Tagged: work-life balance
The Return of the Mum
Shrink Grows Kids is 2 years old! And more exciting things are happening: I have been offered two book deals and am about to sign up with the lovely people at Pan Macmillan for my first ever book. So thank you to everyone who has read and supported my little site. Your reads gave me the confidence to continue and it has led me to things beyond my imagination.
Those who followed my journey from the start may have realised by the tone of some of my blog posts that I started this blog as a child psychiatrist that had been somewhat cast aside by her profession for her decision to work a maximum of 3-days a week such that she could be there for her children. Working so little is highly frowned upon in a profession where apparently working till 10pm and on Saturdays is deemed a standard working week (thanks Mr Hunt). In the battle of children vs career, for me children had to win out.
It’s a tough decision faced by many driven parents and I respect the individual choices made by others even if they differ from mine. For me, I am lucky enough to be married to a banker who pays the mortgage and financially as my post-tax income would have been equivalent to quality childcare, money was negligible in the decision making. Unluckily, being married to a banker means that for much of the time parenting responsibility falls to me as Banker is often out of the house before 06:30am and not back again until 8pm, if he is even in the country. Thus I squarely felt the responsibility of how our children turned out was down to me. As a child psychiatrist who spends days and years hearing and helping children and families that have struggled, it seemed implausible not to at least attempt to practice what I believe and preach: spend time with children.
For quite some years I took positions that allowed me to work a 3-day week by virtue of my being over-qualified and under-paid and saw friends and colleagues speed by in the race to the top. It was not without its frustrations, anger, tears, self-hatred and despair. What was the least anticipated, yet most destructive was the loss of identity. I would never have seen myself as one for airs and graces and felt that I took people on face-value, but it was amazing how naked I felt when stripped of a prestigious job title. Signing on reluctantly for gym membership post-baby fat one time I felt wounded to see that the lady had listened to my description of my work circumstances and had written: Occupation: House-wife/ Doctor.
I had never identified myself as a house-wife. A mother yes, but not a house-wife. I don’t and doubt I ever will darn my husband’s socks (although once my mother-in-law did offer to teach me).
It was with this inkling that I wanted something more that I tentatively set up my blog. Slowly by slowly, with your help, a sense of confidence and purpose grew that even if the system would not support me, I could use my skills to support myself. I started speaking to friends about work outside of the NHS which although I loved, had rejected me for my lack of ambition/ work-ethic/ dedication because of my insistence on limited hours. We set up a little private practice which has been doing great. This led to more confidence in my ability, to connections and friendships which have led to more and more opportunities, which have eventually culminated into a return to a prestigious NHS position on MY TERMS – 3 days a week. Alongside, the material from my blog has continued to grow, albeit slowly of late, and I am still pinching myself that a publisher is willing to support me in growing it into a book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could or would become a writer.
My horoscope predicted that 2016 could be one of the best years of my life (so be happy all Pisceans) and I am really looking forward to the year. My message to other parents that chose children over career is to say “Believe in yourself”, give it time, you never know where it might lead you and soon you’ll be back on top.
THANKS FOR SUPPORTING MY BLOG.
WATCH THIS SPACE FOR NEWS OF MY BOOK!
Here are some posts from rock bottom that might help:
Advice to My Former Self – Desperate Working Mother of Two Young Children
Did You Get Maternal Adjustment Disorder?
Shrink grows kids: One year on
Shrinkgrowskids is officially a year old, and I am so glad that I have made it to this milestone! Thank you to the 117 subscribers and the many more regular visitors. Shrinkgrowskids is being read in 102 countries worldwide, and especially in the UK, USA, Australia, France and Brazil. If you are reading this in Brazil, “Hello!” I do not know who you are but thanks for your time!
When I started writing a year ago, part of the impetus was as I was frustrated that a Consultant Child Psychiatrist was unable to find work that fit in with parenting responsibility. During the school day I wanted to do something with my knowledge, not just the dishes. I would meet up with other women (lawyer, business consultant and tech consultant) in local coffee shops complaining about the career paths that we had given-up out of necessity, not truly free will. Over the year, I have come to realize that times-they-are-a-changing and that there is nothing that can hold back the tide of change for equality any longer.
