When I started telling people I was working full time again, for the first time since my children were born, I noticed I was getting one of two reactions. Reaction one was one of excitement and congratulations. “Wow, that’s awesome, you must be really excited.” Reaction two almost always came with a sad face. “What about the children?,” concerned people would ask. “How will they cope? How will you cope?” At first I’d brush it off with a firm: “Oh, we’ll be fine, we’ve got it under control”, but then it started to annoy me. I bet Twiggy never gets that response when he tells people he’s working.
I know the concern is coming from a place of love, I am not writing this post to point the finger at people who were genuinely worried about our family. I can see where it stems from. For many women, the reality is either they are single parents or their partners work in traditional nine-to-five jobs, add commuting and overtime to that, and for many women they are the ones who find themselves doing the lion’s share of the child rearing. And for many women who also work, they still find themselves coordinating after school care, extra curricular activities for their kids, filling in the mountains of school forms, making sure uniforms are ready and putting their hand up to do their time in the canteen.
For many women, this is how daily life works in their family unit not because their partners don’t want to be involved more, but because the way society is structured it is not an expected, nor easy path to step in and be both a money earner and share equal parenting duties. And thus, because it’s written in the “parenting manual” mums fill that role. And for the men, who have chosen to take on that role themselves, either through necessity, circumstance or choice, they are up against not only the daily grind, but the entrenched parenting stereotypes which do not represent them, nor the role they play raising kids.
So, when I am consistently asked how my children will cope with me going back to work it annoys me because I am married and my children have not one, but two parents and in our house we both take that role very seriously. When people give me the “concerned face” it makes me realise that they have not noticed that Twiggy does in fact have a very involved role in the day-to-day running of this house and family. That he does do school pick ups and drops off, he does go to excursions, he does cook meals and wash clothes and make school lunches and stand in the rain watching netball games. He does bath the kids and clean their rooms and listen to them read. He does all of the things that I do. We do them together. We are both the parents to our children. We both take our roles very seriously and have made big sacrifices so that we could do that. Now I’m working office hours he is doing more of the daily grind, as I have the past eight years.
Some would say I was lucky. Yes, I suppose you could say I was lucky to have married an amazing man and to still have him in my life. As recent events have shown me, we are both lucky to have each other. But I will not say I was lucky to have a man in my life who plays an active role in his kids’ lives. I will not say I am lucky to have a man who does his fair share of housework. I am not the keeper of the house. I am a woman, but it is not my job to control all the domestic chores. I am not lucky that my husband washes his own underwear and mine, while also managing to run a successful small business.
When someone is concerned that my family will fall apart at the seams when I work, it dismisses the huge role my husband plays in our lives. He has stepped up to the plate, as I did when he started his business and I paid all the bills. He has stepped up to the plate, as he did when I forgo my career to birth babies. We are like many families in Australia. We help each other and like many other families, we rely on the help of our family and friends. We are just doing the best we can. We are a team.
It is time women stop thinking it is their primary role to look after the house and the kids just as much as men need to stop thinking it is their primary role to earn money. The reality is, for many of us, that is not the case anymore. It is time the systems in our country change to reflect that. Men need to have access to parental leave and be supported at work to have more flexible hours to parent. Women also need the same flexibility to both work and parent. A woman’s work is not just in the home and men do want to be in their kid’s lives.
The reality for most families is that childcare is expensive, work is a necessity and there is no easy way around balancing work and family. Everyone does what works for them. And in our case I work full time, Twiggy works full time hours at irregular times and the kids are fed, housed and looked after with love.
So the answer to your question is – yes, the kids are doing just fine. Twiggy and I are fucking exhausted, though.
Thanks for asking.