I loved the article from Gaby Hinsliff in yesterday's Guardian about the realities of parents sharing work and the care of children. She talks about her own experience of wanting to work, but also feeling the tug towards wanting more time with her young son. And she accurately describes the patterns that it's so easy to fall into because women spend more time with their children, even when parents decide that they want to share working and the domestic stuff. 'After up to a year of Mother at home and Father at work, she's the one who can open the buggy with the flick of one hand; he's the one rummaging around during nappy changes, not sure where the wipes live. There is a small, martyred part of many women that loves to be needed: it can be horribly gratifying to be the expert at home, especially after a long day of being made to feel unwelcome at work. Maternal gatekeeping, or the art of subtly refusing to surrender the baby to anyone else, is a serious obstacle to involved fathers.'
She goes on to say 'And what women too rarely acknowledge, when they sacrifice their jobs to spend more time with the children, is that in doing so they may be making their partner's choices for him: if she isn't going to earn, then the pressure rises on him to earn more, regardless of how much that may take him away from his children. Too often women have choices, and men merely responsibilities. They may find that doing what they thought was required of a "good father" – working hard, chasing promotion – suddenly generates a startling amount of fury from their wives.'
Key to a healthy family life when both parents work seems to be genuinely sharing the domestic work of running a house, rather than the woman carrying that responsibility and doing the 'second shift' on top of her paid employment. She cites a study that found that marriages 'foundered more often when women worled, but they actually became more stable that average when the men helped out at home'. Although if the domestic work is genuinely shared, then guys won't be 'helping out' - they'll be taking responsibility for their contribution towards having a well-functioning home.
Hinsliff says: 'Young women prone to swooning that their boyfriend will be "a really great father" because he likes small children should learn to check instead how often he stacks the dishwasher, perhaps a better indicator of a man ready to share the routine daily work involved in family life.' I've talked before on this blog about how the the organisation of what you do at home has a big impact on what you do outside it. I've had a number of conversations with young women who want to know how they can follow their calling and grow as leaders alongside their husbands. And one of my tips is to sort out early on in the relationship who does the ironing, and the cooking, and the washing and all the boring but essential work of running a home - and share it out!
The article is from Hinsliff's forthcoming book 'Half a Wife: The Working Family's Guide to Getting a Life Back' - I'm looking forward to reading it.