Antisocial Husbands

How many of you have had to drag your other halves along to a friend’s party or wedding using bribery, blackmail, guilt and all other forms of persuasion? How many of you have had to endure continuous grumbling in the car en route to a friend’s house only for it to stop temporarily whilst dinner is being served, after which your partner then promptly announces it’s time to leave? They call it an “eat and run” where I’m from. The Old Git is a serial offender but I’ve come to realise he’s not the only one. Apparently there are many of us with antisocial husbands/partners who would, quite simply, prefer to be at home, given the choice.

Most of the time it works quite well that the Old Git would rather sit at home watching YouTube or Match of the Day as it enables me to have an unrestricted, active social life. There are no babysitting issues to deal with or conflicting social diaries as the Old Git only has about four friends, one of whom is his brother. I used to think it was a bit unfortunate that this was the Old Git’s preferred pastime but I’ve concluded there are far worse things that he could be doing. We are essentially social opposites and he needs his downtime just as much as I need my ‘going out’ time. We know and accept this about each other.

Forever the party girl, in stark contrast to the Old Git.
Forever the party girl, in stark contrast to the Old Git.

However there are times when you would like your partner to accompany you to places. I remember early on in our marriage, I went to a few family weddings without the Old Git and word on the street was that we were getting divorced. It’s true. People assumed that the Old Git was absent because our marriage was in trouble, not because he simply had no interest in attending. Initially it did irritate me. I was annoyed at the gossipmongers for coming up with this nonsense and I was annoyed at the Old Git for putting me in this predicament. That being said, I soon realised that couples can easily put on a facade of marital bliss when things can be very different behind closed doors. Public attendance or appearance is no measure of marital happiness.

There are occasions when I will insist that the Old Git  comes out with me. I normally base this decision on 1) babysitting availability, 2) the importance of the occasion, 3) the football fixtures (the Old Git won’t budge if his team are playing..big sigh) and 4) who else will be there. Recently we have attended lots of fortieth birthday parties together and it has been fun spending time with friends and seeing the Old Git drown in his attempts to make social chit chat. It’s particularly amusing to watch him when he is surrounded by other socially reserved partners and he is then forced to carry the conversation in the most awkward and excruciating way [evil laugh]. But I choose my occasions very carefully and try not to overburden the Old Git with my social demands. It’s no fun for either of us if he spends the entire night moaning about being dragged out and sometimes it’s just better to let him relax in his man cave.

To be fair, the Old Git isn’t the most antisocial of husbands I’ve ever seen. Once he’s out he will generally make an effort (although he has been known to disappear and sit in the car to listen to podcasts or football on occasion). What I have realised is that we all have our own outlets that help us to thrive. Some of us are social creatures that require regular social interaction and others prefer a quieter, more private existence. The two can happily coexist as long as we respect each other’s needs and differences and compromise when we need to. And just sometimes opposites do attract.

Why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

I’ve been married for over ten years now (crikey) and I’m one of those “rebellious” women that didn’t change her surname after walking down the aisle. Initially it was for professional reasons as I had built up a reputation as a journalist (plus I couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork), but in all honesty it went much deeper than that. So, why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

Firstly let’s talk about culture. The concept of name changing is very common in Western, English speaking countries but in many other cultures such as Arab, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Spanish and Greek culture (to name just a few) this isn’t a traditional practice. Women keep their own surnames after marriage and there is no issue or conflict of interest. Changing one’s name is by no means a universally accepted practice.

Exchanging rings ten years ago

For me, it wasn’t about being a feminist or not liking the Old Git’s surname. It just felt wrong to change such a fundamental part of my identity. My surname is an intrinsic part of who I am and had defined me, at the point of marriage, for thirty years. So why would I just give it up? It connects me to my childhood and to my parents. I am still my father’s daughter, even after marriage.

I see no reason to become immersed into my husband’s identity. He has his own family history, as do I, and I am not defined by his story. Of course my children ask me why I have a different surname to them and this simply gives me the opportunity to remind them that they come from two families, with two different names, both of whom love them very much. It’s not complicated at all. It’s a way for me to remind them of their maternal line and for us to celebrate the origins of our own little family.

Just because I haven’t adopted my husband’s surname doesn’t make us any less of a team or mean  I love him any less.  We make decisions together, share a house together, have children together and are committed to each other in every way. To suggest that sharing the same surname promotes family “unity” is nonsensical as the 42% rate of divorce in the UK demonstrates. A name has no bearing whatsoever on whether a couple stays together.

The day we said “I do”

So how does the Old Git feel about all of this, I hear you ask? If I remember correctly, he grumbled a little bit when I first mentioned it ten years ago but not enough for it to become an issue between us. He would jokingly say I was “doing a Beyonce” on him (a la “Independent Women”) but he never took it personally or as a rejection. His only occasional gripe is when other people describe him as “Mr Khan” on wedding invitations or holiday bookings. That, it seems, is a step too far for him and then he grumbles…A LOT. In a way, these occasional social mishaps are a good thing as they give him an insight into what it feels like to lose the name that you were born with and identify with.

I have my own little family now and am a wife and a mother. Naturally I have evolved over the years with these experiences but my name is still very much at the core of who I am. Shazia Khan, the girl that was. Shazia Khan, the woman that I am.

