The book I’m telling everyone to read…
Men are lazy and don’t want to look after children, says Gideon Burrows. But they should do it anyway.
A bold statement for anyone to make. But that’s the kind of writer Gideon Burrows is. Funny, engaging – and not afraid to shy away from the bigger issues.
Equally shared childcare
My personal utopia, when it comes to having a family, has always been two parents, both of whom work part-time.*
So when I saw Men Can Do It! The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it, I ordered it straight away.
And now I’m telling everyone to read it.
Gideon’s style is relaxed and informal. This is a well-written book that is an unexpected page-turner.
When Gideon’s children were born, he didn’t realise that most couples don’t share childcare evenly. He and his partner split all the duties – and it was only ‘too late’ that he twigged he could have got off with a much lighter share (like the rest of his friends).
The book charts his experiences of trying to be an equally-involved father.
Problems start before his first child is born: he’s ignored by Midwives and chucked out of the hospital in the middle of the night.
He feels that men miss the first few lessons in babycare this way.
Originally, Gideon took one day off work per week while his partner did the rest of the childcare. But when he saw her career ‘go down the toilet’, he realised that perhaps his own job sacrifices hadn’t been that great and it was time to reduce his own work hours, too.
From then on, they were equal. He took sole charge of the children for the same number of hours a week as his partner. And he strongly encourages others to do the same.
Discrimination and excuses
Instead of the couple being applauded for their stance, they met with some discrimination. The general assumption that men are ‘useless’ with childcare meant that whenever Gideon was in sole charge of his children, people would ask ‘Are you babysitting today?’
He claims that the worst offenders were the mothers at the toddler groups, who would form ‘cliques’ and exclude him from the conversation.
And whenever their work/life balance arrangements were explained to friends, they’d be given a catalogue of excuses as to why equally-shared parenting ‘wouldn’t work for my family’.
The common objections: career ambition, finances, men’s ability to parent are addressed in the rest of the book. The couple even managed to work out a way to continue breastfeeding whilst splitting the house and childcare duties.
The overall message is that potential problems are challenges to be overcome, rather than complete obstacles.
There are some parts of the book where I feel the author misses the point.
The naïve surprise he feels about being discriminated against on the grounds of his gender is almost funny as a female reader.
Childcare is not considered a high-status job SHOCK! People can be quite nasty to each other about parenting decisions HORROR! Healthcare professionals are sometimes patronising GASP!
He is advocating for male equality and some sections of it feel like feminist writing must have done thirty years ago. It shouldn’t be ‘them and us’, but rather ‘everyone together’.
There are also some places where, in his desire to be equally involved, he doesn’t recognise that actually, it’s his partner who deserves the credit and attention.
For example, he is hurt when in labour, the healthcare team in hospital didn’t ask him what he thought about any of the medical options being offered.
That’s because a women has a right to decide what happens to her own body and it’s not an option ‘offered’ to her male partner.
And whilst I am sure that having him helping and supporting during labour made a huge amount of difference to his partner’s experience, giving birth is a uniquely female achievement and deserves to be celebrated.
How would you feel if you’d just run a marathon and your friends who held a banner and cheered took all the credit for your completion of the race?
On another occasion, he is offended when another mother asks how he is ‘coping’ when his partner is away for several days on a business trip.
Clearly, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the tone in which the question was asked. But I didn’t feel the question was discriminatory as he did. I think she’d have asked exactly the same question to a female friend and it was a subtle way of reaching out to offer help.
It does highlight how hard it can be to be the trailblazer, however. People will attack you for being different, and after a while that can take its toll.
I would have loved a bit more of a look at the psychology of bonding – is it true that children ‘need’ more mother input at certain stages, and father input at others?
And, for an equally-shared parenting book, it would have been nice to have had a chapter from Gideon’s partner about how she had found the whole experience…
Overall, this is a very engaging book with lots of great ideas for how to make equally-shared parenting work, and anecdotes that anyone who has looked after children will laugh at and relate to.
There is lots of humour in this book and I like that as well as an overarching manifesto for how government could change legislation to make it easier for fathers to take a more hands-on role, there were also more practical tips that individuals could implement straight away.
(Heard of the ‘toilet squat’? If you are a women, chances are you’ll never have needed to do it. Male childcarers, however…)
This book will make you think and question your own assumptions about gender roles in families. It will also flag up that women can be really sexist, too – and we should stop sabotaging our male partner’s involvement in childcare (even unconsciously).
It’s interesting that Gideon reports that more women than men are reading the book. Maybe his point that most men ‘just aren’t interested’ in childcare is true? I do hope you all prove me wrong…
Because, single male readers of this blog, if you read this book and take it to heart, there will be a queue of intelligent and funny women lining up to go out with you.
And I’ll be at the front.
Men Can Do It! The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it by Gideon Burrows can be ordered on Amazon (£).
(£) = a link where I receive a small commission. It doesn’t affect what I review or write. If you don’t want to use it, here’s a plain link instead.
Read the book? Have your own equally-shared parenting adventure? Please tell me about it in the comments below!
*OK, I’ll scrub that, slightly. My personal utopia is that I’ve won the lottery and am living on an island somewhere where money is no issue, but you know what I mean.