More men are raising children on their own. Some women don't like itby Tony Gordon / November 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Three years ago, I became a single (male) parent and the primary carer of my children who were then three-and-a-half and five years old. This was because of the departure of my former wife from the family home, followed by a legal battle which ended in court. Custody was awarded to me. I am lucky to have flexible work arrangements, and having shared actively in their care from birth I did not find the practical arrangements at all difficult. What has been difficult to deal with is the sexism I have encountered as a man in a woman’s world.
I constantly run up against the assumption that women are the best carers of children, that only they have the patience, the practical intelligence, gentleness and empathy which are essential in raising children. I discovered that just as there remains a substantial group of men who believe that women are not really competent in “male” jobs-and who resent it when they are-a substantial number of women both resent it and feel threatened when they see men take on the main child-rearing role. I have stumbled upon a whole culture found in children’s books, in school circulars, in the different treatment by (mainly) women teachers and mothers of boys and girls, and in much of the school gate chatter. I call this culture “mummery.” It lies at the core of female sexism, the counterpart of male “chauvinism.”
In political circles, it is always assumed that the single parent is a mother struggling with childcare and work, despite the fact that 10 per cent of single parents in Britain are now men. In a statement about the work of the Child Support Agency, Harriet Harman recently said she would ensure that the CSA chased absent fathers to make a contribution to child maintenance. Quite right. But what about absent mothers, who are equally or even more likely (according to one lawyer) to avoid financial responsibility? Will they also be pursued?
Breakdown of marriage is invariably portrayed as the father baling out-but there are many instances, and their occurrence is bound to increase, when it is the mother who departs, leaving the children with the father. In a recent issue of Prospect (April 1997) Suzanne Franks, discussing the effect on children of having a working mother (not father), opened her article thus: “Forget fathers. There is no term ‘working father,’ for men still…