Extra- Curricular Club Frenzy

Today the word “education” encompasses a whole lot more than just schooling and academic learning. Great value is placed upon extra-curricular activities and that’s not a bad thing. I’m all for encouraging kids to explore other interests; a bit of sport, music, drama, gardening..whatever floats their boat really. But have we gone too far in our quest to broaden our children’s horizons? Are we overloading them and trying too hard to produce over accomplished little prodigies? I can’t help but think that we are in the midst of an extra-curricular club frenzy.

First piano practice, then violin

Firstly, there seems to be this underlying presumption that the more clubs your child attends, the better parent you are perceived to be. It demonstrates that you are an “active parent” who is willing to ferry your kids around to a million different clubs all week whilst grabbing a latte and babyccino en route. The peer pressure to participate in this ritual is acute as nobody wants to be perceived as lazy or disinterested. There is also the underlying fear that whilst your kids are at home watching Catchup TV or playing with My Little Pony, other children will, in the meantime, be developing superhuman talents that far outweigh the talents of your own children. So you feel compelled to join in with this club frenzy as you don’t want to deprive your child of the opportunity to become the next mini Mozart or leading gymnast, do you? The pressure to keep up is very real.

Enrolling your child into every single possible club is also, almost certainly, a status symbol for some parents. It’s a very visible sign of disposable income, bearing in mind some of these activities are NOT cheap at all. It’s a case of keeping up with the Jones’ and ensuring your child doesn’t miss out on what the child next door is doing. It’s about projecting a certain image of your life.

And don’t get me started on the various different “squads” that exist at school.  There’s swim squad, gym squad, tennis squad, the A team for cricket, the A team for football etc. The list is endless. These squads are ‘by invitation only’ which basically leaves those kids that aren’t invited (and their parents) feeling like rejects. Whilst I understand the importance of developing and nurturing talent in these squads, it seems a bit unfortunate that it is done at such a young age (at five or six) and that kids are categorised as being either “sporty” or “unsporty” at such an early stage of their lives.

Overscheduling our kids
Overscheduling our kids

There is also the very real concern that we are overloading our kids with activities. Some children attend clubs every single day after school and at the weekend. Whilst they might enjoy it initially, at some point they WILL flip out and have the mother of all meltdowns, quite possibly in public, driven primarily by exhaustion. Or worse, they may internalise it and become anxious and stressed out.  Kids unequivocally need down time.  In my experience, they need to recharge their batteries and switch off from the daily grind. They need to enjoy moments of peace and quiet.

There is this false notion that children have to be entertained every moment of every day. That their days must be filled with activity. How about allowing them to be still or even bored? They might surprise you with their creativity and imagination. Being able to manage their own time and create their own sense of enjoyment is also a critical life skill.

We all want well rounded children and extra-curricular activities clearly help promote that. But we have to think about whose needs we are really meeting. Are we sending our kids to a hundred thousand different clubs to enrich their lives or to fulfil our own ambitions and hopes? No parent wants to deprive their kids of opportunities but I wonder if overscheduling deprives them of a free and unburdened childhood? The end goal for all of us is to provide a happy and nurturing childhood and surely the key to that is balance? Kids need stimulation for sure, but they also need space to just be.

“Mummy, why is my skin this colour?”

Children are funny little creatures. Most of the time they ignore you and appear completely disinterested in anything you have to say, however, sometimes they will astound you with their curious observations. In my experience, kids are particularly observant when it comes to noticing the differences in the way people look. Cue: “Mummy, why is my skin this colour?”

It appears Flump is in denial about her own ethnicity. We are brown and from the Indian Subcontinent, yet she considers herself to have “peach” skin. When one of her school friends drew a picture of her and coloured in her face with a dark brown crayon, she was unamused. She felt as if her face had been vandalised. When I explained to her that we do actually have a different skin colour to many of her friends she accepted this but quickly clarified she was not “dark.”

The offending picture.
The offending picture.

On another occasion, Flump very seriously and matter-of-factly told me that the new girl in her class was “a Buddhist.” When I asked her how she knew this she said it was “because her eyes are like this,” and then proceeded to stretch out the outer corners of her eyes. Oh crap, I thought. I’d better address this now before she makes a public announcement at school.

So off I went on my rather clumsy attempt to explain cultural diversity to my then 6 year old daughter. It went along the lines of we are different but we are the same and should treat everybody kindly and equally. We may look, dress or even eat differently but we are all human beings with feelings and should never judge a book by its cover. She took it in thoughtfully and then proceeded to tell me that one of her friends at school was most definitely “a Hindu” because she was going to India for a holiday. Right. Okay then.

From a very early age, children notice gender and racial differences and will often try to identify with one particular group.  I find it interesting that my own kid, whilst quick to notice and categorise the differences in others, does not seem to recognise her own ethnic or racial difference. Of course she is young and still navigating her way through the minefield of cultural identity. She will get there in due course. There is a certain beauty and charm in her innocent curiosity and observations, but I am mindful that this gets steered in the right way.

When Flump finally realises that she does, in fact, have “dark” skin I want to make sure she understands there is no negative connotation. It’s never too early to start exploring race and culture with your child through books, art and discussion. When the penny finally drops for Flump, she will know that being dark is just as beautiful as being peachy.

Learning about diversity at an early age.
Learning about diversity at an early age.