Men about the house

Sharing a home with five males isn't always easy. But Claire McDonald's unconventional household has caused her to rethink her ideas about gender

I grew up in a haze of pink. A hands-off approach to parenting by my father meant it was just my mum bringing up my sister and me. We didn't mind, as we skipped from ballet class to Brownies, with our Sindy dolls in our pretend handbags. Our days were filled with playing mummies and daddies, reading books about fairy princesses, and caring for dolls that cried and weed.

At 11 years old, I started my all-girl secondary school, and the oestrogen overdose continued. There were boys, but they were at the school next door, kept at bay by a big wire fence. Phew.

My twenties came and I lived in a shared house with four girlfriends. We cooked for each other, shared clothes and make-up, gossiped, and exchanged caring, nurturing advice. There were boyfriends, but nothing penetrated the core group of good female friends.

So what the hell happened? Why am I now living with five men?

It started gradually. In my early thirties, I met my husband. We went on several dates where he took me to see musicals, go roller skating and watch Dirk Bogarde films. Despite initial appearances he was in fact heterosexual, but my guard had been lowered, and he infiltrated my oestrogen-heavy world. He wasn't like other men. He cooked, he could talk about important things without going into the foetal position and rocking, and he left the loo seat down.

Three years ago, we had a child. A boy. It was a shock. There was a small willy involved (my son's). I didn't really know what to do with it. I'd never even seen a little boy's willy at close quarters before, and now I had one for which I was responsible.

Two years later, I had child number two. Another boy. This is when I realised that life as I knew it was going to change, dramatically. Instead of pretty dresses, ballet and long, emotional chats, the next 18 years are going to be full of football, fighting and mud. I've always loathed football. I'm not that into mud, either.

As if our small worker's cottage in south London weren't testosterone-filled enough, a year after the arrival of our second son, two of my husband's three brothers moved in.

It's a strange transition, going from an all-female household to an all-male one. I am now used to entering the bathroom and the loo seat is up. I'm just thankful if they've flushed. Curry used to be a monthly meal, but now, we have it at least once a week, and the fridge is full of brown ale. We get through mountains of food; a kilo of porridge oats lasts a couple of days, a two-litre bottle of milk just 24 hours. The amount of methane expelled from our house has undoubtedly increased, and is released with more flourish than before.

The Xbox used to gather dust next to the telly, but now, it looks suspiciously shiny, and I'm pretty sure that every time I leave the room, even if it's just to sneeze, the controller is whipped out for a quick round of Fifa 2010. Saturday night is always topped off by an episode of Match of the Day.

Nerdy film references frequently whizz over my head – as does most of the conversation, as the three adult males in the family range from 6ft 1in to 6ft 5in. And it's not just the altitude at which the conversation is made which makes it hard to understand; it is also the content. For a group of emotionally articulate, intelligent men, they do talk a load of rubbish.

When my husband, Liam, used to return from visits to his brothers at home in Wales, before they moved in with us, I would ask how each of them was, how their partners were, what they were up to. To each question I would receive the answer "I don't know, we didn't talk about it."

I would wonder how they could spend an entire weekend with each other and not talk about these things. Now, I know. It's because they spend all their time referencing obscure indie films, making inane in-jokes, and generally talking absolute twaddle. Get them on their own and you can have interesting, intelligent chats. Get them together and you're lucky to find out the answer to "What's the time?"

However, upraised loo seats and a love of football notwithstanding, our lives together are far less clichéd than you might imagine. The reason Brendan, 34, moved in with us was to be our nanny. His brilliance with children, and the slow job market in Wales, meant it was the obvious answer to all our needs. He looks after our young boys three days a week, and gives them all the mud, football and play-fighting their hearts desire. This means that on the days I look after them, I don't feel guilty about doing the things I enjoy more, such as cooking, colouring and reading.

Tristan, 27, the youngest brother, moved in with us three months ago. He has a job, and has just lined up a flat, but we don't want him to leave. Partly because we like him, but mainly because he is a fantastic cook. Each night, he rustles up a delicious meal from what we have in the cupboard while Liam and I bathe the children and put them to bed. At the same time, Brendan tidies the house, putting the plastic cars and farm animals back in their rightful boxes.

This is probably key to the success of the whole situation. When a couple have two young children to look after, there's not much time for anything other than the rudiments of living. But with four adults involved it suddenly becomes far more palatable. Food is tasty again, the house is tidy. There is time to chat over dinner, relax in front of the television, or even go out, as we have permanent babysitters.

Yes. We are living in domestic bliss. It couldn't get any better. I feel happier than I ever have. If you had told my 20-year-old self this is how I'd live, with five men, I would have assumed it would involve my doing all the work. Instead, I would say that it really is equally shared. The men are tidier than I am. Much tidier. They are less able to bear mess, so are often found on their knees picking up Duplo, or doing the washing-up, whereas I'm quite happy to step over it. On the other hand, I do mind germs, so I'm the one scrubbing the bathroom every week, whereas the men don't seem to notice the layer of scum building up on the bath. But it's a fair swap.

So my feminist, or maybe sexist, assumptions have been smashed to smithereens. And that's not the only part of my feminism to go up in smoke. With two vulnerable little boys to take care of, I realise that men are not the doltish enemy. I now realise my feminist stance has always been simplistic. Men were a bit rubbish and women were great. All the bad things in the world are done by men, and the good things are done by women – men fight, women give birth, etc etc. Arguably I had this view because I'd had so little interaction with men that I'd allowed myself to build up a very stereotypical view. However, living with so many of them has caused me to change it completely.

Now, I realise that there are many problems and issues that affect men and boys and I slavishly read the many, many books on the subject, hoping that I can clear the path for my sons a little. It's a complicated world that they are being launched into, and they need all the help they can get. I'm even beginning to change my long-held views on football...

It seems that football, watching as well as playing, can improve many aspects of masculinity. According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, watching football "plays a cathartic role that provides an opportunity to express internalised emotion that men find difficult to express in other ways. For young men in particular, the opportunity to externalise tension and emotion is important to maintaining health. One in four experiences a mental health problem in any one year, and suicide is the most common form of death for young men under the age of 35."

It's statistics such as this which have got me actively encouraging the big boys to watch Match of the Day with the little boys every Sunday morning, while I make breakfast. In my pinny. Just don't tell my 20-year-old self.

Why it's not a man's world

* Girls outperform boys at all levels of education in the UK from Key Stage 1 to higher education. Some 64 per cent of girls achieved five or more GCSE grades A*-C, compared with 54 per cent of boys in 2006.

* Boys are twice as likely as girls are to suffer from emotional, behavioural or mental health problems when aged between 5 and 10, a British Medical Association report in 2006 said.

* Boys are four times more susceptible to problems such as ADHD and dyspraxia, and nine times more likely to have Asperger's syndrome, says Sue Palmer in her book 21st Century Boys.

* Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that there are more women than men entering full-time undergraduate courses: in autumn 2006, 54 per cent of those who gained a place were women.

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum