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The luxury of changing one’s mind

They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. But there’s something missing from that line: women can change their minds about what to wear, or what to have for supper… trivial things. Men – judging from my acquaintance – can change their minds about big things. Like whether they want to be parents. Once they already are.

This post is brought to you out of, not bitterness, but bafflement and no small amount of anger. I’ve just heard from a friend that she’s split up with her partner, and the father of their child, because “he wasn’t happy… He didn’t want to give up the life he had before the baby. It wasn’t what he thought it would be like.” 

Another friend’s fiancé left her late in her pregnancy. He simply changed his mind about wanting a family.

Other friends have told me that their husbands “don’t really do babies”. That they have never changed a nappy. Or they make a show of their great virtue after minding the kids for 45 minutes at the weekend. Funnily enough these husbands also complain about their wives being not so fun any more and wonder when they’re going to behave like the cheerful, energetic creatures they married.

Of course I have only one side of the story. Of course it is also true that women exist who leave their families. I theenk however it doesn’t happen quite so easily that way around.

I’ll try not to harp on the obvious points – the utter selfishness and immaturity of this behaviour. And I certainly don’t want to make this an attack on men as a category. (My own A totally gets it and is totally THERE for all the agony of the baby phase – and he wouldn’t want it any other way. And you know what? That horrible baby phase still almost ruined our marriage. Babies. Suck. They really do. Looking after babies is unspeakably hard and brutal and relentless and as much as we all love our kids, I bet a lot of women can 100% relate to the desire to change your mind about having them.)

It just seems to me that, for a society in which it is often quite seriously claimed that feminism is no longer relevant, we are not doing a great job of teaching our menfolk to be grown-ups. 

Babies suck. Marriage is hard when you’re under that much stress. It’s horrible confronting the degree to which your life changes. These things are enough to make anyone want to run away, but they are (a) entirely predictable; (b) problems that apply, not equally to both parents, but even more to the primary caregiver, usually the mother (in a heterosexual partnership); (c) things that can be gotten through, with a bit of effort. And making that effort should be an absolute no-brainer if you have any self-respect whatsoever, because who would leave at least two human beings in the lurch just because you changed your damn mind?

So why are men still doing this? Why does it even cross their minds as an option? 

Because we are not teaching them better. We are not expecting more of them. We are allowing it. The cultural narrative still, in 2015, holds that women are nurturers and men aren’t. (And that women are fickle. Nobody ever said the culture was consistent.)

We need to tell a different damn story. We need to expect better. We need to make sure that being a man is not a different thing to being a grown-up.

I can’t bear to imagine this still being a thing when my kids are having kids, but looking at the culture right now, there’s no reason to think it will change. Can we please. PLEASE. Do better.

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