Originally published on July 24th 2012 on www.ramp.ie
It’s happening in households around the nation. Seemingly innocent conversations turning nasty and fights springing from the most unlikely of situations. A simple request to heat a bottle is met with furious refusal and finger pointing. What is causing these fractious exchanges, these heated debates? None other than the arrival of a new born baby and the division of the humongous workload that comes with it.
Babies-they’re tiny and cute and they smell lovely but man, are they high maintenance. Doubtless many of you who are not parents know or suspect this already. It does not really sink in however, until you become a parent yourself. It is comparable to deciding to travel Australia. You look at a map; you see that it’s a big country yet the thought that it will take considerable time to cross it does not seem to cross your mind. Then when you arrive, you are shocked to learn that travelling from Sydney to Melbourne will take 12 hours in the beaten up station wagon you have just purchased at a bargain price. 12 hours? How is this possible you ask yourself? How is it nearly the same time as a return flight from Dublin to New York? Then you bring out the map again, to confirm the distance you will be driving and a little thought pops into your head-was Australia always this big?
Similarly, when all the drama in the delivery room has passed, when the car seat has been installed, when the walls of the nursery have been freshly painted with fairies and flowers or tractors and trains, and you are ready to bring your little darling home, you feel that the hard work is behind you. Then comes the 5 am feeds, the dirty nappies, the incessant squealing and the massively increased laundry quotient. How is this possible you ask yourself? How can it take so much time and effort to care for a baby? Surely, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Then you bring out the rather thick parenting book on the shelf and a little thought pops into your head-was it always this big?
It is here, once the glow of new parenthood has diminished to a fading ember that the roots of discourse begin to sprout. Women may have been well ahead in the game when Junior was out of sight but once he or she has entered the real world, the whole argument of “but I carried our son/daughter for a full 9 months” carries little or no currency outside the womb. Here it’s every parent for himself. Battle lines are drawn, heels-both high and flat-are dug in and harsh words exchanged.
“I fed her last night”
“Well, I had to get up for her this morning so that puts me well ahead!”
It has led in some cases, to a kind of warped bartering system; where one getting up to a bawling infant in the middle of the night equals having to change five of her shitty nappies.
Years ago, it was the sole duty of the woman to do the housework. She even had to leave her job in order to stay at home and raise the family; such was the role of the mother as was enshrined in our fledgling constitution. Then upon Ireland joining the EEC in 1973, Brussels, the cheek of them, put a stop to that by ensuring equal working rights for Irish women and a decade later, egged on by the desire for giant shoulder pads and Melanie Griffiths style notions about work, many women had flown the coop.
Of course that still didn’t mean that the work was divided equally amongst the sexes but fast forward a few decades and today’s modern mammy expects her husband/partner/significant other to roll up his sleeves and raise the babies with her. But, how to do it in a fair way to ensure one parent isn’t left doing it all.
The obvious solution is to get a nanny, or a housekeeper. Now, however, that the Celtic Tiger has gone to the great zoo in the sky and we are saddled with enough national debt to ensure we will be working until we are at least 95, who can afford that? For the ladies, there really does seem to be only one way to win this war-get knocked up again. Pregnancy is a sure fire way to get other people to do stuff for you. For the menfolk, unfortunately, the solution is not so clear-cut. Working 60 hour weeks does not excuse one in the slightest from baby related chores. There is of course, the perennial Irish mammy to fall back on. With confirmed reports coming from the Mid-West of lads as old as 35 still returning to the fold at weekends, laden with bags of dirty laundry for their long suffering mother, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that said mother could be called upon to look after the grandchild.
In the end, though, like all long fought battles, periods of reflection arrive where you take stock of why you are doing all this and come many a Sunday evening, a truce is to be found, usually over a Chinese takeaway and a good bottle of wine. Parenting, those in the know will proclaim to those who will listen, is a long, hard slog made up of countless hours of overtime on top of an already fully loaded working week. The rewards, however, more than make up for the hardships and woes. Like in Australia, the road is long, but the trip is most definitely worth it.