Saturday, 22 August 2009

Sole income earner mother pressure

It was my mother-in-law's birthday today. Three of her sons, with wives and children, gathered at her house for a surprise party organised by her husband. With six children and eight adults in a small courtyard, it felt small but convivial. It was a lovely party and we all had fun. The children ran and played hide and seek, the parents drank warm sparkling wine and talked. What could be better.

Both my sister-in-laws are currently sole income earners in their homes. One hopes this is a temporary situation, the other is resigned to the fact that the role have permanently switched in her home, and that she will need to sustain the household moving forwards whilst her husband cares for the home full time.

I say resigned, though I saw absolutely no evidence of resignation in her behaviour today, not in that of her family. On the contrary, she was exuberant.

Today, she was just back from a 12 day trip in Sweden and Holland, filming an advertisement for a Turkish company. She was tired but ebullient. She had missed her children, and literally couldn't keeep her hands off either of them, nor indeed her husband, who she inspected "like a gorilla", according to my brother in law. She was clearly delighted to be home. But she also admitted to having a great time on her trip, staying up till 1 am after spending the evening with clients and agency colleagues, then coming back to the hotel for late night preparation and e-mails. In her own words, it had been fun.

At the same time, her husband was on good form too, as were her smiley, happy children, who couldn't get enough of their mother but didn't seem at all affected by her absence.

It struck me how liberating it can be when the roles are completely reversed, and as a working mother, you effectively have a "wife" - as function not as gender - ensuring everything is running efficiently and with the love of a parent.

It worries me sometimes that the two working parent model of today is not sustainable. Is it really possible to buy in the support that is required at home when both parents work, or does the nanny/housekeeper solution always end up as a compromise? Do the both or one of the parents inevitably have to pick up a significant extra workload once the day is finished to keep everything at home in order, and everyone happy?

I've often thought that having a "wife" - again, function, not gender - who runs the home as well as a husband who works like I do and dips in and out of home life would actually be the ideal.

It's not the first time that I've wondered how manageable it is having both parents working, and the unknown damage we may be causing on the way, not least to ourselves.

But then I firmly believe this will be the model for the future, and that it's important for me to be role model to my daughters and to some extent, join with other working mothers as pioneers, figuring out how to best make the balance work in the interests of all.


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