Friday 9 December 2016

Bringing up baby is easy, man

Women tend to think they're far better than men at looking after children, but Eilis O'Hanlon isn't so sure

Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30

Men are better around kids when they've grown up a bit. Deposit Photos
Men are better around kids when they've grown up a bit. Deposit Photos
Eilis O'Hanlon

Men rarely make any effort to hide their spectacular lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of spending time with their own children as babies.

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In fact, when our firstborn was firstly born, Himself's considered opinion of her was that she was, and I quote, "just a lump, really". He was even heard to declare - again, I quote - that she was "a bit like the cat . . . only less interesting".

Men just don't get babies. Blame their evolutionary psychology, which means they'd rather be out on the savannah hunting wild buffalo than sitting by the fireside nurturing the next generation, but they just don't. Sitting by the fireside watching the snooker, yes, but not nurturing.

Women, by contrast, tend to coo over babies. They find the interaction with them endlessly fascinating - it melts their heart, activates their maternal instincts, whatever.

Men just find them boring. They sleep, they eat, they throw up, they dirty their nappies, they sneeze out vast quantities of the nasal equivalent of toxic waste on to every available surface, then they go to sleep again. Babies, I'm talking about, not men.

Though, now you mention it . . .

In a way, I can understand how men feel. I'm not a great one for cooing either, and I've never found the right balance of cloying insincerity which allows me to pretend that other women's newborn babies are beautiful, because - purlease, they know that's not true, right? Other people's babies really are just lumps, and ugly as sin with it. Only your own look good.

As Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary once said, "children are a bit like farts, you can just about tolerate your own".

Either way, men are much better at being around kids when they've grown up a bit. (Again, I'm talking about the children, not the men, though it must mean something that I have to keep clarifying that.) When junior starts walking and talking and you can actually have fun with them, that's when fathers come into their own.

It doesn't have to be very sophisticated fun. They'll happily roll around on the floor, jump on top of them, toss them in the air, dangle them upside down by the ankles. But it's definitely at this point that women realise they need the male sex, because we tend to stand on the sidelines at such moments, panicking at the imminent harm which is about to come to our offspring as their father plays a game of Fling The Toddler Across The Room Into A Pile Of Cushions.

Or a personal favourite in our house - See How Many Stairs You Can Jump Down Without Breaking A Leg.

Our role as mothers is to urge everyone to be careful, because it will "all end in tears" or "someone will get their eye put out", while secretly being glad that one of you is brave - or, let's be honest, stupid - enough to engage in such potentially bone-threatening behaviour, because, while it kills us to admit it, children not only love this rough play, they need it. Bouts of anarchy are character-building.

They'll certainly look back on those days when their father encouraged them to slide down the hill on a piece of wood because "it'll be a laugh" much more fondly than they will on that time their mother spent three hours adjusting the straps on the buggy to make sure it was the Safest Mode Of Transportation Ever.

Some women steadfastly refuse to admit that men have got this one right, but they should learn how to stop worrying and love the brawn. If you've got a man who likes hanging out with the children when they're old enough to hit him with sticks, but isn't too keen on the changing-nappies thing when they're helpless and wrinkly, you're doing fine. If said fella doesn't want to do either, then you have a problem; but deal with it then, not in advance. Somehow, we've got it in our heads that men and women should do the same things and think the same thoughts, and what we usually mean by that is that men should be more like us. Maybe we'd be a lot happier if we learned to be a bit more like them.

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