Employers will increasingly be encouraged to promote women
Men will become increasingly involved in parenting
Men and women will become treated more equally at work
Parents will not automatically be assumed to be mothers
Children will be happier raised by parents of both genders
I am finally seeing and living through change. I might get to witness the end-game of feminism in my life-time. Thanks to the major research funding bodies colluding to only fund research in institutions that are putting in place strategies for gender equality, over the last year, my University has been falling over itself to send women like me on Women’s Development Programs and Mentoring schemes. Although some schemes need fine tuning and we are yet to confirm if lip-service converts into true commitment; with a gun-to-its-head it really looks like progress is going to be made on this. Thank you funding bodies!
This leads me to believe that progress and change can and will eventually filter to all professions, we just need more “financial-guns-to-heads”. Many of my friends in the city say “yes, but it won’t work in banking/ law/ accountancy/ consultancy”; because “of the nature of their work” and “client expectations”. Yet, who dictates “the nature of their work” and why do “clients expect” things to be delivered at awkward times of the day (or rather night)…? We as a society do not have to accept the status quo. We can press for change. Given incentive everything can change.
It reminds me of the arguments made by people opposed to the European Working Time Directives (EWTD; European laws that prohibited doctors from working more than a 48 hour week) for doctors when I was a trainee. In those days, we worked 96 hours a week. On some weekends, we worked Saturday 9am through until noon on Monday. I’m telling you the sleep deprivation of motherhood was nothing compared to this and after this experience all-night breast feeding was a doddle. Believe me, it is far easier to wake up and slap a baby to your breast than it is to wake up to catheterise a gentleman. It was thought “impossible” for the system to change to allow doctors to work less because of the “vital” work that we doctors were doing. How could patient care be transferred safely from one doctor to another? Impossible!
Well, as it turns out, all doctors have now moved to shift work without a massive rise in the death rate of patients. Indeed arguably care is better as doctors have had a decent amount of rest. I can never forget the poor patient that sat in hospital for a whole week without being seen by any doctors as my colleague on a weekend shift had forgotten to put his name on our patient list. The medical system was forced to change by financial penalties for non-compliance, bringing with it a surge of female applications to medical school. Medicine is still not ideal, men still dominate the upper echelons and prestigious specialties, but at least the days of long hours culture is gone. It is not beyond the wit of man to change systems in other institutions to afford their employees a better work-life balance; their talented junior women a real shot at success and their talented junior men a shot at being a decent father. They just need the financial incentives, because at the end of the day, money is the only cattle prod that works.
Indeed, it is money (or rather lack of it) that will likely be the solution to my other bug-bear: the lack of high-functioning part-time jobs in medicine. After struggling to find a position in London happy to take me on a part-time basis, it turns out that the NHS are so short of money that they are now happy to employ part-time Consultants. Not because they value retaining female staff or work-life balance, but because they no longer have enough money to pay for full-time consultants. Either way, it is good for me and other parents who wish to work part-time as a Consultant in the NHS. Fingers crossed that over the coming years something will turn-up for me. In the mean-time I’m thoroughly enjoying my University position that allows me to interact with some of the greatest minds in Child Psychiatry, and on my days off, as waiting lists have exploded in the NHS; private practice is booming. It is hard to argue against well-paid work that can easily be fit in between the school drop-off and pick-up. It’s sad that this can only be done in the private sector, particularly for a die hard NHS supporter like me.
What of my coffee-morning compatriots? After a period of part-time work at a lower level, the lawyer has succumbed and returned to full-time work at Big Law Firm and has employed a nanny. The business consultant has set up her own successful business, which operates on her terms within school hours. The tech consultant moved out of London and is content to be a stay-at-home mother. We all moved on, and its now pretty hard for any of us to find time for a cuppa. Maybe its that the children are growing, maybe its a sign of the times, but good women can no longer be kept down.
The other day a younger male friend who just got engaged told me he was thinking about taking his wife’s name…
Who knows where we will be a year from now?
In the meantime, I hope you will continue to read my blog. Here are some of my reflections on parenthood from the last year.
Did you get Maternal Adjustment Disorder (MAD)?
It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow. Sadly, I’m not going to write about Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie or Emmeline Pankhurst. I’m writing about a very depressing University held event that I went to recently entitled “Inspiring Women”.
