This is just an opinion…
According to the latest research, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, mums appear to have been doing most of the housework and childcare during lockdown.
With today’s post I wanted to discuss the main theme from this research – a sense of fairness balancing child care duties in a relationship against the day job.
The Child Burden…
From the BBC press release, it hints at the findings being a cause for concern, , though that depends on your views how the modern family should function.
‘Mums do most childcare and chores in lockdown’
Something I object to in news media is when they present content this suggesting the burden of children at the expense of career progression.
You know, because having a desk job is some sort of a self-actualising endeavour:
Paula Sheridan, a coach whose firm Unwrapping Potential works with professional women, says her clients “almost universally” report that they are the ones planning meals, creating timetables and downloading learning resources for children – along with dozens of other tasks.
- Ensuring your children are eating healthy?
- Being hands on with home schooling?
- Giving them defined structure during an uncertain time?
Is this really a bad thing?
All sound important to me and beats having to sit on Microsoft Teams calls for hours on end.
The “Unwritten” Expectations…
The study illustrates, that even when men are out of work, some dads aren’t pulling their weight:
Another told her: “[My partner] is furloughed and yet my work telephone calls are interrupted by the children asking questions, while daddy is just watching Netflix.”
You can read this in two ways:
- Mum has a greater bond with her kids, so even when busy and told not to disturb, they still come for support and comfort.
- Dad really needs to get off his arse and physically involve himself more, being more self-aware when the kids are pestering mum.
I can understand the frustration if you are the only earner at this time, yet still have to field endless annoying interruptions about where the iPad is, or that the dog is dragging it’s arse across the rug again.
This highlights that all parents need to function as a unit, you are working as a team with unwritten expectations.
If you are working less or not at all, then you need to step up with the household duties, but really your partner should be capable of telling you this, rather than building passive aggressive resentment!
The study attributes concerns that the lockdown, is an additional factor impacting the gender pay gap – the difference in average earnings between what men and women take home.
Because women are more hands on with managing the household economy – this highlights the possibility of losing out on all the opportunities that working less entails – more money, promotion etc.
“Several of our findings suggest that there is a risk of reversing some of the progress made in narrowing the gender wage gap over recent decades. In line with other labour market surveys collected since the start of the crisis, we find that women are more likely to have stopped doing paid work since lockdown began. Further, even if they are doing some paid work, women are doing fewer hours than men and are more likely to be juggling paid work and childcare at the same time. Past research shows that the time women take off when having a child, and the reduction in hours once they return to work, have long-term effects, reducing their future hourly wages”
Is the gender pay gap as bad as it seems? Please do hear me out on this…
When I first met the lady who would become my wife – V, early on we established longer term ambitions how we wanted the relationship to go:
Kids? A definite yes… this was deal breaker if not.
When careers came up I established that although V had a job, progression wasn’t her raison d’etre.
And because I was interested in career advancement, we established early on, my primary role was focused on making a living, while her focus was raising the kids.
Although this is just one relationship, it makes you realise how much personal factors are at play that make it more complex achieving an exact fair split on wages is.
New Life… New Priorities…
As a general straw poll, when I’ve discussed motherhood with women, the vast majority have stated words to the effect that, when they started a family, this was now their priority, not chasing promotions.
And more importantly… they were happy with that choice because they could work less hours to spend more time with their child(ren).
This creates a fantastic opportunity to build a greater connection to their children.
So, if we look back at the study – children are more likely to seek support from mum, so although advantages are lost in the workplace, mothers are better off building a bond, that fathers don’t get as much, due to focusing on income.
The Parent-Child Bond Gap…
We are in an age of greater equality – women have the freedom to work and workplaces are gradually adapting to support their career aspirations.
This gives men the option to take on a greater role with parenting, as schemes such as flexible working and shared maternity leave offer fathers the chance to spend more time with their children.
But options like this are not being utilised by fathers, partly because financially they can’t afford to and they don’t want to take the leave entitlement leave away from their partners.
This suggests that men are trapped in the provider role, women in the nurturing role.
And when you are forced to work from home, you see the issues raised in the research – unfortunately your kids aren’t savvy on the implications of gender politics and revert to the parent they are more connected to.
The hands on dad…
They would much rather:
- Spend more time with their children, than sitting on a spinning chair.
- Tuck their kids into bed, rather than attend getting drunk at a conference in the capital.
- Being a leader at home, than in the office.
For the working dad, it’s a challenge to get a good work-life balance.
I’m sure many would be willing to work less hours so they have more time with the family, but the pressure to provide does make it difficult to justify the drop in wage and lost opportunities from working less.
Own your decision…
Whenever I see frustrations thrown out how children impact career progression, I’m quite unsympathetic and believe in the importance of owning your decision – regardless of gender.
Recently, I was offered a great opportunity, but it became apparent there was weekly overnight stays, which I wasn’t willing to commit to.
When I told people in the office, I’d turned this role down, they looked at me like an idiot,
“the opportunity of a lifetime”.
Well sucks to be me, but I’d much rather experience coming home every day to my children greeting me with smiles and hugs.
But that’s just me, I’ve worked with men (and women) who seem immune to such small special things, or perhaps they don’t care and would go for the status and money any day over parental instincts.
Whatever your choice – you have to own that decision.
If you choose your career you can’t complain about not seeing (or not having) kids.
And if you embrace the family role, you can’t object about missed opportunities in your career.
Everyone owns their decision.
You can read all the crap you want from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, but whether you are a man or woman – you can’t have it all.
Be exceptional at one and maintain the other one.
I’ve nearly been a father for three years and in that time I’ve thrown myself into the role.
I’ve grown as a person, meeting challenges I would never have thought I could handle, giving what I can to two beautiful girls.
My career has stalled in that time, but I accept my decision,
You can be a hard worker, but just because you aren’t willing to bond with the people you share carpet with all day over after work drinks, impacts your team role.
I’d rather colleagues, feel like they weren’t as connected to me, than missing out on the greatest privilege I’ve ever had.
What’s the solution?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies study came to one clear conclusion – mums are having to step-up more in lockdown than dads.
If things need to change, then firstly you have to consider the attitudes of society – women as mothers, whether they like it or not will be seen as the primary care giver of their child, because usually they are.
You also need to consider changing the culture of the workplace, despite developments, it still provides the greatest opportunities to a person who is single, or willing to make sacrifices at the expense of family.
A part of me also thinks what goes on in a relationship falls under the heading of “It’s none of your business”. We can worry about the gender pay gap, but if one sex is preferencing childcare over career, then it’s going to be a difficult imbalance to address.
This understanding is built in the early days of a relationship by having ‘the talk’, to understanding of each other’s, hopes and dreams. You need to know – if you have kids, how are your aspirations going to be impacted?
As a family unit, parents should engage in regular communication and support each other, without resorting to passive aggression because your other half didn’t get the hint that you want them to step up more.
And in the workplace, if your on a team call and someones kid pops up, don’t question their professionalism or make them feel bad about it. Just let them resolve the issue and laugh about.
And for the provider…
For any parent taking on the provider role who wants to be more involved with his children, utilise your free time as much as possible – get fully involved in the bedtime routine, read to them, play with them, take more responsibility during weekends and holidays and be present.
Embrace that opportunity to be an active part of their lives, but be realistic, recognise it’s not possible to have it all.
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