The presumption that women are primarily responsible for raising children is everywhere

Written by Gemma Fraser on 12 October 2018 in Comment

Gemma Fraser takes a look at attempts to confront paternal inequality in Scotland

Image credit: Pixabay

“Mummy do it.”

It was one of the first proper sentences my eldest daughter, now six, first strung together.

At first it was cute. But over the years it became a little tiresome – and a bit of a running joke amongst my family and friends who tried to reason with her that they were just as capable of pouring a cup of milk or cutting a sandwich in half as mummy was in order to give me a tiny bit of respite.

And while she has become a little more willing to accept help from others these days, she has always been – and I suspect always will be – a mummy’s girl.

So when I read MSP Fulton MacGregor’s motion talking about paternal inequality and “challenging the presumption that women are primarily responsible for raising children” being “key to tackling wider societal inequality”, it really struck a chord with me.

But it didn’t fill me with hope and aspiration in the way that MacGregor no doubt intended.

It just made me rather despondent, because the reality is, I don’t think there could ever be a societal shift so monumental that we could even begin to imagine a world where women weren’t “primarily responsible” for children. That presumption is real.

It’s evident at dental appointments, at playgroups, in doctors’ surgeries, at the school gates.

And it’s abundantly evident in the workplace, where those women who also happen to be mothers are overlooked for promotion, pay rises and career progression.

And it’s wrong, it’s all wrong.

I am in no way diminishing the role that fathers play – and the role that fathers want to play – in their children’s lives. My partner is the best dad I could ever want for my girls. But it is a sad reflection of society that the majority of the hard work – the laborious part of child-rearing – is still left to the mother.

And, worse still, it is expected.

I recently had a discussion with a self-employed friend, who had to cancel all her work appointments when her son was sick because it hadn’t crossed the mind of her self-employed husband that maybe he could take time off work to care for their baby.

And last year I was left speechless when my partner’s elderly relative berated me for having the audacity to pass our young baby to him for a nappy change because he had been at work all day (and clearly, I had just been sitting on my bum doing nothing while my two children looked after themselves).

Shared paternity is one of the most progressive policies ever introduced in this country as far as children and families are concerned, and fathers have been empowered by the chance to share those priceless days, weeks and months with their newborn.

But the presumption that women will pick up the slack regardless of their careers, plans or lives, is something that’s there all the time, like an unwritten rule.

And it doesn’t just need motions in parliament or legislation to change it – it needs a real shift in the way people view parenting and the way they define the role of mothers and fathers.

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