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19th Sep 2015

Help! Am I the only mother who thinks her husband isn’t up to the job?

Nikki Walsh

Irish men have never been more involved in day-to-day parenting. And since the Mancession, more and more of them are at home with their children.

But despite a seismic shift in attitudes, there are still some women who feel they are parenting alone. We hear their stories and ask is old Ireland alive and well?

Ciara, 35

“I knew my husband was never going to be what a friend refers to as “an active parent.” He’s very old fashioned, and he always said, I’ll bring in the money, you raise the kids. I was pushing forty and delighted to have met someone, particularly someone keen to have children, so we went ahead. I could never have envisaged then how hard raising a child on my own would be. Both our families live away, so I don’t have a lot of support. My husband has no interest in hanging out with us at weekends. He gets up on Saturdays and heads to the office, then onto the pub to meet friends. Sundays are the same. He has never changed a nappy or given him a bottle. If I leave him alone with the baby – to have a shower or go to the bathroom – he puts my son in front of the TV while he surfs the net on the other side of the room. He seems to have no instinct to pick him up or play with him. I do all the nights, and I have not had a day off or a lie-in in three years. I am exhausted. When I try to talk to my husband about it, he says, I bring home the bacon, that’s the deal. When I suggest the deal isn’t working, he looks at me as if I am stupid and says, I bring in the bacon, what more do you expect?

Niamh, 31

I thought my husband was going to be a great father. He is a calm, thoughtful man. And in the early days he was great – happy to change a nappy, great at soothing the baby. But as the months went on, he began to have mood swings. There were strops about taking my daughter to the playground or giving her a bottle. Low moments in which he admitted he found family life oppressive, and horrible stretches when we were sick, and he would sulk around the house, refusing to engage with us. I felt abandoned and also devastated – it was so far away from the dream I had had about family life. I responded by throwing myself into motherhood (which what was probably an attempt to parent for two people) and by the time my daughter turned one, I was pretty much raising her on my own, making my own plans at weekends. It works, but there are times when the resentment is so great I think I will take my daughter and leave. But then I think about life as a single parent and what that might mean for my daughter, and I grit my teeth and stay put. But it is a lonely life, and I torture myself with the thoughts that one day my daughter will hate me for sacrificing my happiness for some idea of family life that no one in my home believes in anyway.

Sally, 32

My husband is an artist. When we were going out, I loved everything about his work: the integrity of his ideas, his interesting friends. He didn’t earn much money, but he was charismatic and interesting, a man of talent. But since we had children, I need him to be something else too – a father and a provider. He is neither. When he is not working, he has no interest in spending time with the children. He ignores them when they try to play with him, and complains bitterly if he has to get up at night. He seems to view them as beneath him in some way I can’t understand. When I try to talk to him about his role, he reacts badly. If you wanted a money-maker, he says, in a voice that implies I am deeply shallow and materialistic, you should have looked elsewhere. When I suggest that it’s about contribution, not money, and suggest that if he can’t provide money, surely he can provide other things, such as his time, he is equally appalled. You want me to sacrifice my career? He asks. It’s who I am, he says, it’s what I do, etc. We never get anywhere, and I end up doing everything – working, looking after the children at weekends, paying the bills, doing the food shopping, cleaning the house. Once, when I asked him to play with them, it ended with him shouting “I’m too intelligent for this”, before storming off to our bedroom. This made me realise I have three children: my daughter, my son and my husband.

Olive, 33

Get off that sofa, says my husband to my son, or you’ll get a slap. From the kitchen, I hear the resounding sound of flesh on flesh, a pause, then my son’s cry of terror. This happens once, maybe twice a day. It doesn’t matter how much I protest, or what I say. His mother was the same – when we were going out, he used to joke about how she used to chase him and his four brothers around the garden with the egg flipper. We used to laugh at this, but I never thought for a moment that it would be part of our life. But since we got married and had our son Ben, I have found his stance on discipline shocking. Never did me any harm, he says to other parents, when he hits Ben, almost cheerfully, in the playground. His family heartily approve. I am considered a soft touch who will ruin our son by spoiling him. It is affecting his relationship with our son – he is frightened of him and clearly prefers me. I wonder what will happen when he starts school – will be become violent too?