Parenthood should be a partnership. But in reality it's often not an equal one. As many working mothers will attest, some fathers do not do their equal share of household tasks and childcare, or if they do, they still need to be directed (nagged) to do them.
This leaves many mums responsible for not only their half of parenting and household duties, but also organising, reminding and planning everything else. Now this may have been fine 60 years ago in single income families when it was considered a woman's only job. But nowadays, when Jersey and Guernsey have some of the highest employment rates of women in Europe, it is not fine.
According to the most up to date research from PWC's Women in Work Index only 4% of working age women are unemployed. Sounds good right? Loads of women in work. The trouble is, very few of them occupy high paid positions of power. In Jersey's public sector for example, less than 15% of directors are female. The majority are in low paid, part time roles. Indeed 75% of women are in support or administration roles according the Community Relations Trust's 'Jersey Women in Business' report. And the net result is a 21% gender pay gap, which is higher than the OECD average of 16%.
When you look at the reasons for this, both reports site the same factors: culture, mindset and family responsibilities. One of the quotes that struck me was this one:
And this is the problem - the notion that women are the main homemakers and caregivers no matter what their other responsibilities are. It's a notion that's still ingrained in our psychology despite moves to change it. Advertisers can no longer run ads reinforcing gender stereotypes showing women cleaning up after their husbands. Flexible working has been a legal right since 2018, yet the uptake by men has been low. And legislation allowing men to take much more than 2 weeks of paternity leave only came into force several weeks ago. We're yet to see how this may or may not change things. But for now it seems that it's still society's expectation that women will make their jobs fit around childcare and home schooling, while a man’s job comes first. And lockdown has only served to highlight this historical hangover.
We recently interviewed Louise Donadieu, a freelance marketing consultant. During lockdown, she took on the lion's share of childcare so her husband Loic could concentrate on his more lucrative job in IT. She says she was able to work some hours in the day while Loic looked after baby Emie, but spent much of their evening catching up once their 7 month old went to bed.
Louise is not alone. According to research, carried out by economists from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich, mothers in the British Isles were typically providing at least 50% more childcare during lockdown, as well as spending around 10% - 30% more time than fathers home schooling their children. The research, which was carried out in April, reveals mothers typically spend at least an extra hour-and-a-half on childcare and home schooling every day, compared to the average man in the same circumstances.
The research also shows the gender divide is even larger in high-income households. A mother earning £80,000 and working from home was typically doing 3.3 hours of home schooling and 3.8 hours of childcare each day – over seven hours in total. A typical father who earns over £80,000 only spends 2.1 hours home schooling his children and 2.3 hours on childcare each working day – less than 4.5 hours in total.
All of this, unsurprisingly has had an impact on women's mental health. Research from King's College London shows that since lockdown began, 53% of women say they are feeling more anxious and depressed, compared to 43% of men. More women than men also report that they are getting less sleep, and eating less healthily, than usual.
I can certainly relate. In April my anxiety reminded me of the feelings I had in the early days of postnatal depression. I felt like a prisoner again - trapped in my own home, with responsibility for a toddler and a full time job to do as well. Even if we were both working from home, our son ALWAYS migrated to me. The soundtrack of 'mama, mama, mama' in the background of many a Google Hangout. But the worst thing, was the feeling like you were failing on all levels: as a mum, as a colleague, and as a wife. ITV were very accommodating, but as a conscientious person you don’t feel like you’re performing 100% and that feeling of failure is an awful place to be.
I know so many working mums who feel this way. Their own perfectionism and diligence creating unnecessary stress. And it's led to many arguments between couples about whose job is more important. But it's also led to some positive outcomes such as structured division of childcare and chores in the calendar, fathers stepping up out of necessity, and children learning to go to daddy to fulfill their needs, rather than default to mummy all the time. My husband definitely appreciates the challenge of full time childcare much more than he used to!
But it shouldn't have taken lockdown to force more dads to step up. If you're asked to get your baby's sleep bag out of the dryer, how about folding and putting away the whole load without being asked? If you go to get yourself a clean glass out of the dishwasher, perhaps empty the entire thing? And how about taking advantage of your legal right to flexible working so you can do some of the school runs and GP appointments? If you and your partner have full time jobs, it should not be her job to manage and execute the household tasks.
But women need to do something too. They need to let go of perfectionist ideals of how things 'should' be done at home. If you leave the cooking to your partner and everyone gets beans on toast, then at least that's one of your five a day. If he dresses your child like a member of the Village People, at least your child has clothes on. And if a grocery trip results in more processed food than fresh, then at least you'll all eat. A little compromise is needed here or else your sanity will suffer.
We all have a part to play to make gender equality a reality and to set a good example for future generations. I certainly don't want Josh to grow up thinking that because he has male genitalia, he is somehow exempt from washing up or changing nappies. And while we can legislate for flexible working, more generous paternity leave and ending discrimination in the workplace, we can't legislate for individual behaviour. We need men to want equality too, and to take advantage of these rights to create a more even playing field. Not to mention pulling their weight domestically. Ultimately, unless we all strive for equality at home between working parents, equality in the workplace remains a lofty aim.