When will the novelty act wear off?

Guest blogger Adam Lanigan wonders why everyone still thinks a dad parenting his kids by himself deserves special mention.

dad parenting by himself


Last Wednesday, I did something novel. That’s right, I took two children to a playgroup! Not just any children, though. Three-year-old Thomas and his sister Rebecca, almost two, who happen to be mine. Of course, I am being ironic here because I have done lots of things with my two kids, but the point about this being a novelty is not on my part, but the perception that other people have towards me.

In our house, Wednesday is Daddy Day and it has been for over two-and-a-half years, ever since Tom started going to nursery and my wife, Louise, went back to her full-time job. In that time, there have been parent-and-toddler music classes, countless trips to the supermarket, to various parks and a personal favourite when we went to Manchester Museum on the bus to look at the dinosaur exhibits. But I can say with confidence that most times I have stepped out of the house with Tom – and more since since Rebecca joined our Wednesday party – I have received comments usually along the lines of ‘You’ve got your hands full there!”

What makes me special?

Now I don’t mind this and it’s always said with a warm smile. I usually laugh along because it is true.

But the latest one at the playgroup made me stop and think. This was from a woman there with her grandchild. She was well-meaning and polite and maybe she sensed it was my first visit to this particular place. Looking around the room, I noticed that I was also the only dad, surrounded by a group of mums, grandmas and even a couple of grandfathers.

Now of course, it’s tricky trying to keep an eye on two children when one wants to play with dinosaurs in one corner of the room and the other wants to play in the toy kitchen in the opposite corner. But isn’t this the challenge Mum has had forever? Isn’t that what being a parent of young children is like? Yet we don’t automatically walk past a mum out shopping with two or more kids crying and arguing with each other and make an innocent comment. Often we don’t bat an eyelid. Why? Because it’s what our brains have been taught – mum is looking after the children. That is the normal way of things. But dad is out with the children on his own – stop the press! Give this man a medal!

Quite often when I’m out and about, I do literally have my hands full. At 6ft 5in tall, I’ve always been happy and strong enough to carry my kids around and hey, they must enjoy the lofty view up there. Sometimes, that probably does draw attention, especially if I’m also trying to push a supermarket trolley. I do stand out from the crowd in that sense. But not in a sense of wanting to look after my own children. Surely that is normal? I am dealing with one of my specialist subjects – my own children. People I know more about than anybody else, so I’d like to think I am capable of returning them home in one piece after an outing.

Still a way to go

On a deeper leveI, this recurring incident underlines how far gender equality still has to go. We accept that women now balance jobs with motherhood, yet as a society, we still find it odd or unnatural if dad picks up the slack for childcare. I’ll be honest, I love Daddy Days. Yes, sometimes it can be hard work, but coming up with an ‘adventure’ or a way of doing something exciting to stir Tom and Rebecca’s imagination is very rewarding for me.

On the same day as this incident at the playgroup, 90-year-old William Shatner was flying up into space. To see Star Trek’s Captain Kirk boldly going beyond where most of us could possibly dream of venturing at such an incredible age, is genuinely novel. But have we not yet reached a point where in 2021, a dad looking after two children is not?

Read more:

It’s time to get rid of that dad bod

Six techniques for busy working dads to help their children succeed

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