I first knew I wanted children when I saw my husband playing with his young cousins. Back then, he was my boyfriend, we hadn’t been together long and I was questioning what I wanted out of life. Then I saw my other half thronged by blonde children on the edge of giggly hysteria and realised that this was that precise tableau I desired.
“What’s your name?” he demanded of one of the children. “Daisy,” came the laughing reply. “DOZY?” thundered my husband. “What kind of name is that?” Shrieking with joy, the kids corrected him: “No, silly, Daisy!” “DAVEY? But that’s a boy’s name!” Then there was tickling and chasing and squealing, and the game began again.
My husband inspires this rabid love in children wherever he goes – weddings, friends’ houses – he puts his whole attention on them and they thrill in it, dragging him away from the grown-ups for endless hiding and crawling and kings of the castle. This is what I want, I thought to myself, I want to make people who react to him like that. And I have. I fell pregnant, we got married and now we have a son, Herbie, who screams, “Daddy!” in exactly the way Will Ferrell shouts, “Santa!” in the film Elf.
In my husband, my son has the perfect parent – always up for a romp, constantly playing, inventing and teaching – and it makes my heart swell. But the problem with his father’s four-star skills is that it throws my lower-rated parenting into sharp relief. My parenting is quieter. It really only starts after at least two coffees. CBeebies takes up some of the slack and, when my son is playing quietly on his own, I will retire to my phone for a break. My husband can invent a singing game with our son, do three loads of laundry and cook a meal from scratch at the same time. I can do these things, too, but it generally takes me all day (and, often, two) as opposed to an hour. If you were to come to our house during non-work hours, I guarantee you would find my son and husband mooching about on the floor, while I curl around a coffee on the sofa.
On the rare occasions my mum-friends grumble about their partners, I always recognise my own behaviour in their words: not engaging with the kids; sloping off to the loo with their phones
And this rankles. My husband is a better parent than me and it rankles. Even the fact that they can go off for long walks together because, if my son gets tired, my husband is big enough to carry him back (whereas my son and I are now roughly the same height) fills me with jealousy. A jealousy that is deepened by the fact that, on the rare occasions my mum-friends grumble about their partners, I always recognise my own behaviour in their words: not engaging with the kids; sloping off to the loo with their phones as a poor escape. These are all things I do.
But, then, why shouldn’t they be? Isn’t it unfeminist of me to expect myself to take easily to every aspect of parenting simply because I’m female? The reality is, my husband has more precedent: a love of cooking (I have grilled, and subsequently ruined, cakes), a background in teaching (mine is in performing arts) and – most importantly – a long history of wanting children, whereas I came late to the idea. His mother was exceptionally hands-on and capable, but mine – although engaged – encouraged “creativity” (basically, dumping a box of scarves in front of me, before retreating to a chair with a book and a coffee).
The truth is, as much as my self-loathing would like to insist that my husband is The Good Parent and I am The Bad One, we both bring different skills to parenting. My husband is more inventive. I am more patient. My husband will happily leave the house with a single nappy in his fist, whereas I pack three days’ worth of clothing and medicine for a trip to the supermarket. The real difference, though, is that I am The Night Parent. My son wakes several times in the night wanting to cuddle and feed, and I have always been the one who tends to him. The practical knock-on effects of this are that I have spent the last two years surviving on less than six hours’ sleep a night. Which, I think, allows me a couple of coffees and some lower expectations.
But, even if it didn’t, the absolute brass tacks of the matter are that, if my husband is a better parent, then it’s my job to learn from him. Because he is literally the parent that I dreamt up for my son – and I can’t ask for fairer than that.