As a parent do you ever feel like you don’t exist? Ever said hello to a mum at a playground and been ignored?
Well it’s been happening to me quite a lot recently. The people blanking me are mums and – here’s the controversial bit – I am wondering if it’s because I’m a man.
I’m not trying to stoke up some gender-based conflict here, I’m not even sure if I’m right.
But since I gave up work to look after Billy and Frankie I’ve encountered a bizarre form of ostracism when we’re out and about at playgroups, cafes, and shops that has left me feeling confused, guilty, and then (usually around five minutes after the event) pretty pissed off.
The way I’m feeling is similar way to when you hold a door open for someone and they don’t say thank you. We’re all down with that.
Here’s a typical example, which happened today and led me to write this post.
Am I The Invisible Man?
I’m in the local playground pushing Baby Frankie on a swing. It’s quiet but not deserted and a mum is nearby with her pre-school daughter who is asking to go on the swings.
Mum looks over and sees me and the boy having fun together.
I raise my hand in a way that says, ‘Hi you can join us.’ No response.
She seems to be keeping her distance but eventually the little girl comes over and wants to go on a swing next to us. Mum comes over and lifts her in.
I smile at them both. Girl smiles at Baby Frankie (it’s hard not to). Mum ignores me.
I’m feeling a bit odd now as we’re standing right next to each other.
So I decide to say hello.
‘Hi. Lovely morning isn’t it?’
(Pretty neutral greeting I think.)
Nothing. She doesn’t even look at me. Carries on pushing her little girl who is now chatting away to my son.
I’m starting to feel like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense now so I try again, thinking she hasn’t heard over the squeals of our kids.
But no, she has heard, I can tell from the little flicker of her eyes, but she really doesn’t want to speak to me.
So eventually, because I now feel really awkward, and like I’ve done something wrong, I pick Baby Frankie out of the swing and walk away.
OK. So. She might have been feeling really tired and/or down and didn’t want to engage with strangers. That’s totally fine. We all have days like that.*
If this was a one off I’d think no more about it. But it keeps happening so there is definitely something else going on.
In the past five months since I started looking after the boys I’ve been blanked like this by a mum at least once a week and sometimes several times a week.
It could be in the queue for the tills at the supermarket and one of our children does something tedious and I do the commiseration face. Or I’m in a cafe and another child is kicking off next to us and I say something nice like, ‘Don’t worry, that was me yesterday.’
Let’s be clear. I am not one of these people who chats your ear off on the bus even when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk. I am happy in my own company. I’m not asking to be everyone’s best friend.
But being a stay at home parent of any gender can be lonely and isolating, especially if you don’t know many other people in the same boat. So those passing smiles and hellos can mean a lot if you haven’t had any conversation beyond saying ‘Do you need a wee?’ fifty times an hour.
I think this is why some elderly people say hello to strangers in the street, they just need to know that they still exist as a person and not a paper doll.
The Rare Weekday Dad
Weekend park dads are apparently acceptable to the point of being a fashion trend and a bit sexy (if you ignore the sick on their loafers). But there are fewer dads out there during the week. The Stay At Home Dads are a rare breed despite media columns to the contrary. The SAHDs. There’s an acronym to fill you with joie de vivre.
Us weekday dads, unlike lots of (but not all) mums, haven’t usually got a ready-made peer group of friends. It’s fair enough mind you, we didn’t have to carry the baby for nine months and go though hell to bring them into the world. New mums need all the support and loveliness they can get.
Weekday dads will usually be picking up the reins when their partner has returned to work so they’ve missed all the early social bonding opportunities. Or they’re single parents, in which case they may be even more in need of a friendly face.
So I’ve been pondering why I’m being shut out and came up with a few, quite possibly ridiculous, theories:
- Are dads who go to playgroups etc. seen as an annoyance or out of place? Do some mums have an issue with dads ‘invading’ their spaces?
- Do mums think dads at playgrounds are on the pull? Using our cute offspring as props? Swinging on the monkey bars and carrying our babies with a fingertip to show off our newly developed one-side-of-the-body-only muscles.
- Or perhaps they think I’m a thief. Specialising in wet wipes and Bear Snacks. Distracting my targets with hilarious tales of trying to change a nappy in a gents loo, waiting for the moment they’re distracted by a tantrum to pilfer a nappy bag. Well, yes, actually my children will try to steal your snacks. But I’ve got enough to carry already.
- I’m very unlucky in terms of the people I’m choosing to greet, are they all from a sect who take a vow of silence?
- Or perhaps I look like a psychopath after too much time spent negotiating with a three year old?
These are the kind of batshit crazy thoughts that go through my head when my innocent ‘Hello!’ has been thrown back in my face.
Random Acts Of Niceness
I now feel there is a disturbance in the force. So to balance this self-indulgent rant out, I have also had lots of brilliant chats with mums and dads and grandparents and nannies and lots of other people during the months I’ve been with the boys.
The last thing I want to do is upset anyone. So perhaps it isn’t a dad issue, and mums are being blanked by other mums and are wondering what they did wrong?
OK let’s all have a time out. Here’s what I want us all to do. In the spirit of that very cheesy film Pay It Forward, let’s unleash a wave of goodwill to fellow parents (and extend it to everyone else of course).
Be open to chatting with the person who’s looking a bit lost at the stay and play session, like they’re wondering what the fuck happened to their life and the person they were (unless they’re just having a well earned rest and/or checking their Insta).
If someone speaks to you don’t assume they are a threat to you or your kids or that they are ‘after something’. Take the opportunity for a break in the day, a chance encounter, a human interaction without an agenda.
If another parent or carer tentatively smiles or speaks to you when you’re out – even if you’ve been up all night, even if your kids are pushing all your buttons and discovering your zips and velcro, even if you really can’t be fucking arsed with anyone and the next person who speaks to you will be getting a slap. Even then.
Take a moment, take a breath, and smile.
It probably won’t be the start of a beautiful friendship, but you might have made someone else’s day a whole lot better than it was.
(Then if you must, walk away and tell the first pigeon you see to piss off.)
*I want to add that I am aware that with regard to the example above, in the worst case scenario this woman had had a really bad experience with a man and I triggered something by speaking to her, obviously I really hope that wasn’t the case.
Categories: Big Issues