No one has ever asked my husband how he reconciles his work and three children. Or whether he’s taking time off for his sick daughter

Tenderness and freedom

No one has ever asked my husband how he reconciles his work and three children. ‘How do you find time for household duties and still have a moment for yourself in all of this? For cycling, films, books, meetings? How do you handle all of this?’ They ask me that a lot.

This shows how strong the stereotype of parenthood whose pillar is the mother still is in Poland. She is the one who should put the children first, the man doesn’t always have to. He’s forgiven more, he’s the one who the nurse will hold the door for at the clinic when he walks with the stroller.

No one has ever told or asked my husband what he does to look good while having three kids, what he does to keep ‘that figure’.

He has never heard in a clinic: ‘Daddy, you missed a vaccination’. It happened to me: ‘Mummy missed one’. A joke, but a condescending one.

My husband has never heard: ‘Oh boy, your kids are sick again? Are you taking a day off?’

Rarely has anyone pointed out to my husband that his child is doing something wrong – and when they do make such a remark, it’s not made in a judgemental, authoritative tone.

I once heard that I wasn’t firm enough. That in certain situations you have to be strict, when a child doesn’t want to leave the playground, you have to say firmly: ‘We’re going’. And I ask about everything. That you mustn’t let children do whatever they want.

I try to ask. Asking questions is the foundation of a partnership relationship, the opposite of a power relationship, I can’t imagine dragging a friend somewhere by force against her will. So I ask, I clarify, I explain to the kids why we have to go already.

No one has ever asked my husband why he wanted to have three children. They ask me that. I won’t answer, I don’t know. All my pregnancies were planned, wanted, expected. I wanted to give my kids a home that I perhaps never had. I wanted them to have siblings, to have each other. In more difficult times, when my maternal identity gets to me, I think about the freedom I no longer have and constant deficits (lack of time, lack of freedom, lack of money, etc.). On the other hand, there’s a bond that I have never had with anyone. Occasionally someone asks me (but not my husband): why does one have children? For nothing. Children are for nothing. Children are not ‘for something’. They just ARE. In a perfect world, it would be good if parents loved them. This is not always the case.

The independent mothers I know say they hear even more. Because they are the ones who are held responsible for the child. They are the ones who are called into the school in the first place. They are the ones who hear that they should create the best possible environment for the child, because divorce is a major experience for their daughter or son.

They are the ones who hear from some that they definitely ‘bought a dress with the alimony’. They are the ones who hear – indirectly – that they don’t have the right to take care of themselves, they shouldn’t, the child should be on the first place.

‘I once heard from a psychologist that I should find a man so that there would be a male element in the house’, says my friend.

They hear that they should ‘finally get their lives together’. Do their ex-partners, husbands hear the same thing?

Mothers whose children have moved out of the house say that people ask them: ‘Don’t you wish they weren’t gone? Don’t you have empty nest syndrome?’.

Mothers still hear more than fathers in Poland. But let me be clear, this is not a piece about fathers. This is a piece about social expectations. There are many fantastic men who get involved, share responsibilities, handle the same amount of housework as their partners.

But it’s not just mothers who hear questions about children. Non-mothers, childless women hear them too. ‘Didn’t you want to have kids?’, ‘Why don’t you have any children?’, ‘When are you going to get pregnant?’ And during the holidays: ‘I hope you’ll finally start a family’.

There’s no end to disciplining women.

The first time my husband took time off for child care, someone asked him: ‘Can’t your wife do it?’. That’s all he heard.


Author: Monika Tutak - Goll


The text was published on on 28 May 2022