It was part of the University’s on-going initiative to encourage more female scientists to remain in academia given the Government’s concern that there is an attrition of women as you move from the bottom to top in academic science. It is not just in science that the gender gap is seen but across academic disciplines. Despite the proportion of female academic staff in the U.K. being close to equitable to males (around 45%), the proportion of female professors remains low ( a dismal 19.8% of all professors). It’s no surprise then that close to a third of men in academia are in the well paid academic positions (earning > 50K), whereas this figure is only at 17% for women (ECU, 2012). You don’t even want to know the figures for ethnic minority women.
There has been much interest in finding out the reasons for this drop out. The Ivory towers it would seem are just as hard to get into as the FTSE 100 Boardrooms. Why? Just like in FTSE 100 companies, where the foot soldiers are high in oestrogen; there are plenty of XX science PhD students. Of my peers, I know 3 talented women who completed science PhDs. One, graduated top of her year in Natural Science at Cambridge with the highly coveted and rarely achieved triple first, another graduated with a first class degree from University College London. The third studied her PhD at Cambridge University. Are these 3 now all Senior lecturers or Readers en route to the Professorial track? No. They have all left academia. They are all married with children. They are all science teachers. This is great news for teaching and I am sure they are fabulous teachers, but given that teaching was the available career option for women 50 years ago, why has nothing changed since then?
The event got off to a bad start as it was obvious from a quick look around that there was not one Y chromosome in the room. Clearly from the institution, and society’s point of view, encouraging women to succeed in their careers is much like breast-feeding. It’s “women’s business” and men need not get involved. Women’s failure to succeed in the workplace is clearly down to them and there is nothing men can do to help this situation. Proceedings took an ironic turn as the Chair that was introduced was an ex-colleague of mine who by chance I had bumped into a month earlier. I had last heard that she had become a senior lecturer, was the “right-hand” lady to a recently knighted Professor and was touted for great things. I was therefore surprised and saddened when she told me that she had resigned from her academic position at the University because of the unsatisfactory work-life balance and unsupportive institution in which she worked. One could only be somewhat sceptical then about her putting on a cheery face to “inspire” other women.
That aside, we were then treated to the career stories of 4 female professors. It was interesting to hear the struggles that my forebears had endured in order to achieve their current Professorial positions. One Professor was required to return to work a few weeks after giving birth and to prepare data for an international conference in the first few months following childbirth. She talked about taking her child with her to international conferences, and when she had difficulties with childcare, her child played under her desk at work. All 4 professors were clearly remarkable and driven women and had made personal sacrifice to achieve their positions.
However, I was grossly disappointed in their summation of strategies for success. Even when I posed the question of what institutions could do to support women in academia, all 4 professors deferred to personal attributes required for success, emphasising the need for “dedication, passion, perseverance and strength of personality”. One went as far as to say that “If you want to make it in science, it has to be your single passion. You cannot for instance be passionate about science and architecture; it has to be science alone.” Another Professor talked about how finding a “niche subject”, “that nobody else was interested in” had helped her get to her position as she quickly became a leading expert.
Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I found these messages deeply depressing rather than “inspiring”. I felt that clearly unbeknownst to the organisers, it was exactly this mantra that has been putting off generations of female scientists.
I could totally understand that these were things women had to do 20 years ago in order to get ahead in a “man’s world”, but surely this does not apply to the here and now? Are women still excluded from major and competitive fields of science such that they are required to seek out an uninteresting niche in order to succeed? Why should women not aspire to succeed in a major area of science? What if your “other passion” is family? Whilst I agree that to succeed in any walk of life passion, perseverance and determination are required, can it be that women are so much less “passionate, determined and persevering” than men…? I feel we need to get beyond talking about personal attributes and thinking about systemic, cultural and institutional solutions. We already know most women undervalue themselves anyway, so the emphasis on personal attributes just means that women drop out saying and believing “I’m not passionate or committed enough” when in actuality they have as much passion and commitment as their male colleagues but systems and culture are against them. How many male Professors were the main caretakers for their children or elderly relatives, might this not impact on commitment and dedication? Shouldn’t we be discussing why these roles can not be fulfilled by men when we talk about barriers to female success?
