Every mother's done it: nagged her other half about something to do with their child. And it's usually about the blindingly obvious, let's face it. What dad isn't capable of remembering to wipe a dripping nose/take a coat out when it's cold/bring some nappies/or pack some snacks for a trip out? (Delete as appropriate: I just checked and I'm apparently guilty of all of them.)
So the news that one dying mum felt the need to remind her husband to kiss their sons twice after she had gone, plus 81 other similarly useful gems on a special to-do list raised more than a few male hackles. You might wonder which father wouldn't think of embracing his bereaved children. Yet that is exactly what Kate Greene, who tragically left her six- and four-year-old boys motherless after succumbing to breast cancer, told her partner, St John Greene, to do upon her death. Along with remembering to help them if they ask; not giving them tomatoes unless in sauce or soup; teaching them to swim before letting them loose in a boat on their own; and taking them to watch an international rugby match.
You can't help but wonder just how little she thought of his parenting skills to feel the need to point out his sons, Reef and Finn, might like a playroom for their toys or that he should "go to as many school activities as possible". And yet, admittedly several months after his wife's death in January, St John has shared his wife's "Mummy Manual" with the world.
I'd be willing to bet many thousands of mums would have written something similar. And given society's low opinion of most fathers, I'd warrant a fair few could do with the advice. Not for nothing did the celebrated American author Michael Chabon point out in his 2009 essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs, that: "The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low," shortly after recounting how one woman told him he was "such a good dad" just by watching him stand in a supermarket queue with his son.
Until dads take on their share of responsibility when it comes to childcare – and I'm talking about more than merely earning the money to pay the bills – "tips" like Kate Greene's are going to keep on coming. One male I know admitted receiving three pages of A4 after his own mother died, full of advice on caring for his child. Some of it was obvious, like taking him out on trips. But despite initially blanching, he admits he later saw it for what it was – "heartfelt advice given selflessly". And some of the more emotionally minded suggestions, like dishing out the odd extra cuddle and being a tad more indulgent, actually came in handy.
It isn't that fathers are useless. But nine times out of 10 it is still the mother who bears the brunt of the childcare responsibility in most households. Witness Yvette Cooper's decision not to run against her husband, Ed Balls, for the job of Labour leader; she was worried about the small matter of looking after three children, the youngest of whom had barely started school. She probably realised too that one family drama was quite enough for one election.
Although we're used to women stepping into the workplace, we're far less used to men filling in behind them. Until there is more than one token father at our local playgroup, or I actually see a dad sporting a "Jamie" – a Storksak nappy changing bag designed especially for a man to carry – then I think mums are at liberty to nag a bit. And that definitely includes banning chips for lunch.Reuse content