Dear dads in the playground,
I see you standing there and I know by your body language that you feel a bit awkward and out of place. Like you don’t really belong, because all around you is a sea of mums. We’ve had some kind of progress over the last ten years, but you’re still a minority here.
Don’t stand there on your own, though. Come and talk to me. Because you might feel like an outsider, but I feel like an imposter.
Sure, I’m the same gender as most of the other parents here, but I don’t think of myself as one of them. We have the same credentials on paper, which is to say that we are mothers and we are here to collect our children. But I look at these other women and I don’t feel like I’m part of the clan.
It’s hard to explain why that is, really. I could say it’s because I’m a “young mum”, but I’m not far off turning 30 now and I don’t really think that applies anymore. Maybe it’s because I perceive these other women to be more successful than I am, both as mothers and in their working lives. It could even simply be the fact that they look like they’ve got their shit together and I don’t feel like I ever will.
Or it might just be the difference between their expensive Ugg boots and my battered Converse.
But the thing is, you dads make me feel at ease. I don’t struggle to make conversation with you. When you’re having a shit time and you’re tired and running out of patience, you don’t grit your teeth and pretend everything’s fine. You own it. You’re not in competition with anybody, but I feel like us mums always are. We are always trying to be better than the mum next to us.
I mean, that’s not the case once you’ve scratched the surface and cultivated a proper friendship with a fellow mum. Then the warts-and-all of motherhood comes out and I feel like it’s okay to admit that some days I struggle. But when you’re just chatting in the playground, you laugh off the fact that your toddler has scribbled all over your linoleum floor, even though you feel like you’re dying a little bit inside every time you look at it. You don’t admit that you’ve ever lost your shit and shouted, or wondered for just a fleeting second if it was such a good idea to have children after all.
But you dads do, and I admire you so much for that. Here are three recent conversations I’ve had with dads:
Dad 1: “I’m so tired I feel like my eyelids are turning inside out. When is he ever going to just sleep through the night?!”
Dad 2: “How was your summer? Ours was looooooonnnngggg.”
Dad 3: “I know all of the parenting books tell you that you shouldn’t do it and it doesn’t work and it’s the worst parenting fail ever… but the only time he listens to me is when I shout at him!”
I’ve never heard any of the mums in the playground say any of those things to each other. And it’s not that I don’t think they ever do, it’s just that they do it in the evening over dinner with their partners or during a rare outing for drinks with their trusted mum confidantes. But I’m not like them; I’m more like you. I don’t see the point in pretending, because I don’t understand why we perpetuate this competitive culture.
So come and talk to me. Tell me you’re tired and struggling and your kids drove you to despair last night when they flatly refused to get out of the bath and go to bed. I won’t judge you; I’ll empathise completely. I love my children. I love them so much that when they hug me, I never want to let them go. I look forward to seeing their faces and hearing their little voices every single morning when I wake up.
But I am not sailing through this and I can’t be bothered to try and keep up the facade that I am.
You’re all brilliant dads, and I can see that you love your children just as fiercely as I do my own. I can see it in their faces when they are so delighted that daddy is picking them up today, and in your own when you sweep them up into your arms. But your honesty comforts me, and I hate to see you standing there alone.
And if you’re reading this as a fellow mum and you feel like you don’t belong, it’s not just you; I’m right there with you. I’ll be the awkward to your uncomfortable, if you like.
We’re all in this together, aren’t we?