Friday, August 17, 2007

The weaker sex?

This is going to be a serious post, because last night I heard some bad news. The husband of an acquaintance has had a breakdown, after suffering from depression for a long time.

This was particularly sad, because this couple have three young children, one of whom is autistic. It was also devastating because it was the second friend who has suffered that experience in just a few years, another having been left as a single mother to four children, one autistic.

Earlier this week I mentioned Charlotte Moore's book George and Sam which chronicles life with two autistic sons...and a third who doesn't have autism. Her ex-husband too, suffered serious mental health issues.

It is interesting that in each of these cases it is the father who has suffered the most and I wondered why. When you discover your child is not 'normal', whatever that means, there is always a period of grieving to go through, grief for the child you once expected. Denial is a normal and recognised part of that. Some parents get through the stage of denial and on to the all important acceptance of the child and the problem much faster than others. Some never quite make it.

Mothers still tend to be the primary providers of childcare. This has good and bad sides. They are more involved with the professionals working with their children and therefore tend to be more knowledgeable about what help is on offer and what needs to be done to get it, as sadly we have to fight for that help only too often. They probably have more opportunities to meet other parents in the same position. I am sure it is no coincidence that our support group coffee mornings are almost exclusively attended by mums. On the other hand, they probably have far more exposure to 'normally' developing children and the comparison with their own offspring can be very painful.

Fathers tend to suffer alone. They may be ashamed to tell friends and work colleagues about their child's problems. They just don't have the same external support networks as we do. They may feel inadequate because this, unlike a DIY task, is not something they can put right and they may be struggling to keep the family afloat financially on one salary. They may be embarrassed to be seen with their child and are perhaps more likely to be influenced by cultural attitudes to disability.

Part of motherhood, for most women, is putting your child's needs before your own. We tend to have a primeval instinct to look after our children and accept the compromises that can involve. If we feel we are not coping we are more likely to consult our GP. Many women with special needs children are, or have been, on anti-depressants and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Men, on the other hand, may just adopt what I call the 'head in the sand' approach, that if you don't acknowledge something it will go away. Perhaps they really are the weaker sex because they can't ease the burden by sharing as women do.

I'm clutching at straws here. I don't know the answer. I just know that in this respect I have so far been lucky, unlike my two friends who are now struggling to cope with their children effectively alone.

Three notable things will return next time!


Natalie Devoe said...

My heart goes out to your friends and their families.

Through the ups and downs of developing intimate relationships with men, I, myself, have had similar thoughts about men and their coping skills. In comparison to many of the young women I know, men of the same age category seem to "deal" less effectively with many areas of life.

I tend to lean towards the theory that these gender variations stem from the different ways our culture socializes boys and girls. An inspiring lecturer who I remember from my university days is Jackson Katz. Ironically, he was mentioned in this months Elle magazine, which resurrected him from my memory.

Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post!

Cathy said...

Thanks for your interesting comment, ks. I've not heard of Jackson Katz so will have to go and take a look!

Gatepost productions said...

It is an interesting statistic that 1 in every 11 people is a carer; of these the majority are women.

Society does seem to shape roles for men and women, and in this process mothers certainly play a key role in the development of their sons; and are therefore not blameless.

Nevertheless, I feel modern man steps back from domestic responcibility, fails to place the needy before himself, and is generally self-centred.

A really interesting piece of writing Cathy.

John Simlett

Cathy said...

Thank you, John! Yes the mother/son relationship can be complicated ( you should have heard my mum on the subject of her mother-in-law!)

But, as the mother of a troubled teenager, I can testify to the fact boys do tend to bottle things up. I'm not sure how much of that is them trying to conform to society's expectations and how much is genetic.

Interestingly, both boys and girls who are brought up with a disabled sibling seem to often develop a high level of empathy and it is not unusual for them to go into caring professions, when you might expect them to shy away from it all in adulthood.

Anne Brooke said...

So sorry to hear this, Cathy - sending good thoughts to the family in questions. And hugs to yourself of course


Anonymous said...

So sorry to read your post tonight, it's very sad.

I think with men it's part of their mechanics. They don't like to talk and as you say just bottle it up.

I know support is hard in this situation for families anyway but are there support groups available for men only?

Gatepost productions said...

Having brought up 3 sons and a daughter; then, in turn, I was educated by 3 granddaughters (23, 19, 16)!! I can find no clear pattern that places any of them neatly into gender roles.

I think when Pat and I married (the two rebels ... it would never last) we had no role models, and therefore invented married life.

We placed family at the centre of everything; the key role was the 'Family Manager' - the support role was the earner. It happened that I fitted the latter role, and gave uo the job I loved -building boats - because it would not support the family in the way we had planned, to fly aeroplanes for 24 years.

We have no 'his' or 'hers', 'ours' or 'theirs'; even now if one of the family itches, we all scratch! We share all domestic tasks!

The point I am trying to make, is I think very little of the gender role is 'nature', most of it is nurture.

This is obviously a very narrow viewpoint to bring to the debate, but I thought I would offer it.

Cathy said...

John, your contributions to any debate are always so interesting. Thanks!

I'm with you on the sharing of domestic tasks etc being a matter of nurture...upbringing, culture etc. But I do think that the inability of many men to open up and share is also partly genetic...and I say that as we are watching our son grow into almost a clone of an uncle he rarely sees ( psychologically as much as physically). There has to be a genetic influence there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post. I have a slightly different situation of which I will blog about in due course but grief was never a part of our acceptance to Amy's autism. She is "normal" in our eyes. If other people do not want to perceive her as such I consider it to be their problem.

I think men and women deal with such things in their own ways. Neither is right or wrong. It is very sad to hear about your friends and I wish them all the best in their recovery.

Crystal xx

Cathy said...

Thanks for your comments, Anne and Sue.

Crystal, I think it does depend on the individual, but some parents do find it hard to accept a nonverbal child with challenging behaviour. We largely take it in our stride...and I have to say Hubby is even better at that than I am...but I can see why some people don't/can't.