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.

peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Geography Teacher

    £130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

    Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players