The event soon went from bad to worse for me as we went on to breakout tables to discuss issues more intimately. I had an unfortunate clash with a Professor who compared my juggling parenting, clinical work and academia with her juggling her career with her desire to exercise (as she had no children). Aside from exercise and sex both being choices, I cannot see any comparison between parenting and exercising. One is a responsibility; the other is a leisure time activity with some health benefits. In addition, insomuch as good parenting leads to well-functioning children and adults, there is a societal benefit as they will be the people paying for our pension and healthcare as we age, whereas exercise has only individual benefit. Whilst the comparison is ridiculous to me, it was shocking and demoralising to realise that this is the view of some intelligent women who have made it to the top. And it seems that I am not alone in my feelings as research shows that women do not just need “role models” and “mentors”; they need the right kind of role models and mentors and are “put off by successful female professors who are seen as aggressive and competitive, and are often childless”(The Guardian, 2012).
Other advice from senior women I have had included: “It’s hard, but we just have to get on with it”, which was comforting until I found out that she had put her own children into boarding school so that she could “get on with it”. Many others have offered support by saying “You’ll never regret time spent with your children”, which is supportive and appreciated, and yet for some reason I had a nagging “doomed” feeling about this kind of advice. For a while, I was unsure why, then I realised, it is these supportive words that perpetuate the myth of maternal responsibility which acts as the source of guilt that is eroding female careers. I can bet no one is encouraging my male colleagues to go part-time to spend “unregrettable” time with their children. Yet, why not?
I left the event after this, but I hear it was “a great success”. The majority twenty-something audience lapped it up with their wide-eyed enthusiasm, much like I would have done a decade ago. Little do they know about the choices they will have to make a few years down the line, oblivious to the fact that the majority of them will soon be lining up to teach secondary school science.
The problem of course is not unique to academia. My husband, a banker, hears women talk about this all the time in banking. What then, can be done to retain more women in science, academia, banking, law, politics? The right role-models? Gender sensitive leadership? Varying management styles? Emphasis on quality of work rather than quantity? An end to “presentee-ism”? Increased availability of part time senior positions? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it is beyond personal ambition, and will involve changing long established systems and cultures, in the workplace, in society, in families. Institutions need to stop thinking about ways to encourage women to change, and think about ways in which they can change to allow women to succeed. I know that “systems and cultures” may be too great a task to take on, but one might hope that the brilliant women who have already made it to the top, along with their male colleagues might be able to attempt to take this challenge on.
Now that to me; would be truly inspiring.
ECU 2012: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/news/targeted-action-needed-for-greater-impact
Guardian 2012: www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/may/24/why-women-leave-academia.
I hate ‘Affordable Childcare’
All 3 main political parties in the U.K. seem to be falling over themselves to offer “affordable childcare” and “wrap-around” childcare. That way both sexes can have a career and the government can get more tax revenue and pay less welfare support. So popular is this mantra that “affordable childcare” is the purported solution for everything. Celebrity business woman Karren Brady’s solution to lack of female FTSE 100 board members? Affordable childcare. How to tackle lack of social mobility? Affordable childcare. How to get people off benefits? You guessed it – affordable childcare. It is incredulous that one social policy is supposed to do all of this. Even if it could be the solution, or part of the solution, what of the further problems it may cause? A generation of children, who become de facto parentless for the majority of their formative years.
Child psychologists have been banging on about the importance of the early years in child development for ages. Yet; somehow the message has not filtered through clearly to people. It is very unpopular these days to espouse the needs of young children over their parents’ employment and career progression; but this does not negate the fact that the first few years of a child’s life have an important bearing on its future.
The science is clear. Cognitively, social mobility has ended before it has begun. At school start, children can already be differentiated by social class with those in higher social classes having better vocabulary and readiness to read. From an emotional perspective, attachment theory speaks of life long consequences of difficulties in early parent-child relationships. From a psychiatric perspective, almost 75% of adult mental health problems are in evidence by age 18 years, 50% by age 15 years (Kim Cohen, 2003). Intense research has focused on earlier and earlier periods in child development and indeed yielding associations between how a child is at age 3 years with later psychopathology (Maughan et al., 2005). Whilst genetics will undoubtedly play a part, most genetically sensitive studies (studies that take into account the effects of genes by using twins and family members) of conditions from depression to personality and intelligence, still indicate significant environmental contribution with early environment purported to be a “sensitive” or “critical” period where environment is particularly important.
