The one where I might be accidentally sexist.


So, we had a small – barely worth mentioning – miscommunication in domestic arrangements last weekend.

I know.


On Friday, Flea’s Dad was picking her up from school and keeping her until Sunday morning, when he would drop her off at stage school, and I’d collect her in time to take her to a family lunch for my parents’ anniversary.

Now, I don’t often get a Friday night off. So I was a bit excited and had all sorts of plans. There might even have been a plan to go into a proper restaurant. At night, and everything.

Until the phone went at 4pm and it was Flea’s Dad.

Who unexpectedly found himself standing outside the school with Flea and her best friend – who was carrying a sleeping bag.

Apparently the two of them had cooked up a plan for a sleepover between them, and convinced the best friend’s Mum that I knew all about it. Flea’s best friend regularly stays over with us, so it wouldn’t had seemed like a big deal to the other Mum, I’m sure.

“What do you want me to do?” asked the ex.

“Wait there and I’ll come and collect them both,” I sighed, watching my weekend plans go up in smoke.

Why did I feel I had to collect the girls?

As I explained to Flea’s Dad, part of the issue is that I think if a child’s parent thinks they are sleeping at a specific place then that’s where they must sleep. It’s not okay to take a child anywhere if the parent doesn’t know about it, right?

But I had to confess that part of the issue is that he’s a man. And somewhere deep down, I felt uncomfortable about letting someone’s daughter stay overnight with a single man – in a way I don’t think I would if it was a single woman. I worried about how Flea’s friend would feel, and how the girls’ parents would feel about their daughter staying with Flea’s Dad.

I’ve chatted with a couple of friends since who have told me they would have done exactly the same, but I know Flea’s Dad felt a bit put out – he’s a decent guy and great with Flea and her friends, so it’s not as though I had any reason to object to him looking after them.

It just felt weird.

But now I wonder – this must be an issue for lots of divorced couples who share parenting – what do other Mums and Dads do?

Am I being sexist? Or assuming other people will be?ย 

What would you have done?ย 



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 17th January 2013 / 3:32 am

    Wal and I talked about this subject a lot when Squidge was little. The playground is apparently a mid-field for dads. You can’t help little girls up the monkey bars, or if they get stuck on the slide… in case someone things you’re a bit odd. Also I needed Wal to pick up a friends sister (she’s 15) and she’s never met Wal and well I wouldn’t let him do it. I don’t know how I would feel if my 15 yr old daughter got in the car w/ a strange man. It’s a sad sad world when everyone is a potential abuser especially when you have to worry about the ones you don’t worry about!
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:27 pm

      I agree – I think it’s tricky because as a parent you’re trying to second guess someone else’s reaction as well as your own and lots of parents DO feel very nervous of solo men.

    • Nikki
      17th January 2013 / 11:17 am

      I completely agree. I’d also have made sure that the parent thought to check with you about the arrangements before packing her child off with a sleeping bag.

      • 17th January 2013 / 8:33 pm

        I was going to say that exactly! Whenever my kids tell me that they are going to someone’s house or party, I tell them nothing is arranged until I have spoken to one of their parents, regardless of which one it is – I don’t like my kids assuming they are invited to someone’s house, nor do I like them assuming that they can just come home with a friend and I’ll feed them. There are a lot of Dads who pick up from our school so I don’t have any issue with them going home with a Dad but generally, I think I know the dads that regularly pick up.

        Interestingly, someone has just sued BA over a similar thing. He swopped seats and ended up next to an unaccompanied minor and the flight attendants wouldn’t allow it. He sued them and won. As it was, their policy was for single men not to sit with unaccompanied minors but he was actually with his pregnant wife who wanted to sit near the window!
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:29 pm

      Well, I might have thought of that one ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The girl’s Mum works until six and so I couldn’t get hold of her, didn’t have the Dad’s phone number so I really had to make a decision and opted to go with what the Mum thought would happen – I’m very wary of changing arrangements without the say-so of a parent.

      • Nikki
        18th January 2013 / 1:05 pm

        In that case I think you did the right thing regardless of “sexism” issues!

  2. 17th January 2013 / 11:24 am

    Wow, she really got away with that one, didn’t she! They’d “convinced the best friendโ€™s Mum that I knew all about it”, eh?

    If I knew you well, and was allowed to feed you wine and cake and laugh at you and call you a pushover, that’s what I’d be doing right now.
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:29 pm

      You can call me a pushover any time ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. 17th January 2013 / 1:46 pm

    Interesting, and I know it’s a feeling that others have, not just you Sally. And as you point out it isn’t valid, as in, there’s really no difference in the girls staying in the overnight care of Flea’s dad rather than yours, and perhaps these feelings of discomfort are more about it being a very unusual and rare situation.

    I once challenged someone who wasn’t ‘keen’ on leaving there child at a nursery because a man was the main care giver there. They couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason for being reluctant to leave their child, and only came back with as ‘it didn’t feel right’. But I’m hopeful that this is because it’s unusual rather than a deep routed belief that men should not be looking after children.
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:31 pm

      I know it’s not just me – lots of my friends have admitted it’s something they’d think twice about. I suppose if I was trying to justify myself (and I’m not sure how well) there was an issue of familiarity – the girls are quite young, being just seven – and while Flea’s friend is very confident with me, she’s never stayed with Flea’s Dad before, and I know at that age, I’d have been very nervous, I think.

      I’d have no qualms leaving Flea with her friend’s Dad – he’s got four kids and probably makes a better job of parenting than me, and besides Flea knows him really well, and would be able to tell him if there was a problem.

