Working mothers are so used to comparing notes on how they manage it all that it’s practically a language. But what I realised quickly when talking to the prime minister and treasurer was that they are not fluent. Here’s what the treasurer said:
Whenever I am away, we use FaceTime a lot, and whenever I am at home I do stories, milk and bed, and try to play as much ball sports and Lego as possible. Running races at the park [is] also a regular. We always have Friday night together as a family meal, which is always special.
And here’s the prime minister:
The first point is that none of this would be possible without the kids having an amazing mum. That’s true for me and for Josh. But it’s about priorities. Little rituals are important. You’ve got to talk every day and we try to do it twice a day. We do FaceTime when we can. Little things, like: ‘Where are you today?’ You hold the camera phone up and you show them where you are. My kids have grown up while I was in politics and I think that’s a good thing, on balance, because life is more normal to them. Jen and the girls almost never come to Canberra. We have our friends and our family that we socialise with and they’re very disconnected from the world of politics. It means our kids are growing up in a normal environment and that’s very important to us.
With both men, I had to rephrase the question several times to explain what I was getting at: “How does it work? How do you manage, day to day?” And what became clear was that both their models were about coping with or compensating for absence. FaceTiming every day or dining together once a week is an expression of parental love and devotion – and very important it is too – but it doesn’t contribute much practical horsepower to the engine that keeps a family running. Who does school pick-ups? Who remembers to take them to the dentist? What happens when they’re sick? Their spouses do most of that stuff.
And while handing over the lion’s share of parenting to a spouse is the stuff of international headlines when it’s Jacinda Ardern, when it’s Scott Morrison it’s so unremarkable as to occasion no comment whatsoever.
Now, I would never question the love or commitment of either man to his children; both Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are exceptionally besotted with and close to their kids. What I want to know is: why do we expect so little of fathers? Why do we fret so extensively about the impact on children of not seeing their mothers enough, but care so little about what happens when it’s Dad who’s always away? Do we think dads are just for weekends? Or are we simply so roundly prepared – based on what we see – for their absence that we neither mourn it nor remark on it?