To me, parenting is one of the hardest and most important jobs in the world. Successful parents should be revered and given a gold medal in my book. Following the devastation of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, a teenager whose mother, a doctor, had been killed was interviewed by the press. She commented “I want to be like my mother”, the interviewer said “A doctor?” she said “No, a great mother.” I love that quote. Being a doctor and a mother myself, I would far rather be remembered as a great mother than a great doctor, and mothers (and fathers) should be proud to identify themselves in this role, rather than solely for their occupation which seems so much so the case in our current society.
Although I personally believe that I am the best person to provide the care for my children and believe that parenting does involve sacrifices, I do not believe that parenting is about giving up your whole life for your children. This is neither necessary nor healthy. It typically ends up in resentment, over-involvement or some invested expectation in their outcome. Therefore, I chose to continue to work, but put limits in place to ensure that I was still there for my children. For me, this meant that I left work at 5pm every day[i] (my husband at 6:30pm most days at my insistence) and fully engaged with my children for an hour or two before bedtime (no phones, no screens, and no distractions) and spent the entirety of the weekends and holidays focused on them. No musical performance, school play, sports day, parents-in-school/ nursery activity for either child has ever passed without parental presence. This is very hard work as every working parent knows, but I think it is possible to generate enough quality time this way to sustain children’s needs. After four years of this, I went part time so I could pick my children up from school at least part of the week, but I have always continued to work.
By disentangling the importance of early parenting from the fear that this may mean requirement of parents to give up their careers, I think we would achieve a greater consensus in support of the value of early parenting. However, any support of non-parental childcare must come with the caveat that this does not negate the need for parenting. Those that chose to work, need to fit in the same quality parenting on top of their work roles. Childcare is not parenting, neither is reading the paper at the weekend while the children watch TV, or the crèche at the ski resort. If no ‘parenting’ is happening in the working week, it needs to be done at the weekends and in the holidays. Managing parenting and full-time work can be a hard ask, however given the rise in referrals to child and adolescent mental health services throughout the U.K., we can not afford to neglect the parenting message when we talk about increasing childcare.
My view is that there are better solutions to work-life balance than extensive childcare.
Rather than “affordable childcare”, we should be focusing on pushing for achieving a 50:50 split in domestic responsibility with our partners, flexible working hours, job-share, well-paid, high status reduced hours jobs, family-friendly policies and innovating on new ways of working for both men and women.
I believe that the decision you make as to who looks after your children in the early years, is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life as a parent. The quality of the childcare is paramount whether it is provided by the parent, child-minder, relative or nursery. By quality, I do not just mean “safe”, but supportive, nurturing, stimulating, engaging and child focused. Many people think that as babies and toddlers “do not do much” that all they need is to be fed, watered, changed and kept out of danger. This is so far from the truth. At this age, brain development is happening at its most rapid rate ever and this is the purported time that environment will have the greatest impact. Quality is paramount; affordability is secondary.
Unless you believe that you can eat lots of cake and not get fat, then the idea of the government providing affordable “quality” childcare is laughable. Since when has the government or any private company been able to deliver “quality” on a shoestring? An acceptable product or service perhaps; but never the highest quality. I’m all for saving money; I pick meat out of a fish head to make fishcakes; yet, when it comes to childcare, I’m not doing budget or flat-pack.
I’m savvy enough to realise that not all that is attached to a high price tag is high quality. In fact, in my view the bulk of expensive stuff is not worth the money. However, where a truly high quality product or service does exist, it generally is not cheap. There may be the odd exception, but when it comes to nurseries, I cannot imagine that there are anywhere close to sufficient “affordable high quality” state or privately owned nurseries to provide for the demand.
Provisional results from Ofsted on “Overall effectiveness: the quality and standards of the provision” of active early years providers at their most recent inspection (June 2013) found only 12% of 67,708 providers to be outstanding. If affordability is taken into account, it is likely that this percentage will fall below 10%.
My son’s Ofsted outstanding nursery is costing me a wapping £1,580 a month. I am happy to pay this princely sum because I know the value that I am getting[ii]; however, I am certain this is not what the government means by “affordable”; given that a doctor’s substantial salary was wiped clean by having 2 children in childcare at this price. It is also not as though the nursery is serving the children caviar for tea, but the majority outlay is to retain excellent and experienced staff. It is likely that like my children’s nursery, a significant proportion of the 12% of “outstanding early years’ providers” are not affordable for the majority of parents. Reflecting on these statistics one can only imagine the political parties’ election pledges of “affordable high quality childcare” are pie in the sky.
