relaxed at letting him take charge of the baby and so will he.

Another initially co-sleeping/sling-wearing/breast-feeder here... (although DD now generally sleeps in her cot, often gets carted around in a buggy and is being weaned....)

Report back, please Bling - it will be interesting to see whether your feelings on the matter change once your DC is with you!

onepieceoflollipop · 24/03/2011 19:13

I meant to add that dh does tend to defer to me with any decisions (if I am at home, anyway). However there is rarely a difference of opinion as we tend to parent in similar ways.
I think part of the reason I get the final say on anything is that I am with the dds more often which was my choice as I mentioned above.

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