Dad gets all the glory, but I’m the captain of this ship
After four days of single-parenting, which included two birthday parties, a soccer match, a band festival, a dash to the chemist and a sleepover where the little minxes chattered till 11, the youngest makes an announcement as we walk to school on Monday morning.
“Mum – not to hurt your feelings or anything – but I like Dad better than you.”
My smile twists jam-jar tight; eyes prickle. You ungrateful brat, I think, filing it into the mental envelope of Things You’re Not Allowed To Say To Your Kids. “Yeah, he’s tops,” I say with Shire-worthy sincerity. “Why is he such a great dad?”
“He doesn’t tell me off as much, he doesn’t boss me around and he laughs more.”
Of course he laughs more! I’d laugh more, too, if I weren’t helping with your speech on ‘Hidden Heroes’ (oh, the irony) and removing kidney beans from your chilli. Yes, he takes you to dance practice, but does he know your shoes are size 13, you need new tights and your concert is on November 18? I bet he doesn’t know the name of your dance teacher.
Well, he might; she’s a bit of a fox.
Except I don’t say any of that. I give her a hug and try to win her affection with forced jollity: “Let’s have burgers tonight, shall we?”
Walking home, I all but trip over my bottom lip. I consider ringing my husband at work in Darwin to congratulate him on his superior parenting, but he’s probably stuck in the Qantas lounge, eating club sandwiches and reading week-old copies of Time.
So I text my mate. “Children are remarkably stupid or brave, considering their relative size,” she texts back.
Truth is, I wasn’t hired as the Chief Operating Officer of my family – it’s a role I’ve adopted. When, to paraphrase JM Barrie, the first man asked for the first time, “Have we got sunscreen?” I didn’t say, “No, how about you grab that?” Instead, I said, “Yep, got it covered,” and that competency broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of martyrdom.
Much has been written about ‘learned uselessness’, and the housework divide and the burden of ‘fadmin’ – my term for ‘family administration’. But 12 years in – and, clearly, the lesser parent in my children’s eyes – I realise it’s my own damn fault.
My husband, you see, is perfectly able. But I think I’m better. Better at cooking, better at organising, better at managing the minutiae of our lives. And, in so doing, I’ve become the Sheryl Sandberg to his Mark Zuckerberg.
While I’m spreadsheeting extracurricular activities and calculating the profit and loss on school jumpers, he’s free to be the fun-loving visionary – the one reading Harry Potter in silly voices and making fish-finger sandwiches to eat in front of Frozen Planet.
Irritatingly, they respect him more. While my nagging is largely ignored, one sharp bark from him means teeth are brushed and the cat fed. He also refuses to rescue. Forgotten your homework? Too bad – the teacher’s ire means you’ll remember next time.
As a parent, the worst thing you can lose isn’t your temper or your authority, it’s your sense of humour. They won’t remember you for the uniforms you ironed or the broccoli you steamed. But they love it when you laugh. So, my love, you like your dad better than me? Great, because I like him better than you, too. Ha, ha, ha.
Catch Angela Mollard every Monday at 9.30am on Mornings, on the Nine Network.
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