I have no problem with affordability, the lower the price the better, the more government subsidy the better; but the emphasis needs to be on “high-quality” childcare before we can even think about affordability.
I cannot fathom how affordable childcare is going to lead to the ascent of womankind. I do not agree with Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) that there are scores of able women out there who slack off on their careers waiting on “Mr Right” to come along and give them babies. Rather the opposite. My generation (born 1975-1985) of successful women were outsmarting their male counterparts throughout school and University and equalling men on pay through their twenties. For me, it was only at the time of pregnancy and childbirth with my first child that the realities of the unequal society we live in slapped me in the face, and at the birth of my second child that I realised that my pre-natal ambitions of becoming a “Professor in Child Psychiatry” were toast. Lack of ambition, “leaning in” and “affordable childcare” were not the problem. As a female colleague of mine put it “I didn’t think I needed to be a feminist as things were equal, until I had a baby and then I realised that they weren’t. Then I was too tired to be able to do anything about it.”
If we are looking on women to shatter-glass, we are talking about the high flyers. The fact stares you in the face. For the majority, THESE WOMEN CAN AFFORD CHILDCARE! It is NOT affordable childcare that these women need. Instead, high-flying mothers are faced with inflexible corporations that value an ethos of face-time over productivity, demanding the lives of their employees (male and female) to be at their mercy. Fortunately for the senior male employees seeking favour for promotion, they usually have a wife that has subsumed the entirety of the parent role so that they can be ever available to their male bosses who also have wives that allow them to be ever present at work to oversee the tyranny. A survey of top executives in the U.S.A found that while 84% of men were married with children, only 49 percent of the women were (Mason, 2013). That statistic says it all.
High flying mothers (and fathers) who wish to see their children are forced out at this stage to the detriment of the nation’s economy and investment already made in this talented pool of people. Amongst my peers, Christina, a high flying lawyer took a redundancy package. This was despite a tax-payer funded law degree from Cambridge University. She is doing contract legal work on an ad hoc basis, but by no means utilising her full qualifications and potential. Kerry, a London Business School MBA graduate turned down a 6 figure salary at a multi-national to look after her children. She had a tax-payer funded humanities degree from Oxford University. Daisy, an executive at a major internet company gave up her 6 figure salary to look after her children, despite a degree from North Western, U.S.A. The cynical will interpret this to mean “We shouldn’t waste money on educating women”, but these women are better at their jobs than a majority of men. They could have participated in growing the economy and contributed to better decision making in mixed-sex boardrooms, had they been given more options.
They are all great mothers with really lovely children, so who can blame them for downscaling their career ambitions for the sake of their families. The decision to give up a career is ultimately a “personal and family decision”, but I believe that outdated societal roles, laws and policies have a huge part to play in this, pushing women between a rock and a hard place when making their “personal decision”. The wasted talent is there for all to see if people would stop turning a blind eye and calling it a “personal decision”. Most women given the choice between a bullet to their head or the head of their child would choose a bullet to their own head. This does not make the act a “personal choice”. Women’s roles and ambitions have changed, but men’s roles and ambitions remain exactly the same. If women were to adopt the same attitudes as men regarding their careers, ultimately, the children would suffer so I am glad that most women have not seen “masculinization” as the solution to inequality.
It was at the point of my second pregnancy, at the realisation that my career ambitions had to change that I felt supremely conned by the message that I had heard loud and clear at my high-flying all-girl’s school: “aim high”, “achieve”, “women can succeed in all walks of life now”. I wondered whether at the neighbouring boy’s schools they had teachers telling them “you too can have a loving relationship with your children”, “you can get to know your children and be the most important person in their life” and somehow, I didn’t think so. I wondered why, as a woman of substantial salary, albeit lower than my husbands, I felt immense pressure to be the parent that was there for my children and to subsume the childcare responsibility role? Many men in my position, such as Mr Blair and Mr Clegg (famous for having more financially successful wives) clearly had no such problem. It doesn’t matter how much women earn or how successful they are, society still seems to view childcare (whether the direct provision or supervision) as the woman’s domain. I know for a fact that my children’s school and nursery will call me first, rather than my husband, for anything related to our children, even though they have both our numbers. He will only get a call if I am unavailable.
