Anyone who’s spent any amount of time around (heterosexual) couples who are just starting down Parenthood Boulevard (don’t do it, it’s a trap!) will have heard the common refrain of “things just aren’t the same between us any more”. A common complaint is that the man in the relationship feels jealous of all the attention his partner is now giving to their infant child—a sentiment that has been so naturalised in our culture that it’s almost a cliche. Of course the man feels jealous! He can’t feel as close to his child as its mother, of course he can’t. He can’t possibly hope to care for it in the same way, and not only that, but now the loving partner he’s so used to having all to himself is taken up with this new, loud family member. Life will never be the same again.
Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Because this idea that a father has a natural right to feel jealous of his own child is bullshit.
Now, no one is saying that having a new child is easy. It’s exhausting, you’re trying to figure out new routines and new ways of relating to each other, all while running on basically zero sleep. It’s not always fun, and if both partners feel a little resentful of this little bundle of joy from time to time, that is only natural. This resentment becomes a problem, however, when it becomes more than a passing moment of frustration, the kind you naturally feel when your infant, who you thought was sleeping peacefully for the first time in three days, suddenly insists that they’re literally dying when you’d just got comfy with a cup of tea and an episode of Doctor Who.
This kind of jealousy is most commonly expressed by men who are not the primary carers—the men who “help” their partners, rather than actually fucking parenting. They rely on their partners to give instructions, to keep track of what needs doing and when, to write shopping lists, to know how many clothes baby has, when baby needs to sleep and eat, and to micromanage every little detail of their domestic lives. Rather than taking an equal share of the exhausting task of raising a child—or more than one child—they put the bulk of the physical and emotional labour involved on their spouses, and claim it’s only fair because they are in paid work. All this, despite the evidence that women who are full time carers consistently work more hours, and consequently have fewer leisure hours, than men who are working full time. And then these men have the temerity to turn around and complain that their partner doesn’t give them attention any more, and that they’re jealous of their child. Their new, infant child, who can’t even see more than a few feet. There are whole counselling practices based on this form of jealousy.
Imagine that for a second. They’re jealous of a baby. And we tell them they have every right to be.
Except they don’t. Well, it’s obviously not quite that simple—you can’t help your feelings, but you can help how you deal with them and act on them. If you start resenting your child, this might be a sign that you’re an entitled dickhead who needs to get more involved with parenting and support your partner more. It might be a sign that you’ve deluded yourself into thinking you’re the centre of the universe and that your spouse somehow owes you all of her time and effort, when in fact you’re an adult human being how needs to learn how to behave like it.
There are two points to this problem, both of which should by now be obvious: the first is that there is still a significant labour gap when it comes to caring, and women are left with the majority of that labour, and are left working more hours altogether than men. The second is that there is still a tremendous sense of entitlement in normative heterosexual relationships, and it all goes one way—men feel entitled to the time and attention of their partners, even when that partner has very real demands on her time that should and must be prioritised. An infant cannot care for itself. An adult man should be able to.
And thus is born the “manchild”. How many times have our women friends joked about “having an extra child” in the form of their partner? We all laugh it off, it’s just one of those things, right? Absolutely not. The patriarchy has developed relationship norms that are not only unhealthy, but infantilise men and make us believe that it’s natural for men to be demanding, entitled, whiny babies. But this isn’t true. Men are fully grown, fully capable adults, absolutely able to take on an equal share of parenting—including the emotional labour involved—absolutely capable of recognising that their partner is not “abandoning” them, and absolutely capable of being mature, responsible, and loving of not only their partner, but their child.
That’s right, the partner is not the only one suffering here. That child is being resented instead of loved. That child is growing up seeing one parent doing all the work, while the other whines that they’re not getting enough attention—because this jealous manchild doesn’t magically grow up with the baby. Oh no, they keep throwing that sulky little tantrum forever, emotionally manipulating their partner into feeling guilty for abandoning them, when in fact they were just doing what was necessary to keep a child alive. In fact, many of these women end up driving themselves into depression, anxiety, OCD (and more), simply because they feel as though they have to prioritise everyone’s needs before their own—and, as a consequence, they never have time to prioritise themselves. They often don’t even have enough time to sleep!
So what’s the solution? Expect more of men. Stop naturalising this idea of the “manchild”, the incapable adult male who can’t possibly look after himself because he’s just a big silly man. Men are just as capable of looking after themselves and their families as women. It’s time they did.
Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017
Image from: http://www.w24.co.za/Love/Relationship/Dating-a-Man-Child-20140711