I’m one of the designers here at Babymel. I have two kids under 4 and our Marketing Manager asked me if I would write a post for International Women’s Day in relation to gender parity. In my personal experience, gender parity has a long way to go with regards to child rearing.
After I had my first son, once my maternity leave was over and I wasn’t breastfeeding, I went back to work. Babymel’s flexible working policy allowed me to be able to return to work 2 days a week and finish at 4pm to fit in with nursery pick up. My partner Joe, was in the (unusual) position where his work allowed him to reduce his working hours from 5 days to 4 days a week (although obviously taking a hit on his pay). So our childcare equation looked like this:
Now, an extremely rudimentary knowledge of maths shows that I did most of the childcare.
However, Joe was continually being congratulated for his 20% parenting share. He kept being thanked for helping me out. What a helpful father! Helping me out! A great help! How lucky was I?!
And me? I started to feel guilty. Guilty. Me. I’m your classic right-on Doctor Marten’s wearing confident urbane femininista! I stomp my way through life! I felt guilty because my partner was doing 20% of the childcare. 20%! I also felt guilty because I wanted a break from being a mum sometimes and I liked being at work talking about work stuff not mum stuff.
For me, this revealed deep set and ingrained ideas we still have (I have) about who should be doing the childcare. And it’s not just the mum who potentially misses out on career opportunities and development because they are not able to go back to work full time. It’s the father who misses out on time with his child because he also can’t reduce his working hours easily or without career consequences. I cherish the balance of my weekday-soft-play time with my kids and then my time when I am working or doing my own thing without my kids..
What could I imagine as progress in this area? Basically, more choice.
Maybe you could choose to look after your child full time. That’s amazing! Maybe you could choose to work full time and have your partner be the primary care giver? That’s also amazing! Maybe you take your kids 50% of the time and your partner does the other half or maybe it’s something else. And, very importantly, maybe you’re a single mother or father or another caregiver and you also have access to this range of choice. And whatever you decide on, you can do this without judgement and with support.
To achieve this range of flexible options, I could also imagine a combined solution of affordable childcare, better access to flexible working hours for men as well as women, more support in the workplace and a shift in attitudes to who is the default primary care giver.
That’s what I hope we move towards when we ask to hashtag pressforprogress for gender parity on International Women’s Day.
Right, best get back to work. Them baby bags won’t design themselves!!
* DISCLAIMER * I KNOW how privileged I am- I have been able to get along in my life without really coming up against this in such a brutal way before having kids. I’m relatively well off, white and well educated. I am also lucky to have found a place to be able to work flexibly, as has my partner (though to a lesser degree). So for me to feel this gender disparity, it means other people who aren’t as privileged as me are struggling with this issue so much more.