With mothering comes jobs, many jobs, never ending jobs. There's always work to be completed to care for the home, to wash clothes, to keep children clean and fed, their bodies and minds flourishing. When women are working outside of the home they are working in two worlds.
Annabelle Crabb in her recent book, The Wife Drought, explores this experience and its complexity. Drawing on her own personal experience she states that there's a power in being the person in charge of the home. It's a power that mothers might not want to give up so while they might complain about their double load of work, they also sabotage attempts by others to reduce or share the load. She says that women might not want anyone else to be as good at it as they are. This brings criticism of dad's attempts to do the housework or care for the children. Once their efforts are critiqued or ridiculed they may not do it again. The cycle continues.
And there's more to it that that. The mother who is working outside of the home may over-compensate to cover the guilt they feel at leaving the children and home. Annabelle gives an example of having an early morning flight for work commitments and staying up til 1am to cook meals. This overachievement is surely setting women up to fail but it can feel instinctive to do this. It can lead to exhaustion and self doubt, along with a sense of being trapped in a world with no escape.
What could be a solution to this? How can more equity occur between mothers and fathers? What could help mothers feel confident in giving up some of this household power? Annabelle looks to Norway for an alternate model. Paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers was introduced in 1977, yes 1977, and then in 1993 the government changed the rules so that the money would only be paid if the father took time off. Now 90 per cent of Norwegian fathers take paternity leave. Annabelle suggests that this experience tells us that men and women can both be good at bringing up children and the household tasks that go with that. Engaging in parenting early on through time off work seems to have lasting benefits as well. It could be that there would be benefits all round, for children and parents alike.