Lots of curious things start happening when you’re a woman in your thirties. Some you expect, others not so much. A growing inability to wear heels, a compulsion to watch Newsnight, the knack of baking a lemon drizzle cake without relying on a recipe, the realisation Topshop is full of the same clothes you wore in sixth form – that sort of thing.
But what has been particularly surprising is the vanishing number of women my age in full-time work. When I was a trainee reporter the bright, intelligent, funny and hardworking women outnumbered the men.
But by the time I came to leave my last newspaper, I was one of a handful of women left – most of my peers had gone into more ‘family friendly’, childcare-compatible, part-time jobs. And it’s not hard to see why, when there’s still so much pressure in society on women to be the main, if not sole, carer for their children.
After having my son, I returned to full-time work when he was four months old. It made sense. I was in a good job and we needed my salary, while my husband was finishing his doctorate. So he took on the bulk of the childcare and study, while I brought in the money and continued my career – it seemed obvious.
But the reactions our family encountered, from the ‘concerned’ NCT types of the S11 yoga group who would shake their heads at me and patronisingly tell me ‘I couldn’t do that’, to the well-meaning elderly women who would smile at my husband in the supermarket and say ‘Oh, it’s a Daddy Day today is it?’, just proved gender stereotypes are still entrenched.
My husband is a brilliant father. He’s much more patient than I am, especially when it comes to going on the ‘big slide’ at Meersbrook Park for the 58th time, or saying hello to every animal at Graves Park.
He has much more of a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to mud, always has a snack tucked away in a back pocket, and can leave the house in 45 seconds, without frantically checking for wipes, spare pants, toys, drinks, and everything else. All the skills it takes to rear a toddler – he’s got them in spades.
It’s a shame societal norms and maternity/paternity leave mean more fathers don’t have the opportunity to stay at home with their children.
That’s why I think it’s so good Sheffield Council’s fostering service is encouraging men in particular to find out more about how they can help shape the lives of children who need loving homes with strong male role models.
To find out more visit Sheffield City Council - Fostering
* Jeni Harvey, PR, Lecturer, mum of one