It is no wonder that men, including many of our own beloved husbands, are blissfully happy with their lot. Fearful of the coming tides of change that will inevitably drag them out of their offices and into the kitchens, they offer up childcare as the solution, more and more and more of it. At what cost to children and family life?
At present many a successful woman is saying “No” to this, opting to take the hit on their own careers. This is the “White Elephant” in the room; the last hiding place of “sexism”. It is not just the white haired man sitting opposite women in the boardroom that is ignoring the taps at the glass ceiling. It is also the greying man snoring next to them in the bedroom. Whilst most men are doing more with their children than their fathers, the majority are way off doing 50% of childcare.
In conclusion, I hate “affordable childcare” because it is merely the sound-bite solution politicians are offering to sweeten voters (largely female) who are concerned about equality. It is neither realistic nor the real solution that we seek. Social mobility will not be aided as unless childcare is free, the supermarket checkout lady will still be unable to afford it. Retaining excellent women will not be helped if women wish to be actively involved with their children. With affordable childcare, a majority of middle class families may break even with salary covering childcare, a minority of middle class families may have more money in their pockets; but at what cost to family life, parental and child wellbeing? Extensive childcare passes the buck from women to children, when ideally this load should be shared between women, men and society. Thankfully, times are a-changing. I feel that I am at the start of a new generation of women with increased power in the home and workplace who will insist on change and with the advent of shared parental leave; one can only hope that this is the start of a flood of legislative change that may mean that my daughter, as well as my son, will fulfil her ambitions.
I repeat: We should be focusing on pushing for achieving a 50:50 split in domestic responsibility with our partners, flexible working hours, job-share, well paid, high status part-time or reduced hour positions, family-friendly policies, and innovating on new ways of working for both men and women.
Kim Cohen, J., Caspi, A., Moffit, T.E., Harrington, H., Milne, B.J., & Poulton, R. (2003). Prior juvenile diagnoses in adults with mental disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 709-717.
Maughan, B. & Kim Cohen, J. (2005). Continuities between childhood and adult life. British Journal of Psychiatry, 187, 301-303.
Mason, M. (2013). In the ivory tower, men only. www.slate.com, June 17, 2013
[i] You might say, “Well, you are lucky that you can leave your job at 5pm, but I can’t.”; but the truth is that you “can’t” in my job either (prior to having children, I was regularly at work till 6:30-7:30pm), but I just did. Did my employers care? Hell yes! Did I care? Well, yes of course, my glowing career prospects were severely tarnished; but offer me the choice again of “tarnished career prospects” and “absent parent” and I will make the same choice again. My husband is a banker; and “Yes”, even they can leave on time if you nag enough. I told him to go to work as early as he liked, 5am if need be, but to leave on time to preserve time with HIS children.
[ii] What difference can quality make? I learnt the hard way. Having experienced sending Big Sis to a nursery that I was dissatisfied with, which later received an Ofsted “satisfactory” report, and then changing her nursery to an Ofsted “outstanding” nursery the difference was marked. I will give you just one example but there were many others: Big Sis was bitten or scratched by other children in her class at least 10 to 15 times in her 18 month career at her first nursery. Other children in her class were also being bitten and scratched and we parents almost had to form a line to sign the incident forms when we collected our children. We would be told that a new toddler had been admitted to the class who had not yet been “socialised” by the nursery but that they would get the child under control soon. Only then, they would admit another “unsocialised” child. Eventually I had to sign an incident form saying that Big Sis had bitten another child (although she never bit anyone at home), and to tell the truth, I was rather glad that Big Sis was retaliating rather than being a teething ring for the other children. After Big Sis transferred to the Ofsted Outstanding nursery she was bitten once and scratched once in a period of 28 months. She didn’t bite anyone. Lil Bro, who has only known the outstanding nursery has never been bitten or scratched and has never bitten another child at nursery. He has bitten his sister at home so it is not as if he is a particularly placid non-biting child. In my experience, biting is a very normal aggressive reaction in children and most children in the 0-3 year age group will do it at some point. Initially when Big Sis was being bitten at nursery, I was sympathetic to the nursery as I am aware that “all children bite”, however, on witnessing how much less this type of behaviour was occurring at a well- run nursery I am pretty sure that the level of biting was related to the nursery’s care.