Archive for September, 2014
WARNING: This post contains generalisations and conclusions based on my own observations and analysis/opinion. I recognise that there are always exceptions and that not all families/experiences are the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I am tremendously grateful for Women’s Liberation and the Feminist movement and the achievements they have made towards gender equality. One of the biggest accomplishments was giving women the opportunity to work – and not only to work, but to work in any field they were interested in pursuing. Womens’ liberation opened up possibilities from the expectation that women would make one choice – and that was to get married, take responsibility for raising children and stay at home with them, taking care of the housework and her husband, to now having many career choices. Experts in health have suspected that there were a large number of women who found that limited choice had an effect on their mental health resulting in undiagnosed postnatal depression. So I’m grateful for progress and the ongoing work towards equal opportunities for women in vocational leadership positions and pay parity between genders. What I think has happened, though is that in addition to working in (often) demanding roles and high-stress jobs, they still maintain the role of main/primary caregiver to their children and take the lion share of responsibility for their childrens’ daily needs. Instead of couples now sharing the financial provision for the household and sharing the raising of the children, women have now added a job/career to her role as housewife and child-carer. In addition to her job, she is the one who still makes the kids’ lunches, takes note of the clothing/shoes that are wearing out and need more of, arranges extra-curricular activities, assists with homework, arranges plunket appointments, doctors’ appointments, dental appointments, haircut appointments, kindy visits…. the list goes on.
My father retired early while my mother continued to teach fulltime. Even then, he did not help with domestic chores or taking care of the children. This was still her role and she was expected to come home from work, cook us our dinner and attend to virtually all the domestic chores. Now, men will usually help occasionally with preparing dinner or a few domestic chores. Also, some men are now taking parental leave so that they can stay at home with their new baby. Some men have opted to be a stay-at-home dad while mum works because he’s more suited to it or because she earns more. But I think more often than not, women are still working (in demanding jobs) and doing the lion share of child raising day-to-day responsibilities and domestic chores. Worse still if she is not working and “because he is”, she takes on all of the responsibilities for the children and domestic chores. Why is this worse? Because taking care of children is not a 9-5 job with breaks. It is a 24hr job, 7 days a week with no time off. It is rewarding and often wonderful – but it is also relentless and draining, exhausting work. Occasionally I hear comments along the lines of “what a wonderful man” or “what a wonderful father” when a man contributes to the same degree that a woman does towards domestic chores and engagement with/responsibility for his children. That is because it is still expected of a woman, but not expected of a man and when it does occur, it is out-of-the-ordinary.
There is increased pressure on women today (I believe) than ever before. We refer to these women as “supermum” and applaud her ability to keep all the balls in the air. For those of us who continue to drop the ball, we feel like a failure for doing so instead of recognising that in fact the expectation on us is too much. It’s unrealistic. It’s unfair.
The expectation that mothers do not share parenting responsibilities and domestic chores equally needs to change. In terms of “Womens’ Liberation” it is one aspect that has lagged in terms of change and equality for women. Society still expects it – applauding “supermums” – and men still expect it from us. It is up to us as mothers to change that expectation. It starts with our own expectation of ourselves. Too often, the mothers I work with who have Postnatal Depression have the expectation that they should be able to “do it all” and feel a considerable amount of guilt and failure when they are unable to do it. It’s imperative that we take a step back and change our thinking and expectations on ourselves. We need to start with a conversation with our partner and re-negotiate so that parenting and domestic responsibilities are more equally shared – not just for the sake of equality, but for the sake of our mental health. And we need to raise boys who understand that when they become an adult and a parent, that they do not expect the “male privilege” of unequal parenting or domestic responsibilities simply because they are a man.