Our Head of Marketing & Digital Content - Kirsty Nicholls - explains why she's walking the Kiltwalk for Fathers Network Scotland and why the charity's work is so important to her and her family.
Last night I didn’t manage to get my sons to sleep until 9.30pm. My husband and I often take it in turns to do bath and bedtime during the week, so that we can each do some exercise. Normally I look forward to Cbeebies, bath, books, snuggles, chats and snoozes, but yesterday’s routine didn’t quite go to plan. Maybe it was excitement about our upcoming holidays, perhaps a little too much sugar, but our two and four-year-old were charging around the house until well after their bedtime. Once they’d finally drifted off, I went into our own bedroom to pick up their sippy cups, half-drunk milk discarded in search of shenanigans. At some point I must have descended onto our bed, because an hour-and-a-half later I jolted awake. Feeling desolate, I went in search of my husband, who had himself fallen asleep on the sofa after his run. “I just can’t do this anymore,” I wailed. “Our house is an absolute tip and I’ve run out of energy. How do people do this?”.
The following morning I woke up to find the kitchen spick and span, coats hung up, shoes in the cupboard, toys put away (well as “put away” as four years’ worth of trains, cars and lego figures can be). My husband had made everything okay again.
When our eldest son Jack was born, we unwittingly fell into the predictable gender stereotypes. It happened without us even realising. Rich went to work, I stayed at home. Rich was the provider, I looked after the baby, cooked and cleaned. These weren’t premeditated life choices; we just fell into our roles because it was the easiest way to fill the mould society had created for us.
One night we were lying in bed and I told Rich that I didn’t want our son growing up to think that doing the washing is mummy’s job. Up until having children, we had as a couple both worked full time and carved out careers for ourselves. I wanted Jack to see that both mummy and daddy were capable of providing for AND caring for the family. So my husband suggested that he do the washing from then on. We both do the housework and earn money. We fill in the gaps for each other when things fall apart a little bit.
As a self-employed dad, my husband wasn’t entitled to any paternity leave. He was expected to continue working as if our lives hadn’t just been turned upside down and inside out by the arrival of a tiny, entirely dependent, human being. He was expected to provide for our expanding family while I got to bond with our children 24/7. Even though he witnessed his wife in prolonged agony, a traumatic emergency c-section and the touch-and-go birth of his precious son, he was never asked how he was feeling by the health professionals we rely on.
It’s really no wonder the washing was left to me, is it?
At the moment it takes a lot of effort to create a family life where both parents parent equally. We haven’t quite managed it yet but we muddle through. While there are expectations from employers that dads will work as if they don’t have children, there won’t be much wriggle room for fathers who want to attend sports day. Women won’t be able to compete with men’s hours (and perceived flexibility) and the gender pay gap will remain. Dads will feel pressurised to provide and succeed while missing out on precious family time. Some mums will feel resentful with thoughts of bygone dreams as they descend back into the 1950s. While the NHS views baby and mum as the family unit, leaving dad to grapple with new responsibilities and emotional upheaval alone, male mental illness will persist.
That’s why I’m so passionate about the work of Fathers Network Scotland and its #HowAreYouDad campaign. We’re attempting to rectify gender inequalities in Scotland to ensure that fathers feel healthy and able to participate in family life as much as they want to. On my birthday this year, my husband and I are taking part in the Edinburgh Kiltwalk to raise money for this charity. We’ll be celebrating dads, mums, families and the wonderful community of organisations who support us.
If you’d like to join us, then I’d love to see you at the finish line for a glass of fizz.