Oh to be Ita! ~ My IdeaLife

Friday 22 April 2011

Oh to be Ita!

Like many in Australia I tuned in to the ABC’s Paper Giants on Sunday and Monday nights. I was born in the 70s and the footage of red rattlers~, paperboys selling at intersections, 20c tolls on the harbour bridge all brought back so many of my own childhood memories. Add to this the fact my Dad was a newspaper man, and for me the nostalgia of the series was like a beautiful warm blanket wrapped around what in essence was an amazing true story of a woman and mother: Ita Buttrose. No wonder I sat there mesmerised despite my sleep deprivation.

Putting the sentimentality of the series aside, one scene stuck in my mind. It was where Ita arrives home to her ultimately ungrateful, student husband after an obviously long and stressful day at work (picture all 6’2” of Kerry Packer in full flight yelling down at you) only to start dinner for him ‘Do you want onions with your steak?’ and then sit down to the sewing machine!

Now I have issues, namely two boys and a man, but none of my males expect this sort of service, thank goodness. So am I out there celebrating this fact? - no instead I’ve been having hormone-fueled meltdowns over things like having to settle both kids most nights or because my husband reads the paper on the weekend while shoveling cereal into our 2 year old, which is not my idea of great parenting. 

In fact the list of my grievances is quite long and I know the generation of women before me would probably not understand how or why given how relatively good I've got it. So I did some soul-searching as not so fond of the shouting fishwife lurking far too close to the surface. What I discovered was that expectations are the root of all evil.

I grew up naively thinking that men and women were equal and I expected my husband to be my equal partner in parenthood. So I went to university, I focused on my career, I learnt how to change tyres and the oil on a car, I went overseas by myself, I climbed the corporate ladder. On paper there was no clue that my resume was that of a female’s.

Then I fell pregnant and went on maternity leave. Surprisingly the birth, the obvious gender difference in all this, had nothing on becoming a mum. Fatherhood and motherhood I discovered are entirely different experiences.

Consider these facts about my husband:
  • He can sleep through a house-trembling, vomit-producing, full volume baby's cry
  • He feels no guilt about leaving the room for 40 minutes without explanation of where he is going while I’m left baby and a toddler either side of me – and it’s the weekend!
  • He has never been a father before but he is entirely confident that every scream from an under 18mth old is teeth and therefore can be easily dismissed with panadol
  • As soon as his head hits the pillow and sometimes before, usually during a conversation, he falls asleep
  • I’m unable to fall asleep without first running through a checklist of room temperatures, locked doors, open windows, charged monitors
  • A crying baby literally makes my stomach churn, let alone wakes me up
  • I can’t make a decision without first thinking of someone else's well being, god forbid I just go out and have time to myself. 
No wonder I’m mad (in all senses of the word).

Don’t get me wrong; my husband is by all accounts amazing. He’s one of the ‘nice’ guys: honest and hardworking and always willing to help. He even makes an effort to come home early from work, and the best part is he’s more obsessed with household chores than I am.

So does this generation of women expect the wrong things from their husbands?
Should we be content that our husband's role is fundamentally different but equally as valuable to the family?

At the very least I feel there needs to be an adjunct to the women's liberation message. I would hate to see another generation of girls growing up thinking that men are their equals in every way including parenthood when there are differences that mean you probably will take more time out from your career, you probably will earn less as a result, you probably will get less sleep when your children are babies and you’ll probably also get less leisure/alone time. In fact your world will probably be turned upside down and inside out and your husband’s will just shift a little to the right.

I’m not ungrateful to the Germaine Greers of this world; in fact I am completely indebted to them. I would have stabbed myself in the eye if cooking and cleaning while attached to  a sewing machine were expected of me. I also know that women’s liberation allows us to make decisions that do make us very close to equal if we choose. What they didn’t say though is that most of us would do this carrying around truckloads of guilt, resulting in a woman that is equal on the outside while beating herself up on the inside.

It seems there's no getting away from the differences between fathers and mothers, as research* shows the relational strength of the female brain is in stark contrast to the systematic male brain, in part caused by a combination of differences in neural brain structure and hormones. In layman’s terms: men can’t hear a human voice when a team is running around a field kicking a piece of air-filled leather, and women can’t not hear every voice, emotion, vibe, raised eyebrow within a 50m radius, not counting social media.

This doesn’t mean I am comfortable watching someone as brilliant as Ita Buttrose perform the role of full-time housewife and breadwinner, on the contrary. I just know I would be less agitated day-to-day if I hadn’t walked into parenthood with the expectation that my husband and I would equally share the mundane and exhausting tasks required to maintain a family. We don't and that doesn’t make me unliberated it just means I have a brain of the empathising kind* and he has a systematic one and you can guess who drew the short straw, well for now anyway. 

Please don’t slap me Ita! 

Would you like Motherhood more if you'd been prepared for
the gender inequality involved?

