Load sharing - Paid work, parenting and the 'Mommy Track'

I came home from work today, at about 6:15pm to find all the lights on, mess everywhere and no one home. Normally at that time of day there are kids eating, a father in the kitchen cooking and cleaning and a mother racing around bribing kids to eat another mouthful while tidying up toys and putting a load of laundry on. It was obvious that the house had been abandoned in haste and my mind jumped straight to the worst conclusions. Horrible images of ambulances and glaring hospital lights were immediately running through my head. Of course, it was fine, Sanjay had just dropped the baby-sitter at the train station and no one had tidied up the toys during the day.

But when I’m at work during the day who is responsible for the cleaning and tidying that I do when I’m at home? At our house both adults have reasonably flexible work arrangements, and both contribute to the running of the house and the care of the children. I’ve started working three days a week, sensible hours, for a government department and Sanjay does wine sales for a small company. He works from home (they have no office) and there is heaps of flexibility for him, because it’s all about the sales results. So far this is working really well.

So what happens with the kids now that I’ve started a day job? Asher is in preschool three days per week, 9am til 3pm but because I couldn't get Kiz into any local childcare on such short notice we have a babysitter. She is a family friend who doesn’t have regular work at the moment. She knows the kids and she knows our routines and our arrangement has been working brilliantly so far. She arrives around 10am (I leave the house at 7am but Sanj is around) and hangs around playing with Kiz, doing her own work when he’s asleep and until it's time to pick up Asher then she hangs out with the two of them until we get home. We haven’t noticed any behavioural changes in the kids, and they both seem to really love the babysitter and get a lot out of their time with her. As I think I said before, it's a really good arrangement.

Since I’ve started at this job I’ve again raised the possibility of me being the primary income earner. Despite taking time off during these early years of my children’s lives I would like to remove myself from the ‘mommy track’ and get back into what? A career track? A daddy track? Why is it so hard to have meaningful work with adequate remuneration and some level of flexibility? I want to be able to deal with the dramas that inevitably crop up with young children and aging parents and I want to be able to spend time with my kids but that doesn’t mean I don’t have valuable skills. In my personal experience mothers who are coming back into the workforce and mothers who work part time concentrate more fully on the work they are doing and waste less time while at work. Mothers get very used to being efficient and might be more reluctant to ‘waste time’ changing jobs if they have the option of staying put. Is it up to mothers (and fathers!) to ‘sell’ these advantages to employers? Is it up to savvy employers to work this out? Will we continue to see amazingly innovative small businesses started by parents who want greater flexibility in their work arrangements?

I don't know where I was going with this post anymore - I've been writing it over several days, with work, kids and the usual chaos. Which is kindof an pertinent to the subject of the post, really...

1 comment:

muser said...

OK. This is a good question and I'm glad you're thinking about it. Get off the stinking 'employee' treadmill. Become a consultant, or a freelance-something. Make your time your own so you can work the flexibility that suits you and you're not feeling guilty regarding your lack of focus at work; and not feeling guilty about the lack of focus with the kids.

That's my tip but it took me years of treadmill walking to decide I could do this. Also serendipity about options lining up. Also a husband who's capable of supporting things while I'm taking this run-up.