Twist­ing the knife

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

When­ever I’m in the mood for self-tor­ture I re­mind my­self of a pass­ing com­ment made to me about nine years ago that felt like a punch in the stom­ach.

I’d gone to pick up my daugh­ter Minka, about 15 months old then, from her day­care and a woman who worked there rushed over to tell me how well Minka was do­ing, how she no longer burst into tears when­ever an un­fa­mil­iar adult walked into the room.

She no longer... what? At that stage my daugh­ter had been there for months and this was the first I’d heard of this dis­turb­ing be­hav­iour. So while I’d been at work, doo­dling on notepads in meet­ings, go­ing out for cof­fees, Googling my­self, what­ever... she’d been trawl­ing through end­less days, ter­rorised each time an­other tall stranger strode into her world. An­other per­son that wasn’t me or her dad or any­one she’d learned to trust.

Don’t worry, she’s fine now. But I can still twist that guilty knife any time I want. It never fails to hurt.

And I was lucky. I had a full year at home with my baby. I used to prop her up in her push-chair and wheel it into the kitchen and, while I whipped up strange con­coc­tions (blended liver and ap­ple, any­one?), I would chat to her like a kid pre­tend­ing to be on a cook­ing show. And she would chat back – just not in English. Did I feel like a loser oc­ca­sion­ally? Yes. Be­cause that’s the thing – you can’t win. You feel cast out from the grown-up world at home. Guilty as hell at work.

This isn’t just a fe­male is­sue. Most fa­thers want to spend time with their ba­bies too – they don’t want to be those es­tranged dads of last cen­tury. But a friend who works as an in­dus­trial re­la­tions re­search con­sul­tant told me that men, like women, find that work­ing part-time or flexi-hours holds them back in the cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment. They get side-lined for pro­mo­tions, not taken as se­ri­ously as their full-time col­leagues. Seems like they can’t “have it all” ei­ther.

I don’t want to lay these prob­lems at the feet of the sec­ond-wave fem­i­nists, the ones who fought for women to be al­lowed ca­reers. They made a huge leap for evo­lu­tion, but if com­bin­ing par­ent­hood and work without los­ing your mind was the goal, we’re not quite there yet.

The problem is, we un­der­es­ti­mated the ba­bies. They are com­plex lit­tle hu­mans that can­not be folded up and packed off to fit con­ve­niently around our sched­ules. And their tol­er­ance for Par­lia­ment? Zero. Just ask ex MP Holly Walker. She’s on page 10.

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