~ Red rattlers were the old trains that were around in the 70s - they were way past their use by date as had been in service for at least 20 yrs!
* They just can’t help it, Simon Baron-Cohen, The Guardian, April 17, 2003


  1. Love this post! My hubby drives me to drink when he refuses to discipline our daughters for bad behavior. His thought is..."she's five years old...I know she's smart, but don't expect her to behave like she's 25."

    Ya...well, if he spent ALL day EVERY day living with the 5 yr old behaviors, would he respond differently? The thing that makes me crazy is that I know he's right! I spend a lot of time worrying that if I don't correct certain behaviors now, they'll be out of control and ten times worse when they're teenagers. Or will they? Maybe it's just a short phase.

    Parenting is so hard sometimes. But oh, what a reward and blessing!!


  2. Hahaha, this post is so very true! Sometimes I wish I could trade places with my husband for a week so that he could see that looking after a rambunctious toddler all day is, in fact, HARD work, and he doesn't have the short end of the stick after all. They need to do a show called 'Role Swap' instead of 'Wife Swap.'
    P.S. love your blog, I'm following you now. :)

  3. Thank you both for your lovely comments!


  4. Hi Nicole!
    You know, I do feel exactly like you at times. Your life is a bit more heavy duty than mine though. 3 males, huh? Well, just think of yourself as their queen and that without you, the palace would be in ruins.
    I love this post, because I feel like you described many women's lives very well.

    Overall, I hope you're well.

    Take care.


    Lexie Lane

  5. I feel the exact same way! My husband is wonderful too, and I know I'm lucky, but it gets to me that a couple of weeks ago he told me the toddler is watching too much tv, and when I asked him to look after her later that same day while I ran errands, he had the tv on the whole time! I think if I went away for a week he wouldnt struggle, he would have his mum come over everyday to do everything instead of finding a way to juggle it like I do. Could be worse though, I just have to accept that we are different and he loves us and still takes great care of us in his own way :)

  6. Thanks Nicole, great post and totally agree - what is it with most men that they can't see what we see and blame their lack of multitasking skills on why they don't pull their weight? I've been working on my husband for 12 years now to retrain him from what his mother failed to do and make him a modern male partner - not working very well!!! And as for Paper Giants - absolutely loved it (will be following you now) and I even wrote about it (please follow me too?) http://beccibird.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-i-loved-paper-giants.html

  7. Thanks Lexie, EP&M, Becci & Marissa,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I just wish I didn't sweat the little things so much as he does some pretty big good stuff like taking the toddler with him to the supermarket yesterday!

    P.S. Am following you too.

  8. Oh I am so lucky, my husband is a great help. But funnily enough he doesn't find kid appropriate activities to do with them when he looks after them while i go to work, or am busy in the house on a weekend, he has the kids potter around him as he, services the ride on mower, re-wires the whipper snipper, cleans the avery, or services the car. and you know what, they don't seem to complain either.. I wonder if i have it all wrong sometimes.

  9. Nicole,
    Love this post! Sometimes it just seems that the hubbies don't quite get the responsibility part of it. Sure, they do what we ask of them but why can't they just figure it out on their own?? Gotta love 'em!
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Mina - thank you very much, so glad you enjoyed it! I think our blokes know that we'll automatically take the main responsibility and so they become our less responsible assistants. I just wish I knew it was a given that women were the children's singular CEO!

  11. My #1 Hubby breathes. That's a start. But seriously, it is the modern day struggle - lamenting how mothers and fathers are not equal in the division of parental labour, and you can't even rely on your own mother for back-up, since they tell you how much better you have it than they ever did, how much more they were expected to do. The one thing I'm going to teach my son and 2 daughters - everyone is equal. Male, female, stay at home parent or breadwinner. Ooh...this is my very first serious and non-sarcastic comment or post! I feel so mature and grown up! Ok...to lighten it up in conclusion...recently found out that - after FIFTEEN years together - #1 Hubby deliberately mixes whites and colours and uses hot water in the wash to mix the colours, and deliberately hangs the clothes all doubled over and messy - because he knows I then tell him not to bother, because I'll do it myself. Grrrr....outsmarted!

  12. Hi Parental Parody, tell me about it with the mother thing, my mother just looks sideways at me and I feel useless! What they don't understand is the energy required to work as well as be a Mum. But mine had an answer for that too - she'd live in rags before going back to work with kids so little so I'm in a lose lose situation there and heap on the guilt - yay! Hopefully it will be better again for the next generation and we can say 'In my day....' when they complain! Thanks for commenting btw you gave my hubby and I a good giggle!


  13. I read this and thank god I'm gay. If a guy had that attitude towards my kids or just the general household, I'd leave.

    But, lucky for me, I have a wonderful wife instead and everything is 100% equal in every way - and no stress. It's bliss. I'd highly recommend it :P :P


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