      Perhaps then the issue that we need to encourage children to get to know both male and female parents in our social groups rather than assuming this stuff is down to the Mums – which I suspect happens quite a bit.

  4. purplemum
    17th January 2013 / 7:40 pm

    I hate this but equally I would have probably done the same thing. Sexism sucks either way doesn’t it.

    • 17th January 2013 / 9:32 pm

      Ain’t that the truth!

  5. 17th January 2013 / 8:31 pm

    They played you! However i would have called the other girls parents and gave them the option as it was a shame to spoil your night.
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:32 pm

      Yep, sadly I know the parents were still at work, and as my ex doesn’t drive, I had to make a decision on the spot! Argh. But yes, thoroughly played. By two seven year olds. Pathetic.

  6. Snafflesmummy
    17th January 2013 / 8:35 pm

    If the other girls parent thought she was with you then I would have done the same and collected the girls.

    If I could have called the girls parents and explained I would have checked they were ok with the change of plans.

    I personally wouldn’t have an issue with children staying at single dads with friend but would if. Hadn’t been told beforehand

    • 17th January 2013 / 9:33 pm

      Yes, I think it’s the not being able to call to check that put me on the back foot – the girls are very young and some kids deal better with unfamiliar places and people than others.

  7. 17th January 2013 / 9:00 pm

    So, the parent was happy for her daughter to go to a friend’s house when she hadn’t spoken to you about it? Seems a bit off…
    If I was in that situation, I’d have called the parents and let them make the decision. Maybe that’s more to do with my own feelings about how little time the boys spend with their dad though!
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    • 17th January 2013 / 9:35 pm

      Ah, the girls are really good friends and have been having sleepovers a couple of times a month since they were in reception class. We usually arrange them very informally with the girls texting each other on our phones or writing each other notes. If Flea told them that I’d said it was okay, I can see why the other Mum would have assumed it was fine.

      I would definitely call the parents if it was an option – this time it wasn’t but perhaps worth us having a chat for future reference?

    • 17th January 2013 / 11:36 pm

      Fair point, but in this instance I’d be hard pushed to say it was scheming – it was a sleepover that I’d agreed to but the other Mum said it wasn’t convenient, and then when the other Mum changed plans and it WAS convenient, Flea was supposed to tell me but forgot, and because I’d given permission in a conversation earlier with both kids, they just assumed it was fine, and didn’t realise they needed to tell me it was back on!

      Like I said, more mis-communication than anything. Story of our life, we’re well used to it in this house ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. 18th January 2013 / 9:48 am

    I know what you mean. Obviously you could have asked the mother and made it her decision – she probably would have felt as awkward as you because if she refused she’d be ruining your weekend but she might not feel comfortable with it. The next step I think should be to explain the situation to the girls (about having to sleep in the place their mum thinks they are not about single men) and how it made things very complicated for everyone – so they don’t do it again.
    I have a blanket rule of no male babysitters. It is sometimes awkward when a friend says her daughter isn’t available but her 17yo son would love to babysit. But I don’t like it and it is easier to have a blanket rule so that it’s never personal against one particular boy.
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    • 18th January 2013 / 9:50 am

      I should explain that a close friend had a recurring *incident* with a male babysitter when we were children which has made me wary – probably unjust of me but that’s what it is.
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  9. 18th January 2013 / 10:39 am

    Seeing the bigger picture, I would have done the same as you. I don’t think you were being accidentally sexist, just practical! If I had sleepover arrangements made with someone and the plans changed, I would want to know and sometimes that means lots of phaffing around, and re-arranging is the easiest option. It’s just unfortunate that this time round it involved Flea’s Dad because that adds a more complicated emotional dimension. If that makes sense?
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  10. 19th January 2013 / 8:38 pm

    It’s a sad but understandable state of affairs.
    I felt awakard the other day after helping a young child onto a swing in the park but why should i when i was only doing something nice?
    As a stay at home dad I encounter sexism everyday, I was once refused entry into a childrens group because some of the woman objected to a man being there (i think religion as well as sex had a part to play).
    I’ve written a short post on how i was treated sexist at the doctors, pls check if interested
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  11. 23rd January 2013 / 1:59 pm

    Oh the pitfalls of parenting – where we always have to second guess ourselves hey! I would have done the same Sally and just because really is pose it would have been instinct ( born out of social conditiioning probably – I always think the kids are really my resposnibilty) Its good you ask these questions though, makes us think!
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  12. 23rd January 2013 / 8:44 pm

    Tricky one! I think you did the best thing and I also think that although you know Flea’s dad to be a great person, we hear far too many darker stories these days to be able to take the risk.
    Did you talk to Flea about cooking up plans and the little lie that was hiding there? I think that would have got my back up and would be something I’d like to put a stop to.
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  13. Clare
    5th February 2013 / 2:26 pm

    Hi Sally,

    Hmm, it is a tricky one and i can appreciate why you were concerned. In a funny way I think we as parents have a tendency to be more overprotective of other people’s kids than our own. At least when someone elses child is in our care. Not necessarily in general.

    I’d say that if the friend’s mum knew Flea’s dad and was comfortable with him as a person (and perhaps she had played there before) then it would have been fine for them to go there. If Flea’s dad is unknown to this child’s parents then perhaps a no go until you’ve talked to them first but assume that even under those circumstances you saying “it’s fine, he’s a lovely man, just not one I want to be withbut not crazy or weird” would have been enough of an assurance for most people no?

    Agree with the other posters that said Flea had been a bit cheeky, suspect i would have been a bit tougher and said not this time if staying with dad was a big deal with the friends parents!