I should have been in bed, it was heading towards midnight on Sunday, and I was due up at 4am to head to the airport for a work trip.
As usual I was feeling 90% apprehensive – worrying about leaving the kids, anxious that the baby would wake during the night and not understand why I’m not there, certain that despite my husband’s best intentions, the house would be in chaos on my return, and of course convinced I’d forgotten something important like my passport or that I’d misjudged the dress-code and packed all the wrong shoes.
And the other 10%? A little giddy with anticipation of small silver linings – a browse around duty free with a coffee in hand, a full night’s sleep in the hotel, and no washing-up for two whole days.
“Oh I wish I didn’t have to go!” I moaned to my husband earlier that day, looking for sympathy. “It’ll go by really quickly” he replied, “and I bet it will be one of those trips that you dread before you go, and you’re glad afterwards that you went”. Then he made me a cup of empathetic tea (a special extra-tasty kind) and looked after getting the kids ready for bed while I finished my packing (how much packing does one actually need for a 40 hour trip – why was is taking this long!)
I suddenly remembered that two weeks earlier we had had a similar conversation, except that this time I was saying to my husband “Oh I wish you didn’t have to go to London! I’m wrecked already and now I have two mornings and two nights ahead of solo-parenting, I’m exhausted just thinking about it…I hope after this you won’t have to go away for another few weeks, it’s just so haaaaaard!”
And my kind husband made me another cup of empathetic tea and gave me an apologetic squeeze, knowing that this wasn’t the time to point out that he had no choice.
I have similar double-standards in place for returning from work travel: when my husband comes home, I hand him the baby, tell him how exhausted I am, and suggest in a tone that invites no argument, that he might like to put the girls to bed since he hasn’t seen them in two days.
When I come home: I fall in the door, tell him how exhausted I am after all the meetings and flights and eating crap food, and he makes me a cup of tea (he is, in fairness, an amazing tea-maker)
My husband hasn’t noticed this double-standard yet (and I hope he’s not reading this) but even if he did, being the kind person that he is, and not being a competitive “I’m more tired than you” kind of guy, I don’t think anything would change – I’d still get my tea and sympathy either way.
And hey, let’s face it, most of the double-standards out there experienced by working mothers are a little bit more substantial and a little bit less favourable than getting away with a bit of a moan.
Take part-time work for example: every working dad that I know, without exception, works fulltime. I am fairly sure that that’s the norm in this country at the moment, at least where there’s a choice. It’s seen as anti-ambitious, detrimental to career progression for men to work reduced hours. If we could afford it, my husband would like to work a four-day week, as I do, but it would be unheard of for any male employee in his place of work to look for this, and would count as a black-mark against him.
And to be honest, I don’t think I could cope with coming home to a huge mess and no dinner one day a week while I’ve been out at work all day, so maybe this double-standard suits me too. Nevertheless, surely there’s something wrong when it’s so much more acceptable for women to work reduced hours?
Then there’s the guilt – why are working mothers made to feel guilty, and not working dads? I accept that it would be good for small children to be looked after by a parent, but does it matter which parent? Nobody ever says to a father “so, do you work or are you at home with the kids?” and there are no magazine or newspaper articles debating the topic.
Today there was some online debate about an article published in the Irish Times – stating that feminism tiptoes around the topic of working mothers, and using the word “baby farm” to refer to creches – the journalist was absolutely right in predicting that working mothers would react defensively, I was one of them.
Of course we feel guilty – this is how we’re programmed. There are some lucky mothers who work without feeling guilty, who are fully confident in their choice and I envy them. There are many who work because they absolutely cannot afford not to, and in some cases the guilt is lessened, because choice has been completely removed.
There are many of us working partly for necessary financial reasons, but also because we enjoy our jobs and on some level need to work for our own self-esteem and self-fulfilment.
I would guess that there are some who like me, would say they’d give up work if they could afford to; but if financial circumstances changed and suddenly resigning was an option, the decision might not be so easy.
Most of us are just trying to find a balance – pay the mortgage, look after our children, do a good job at work. And very few of us have jobs that we’d do for free, no matter how much we enjoy our work.
The online debate covered much of this, with input from stay-at-home-mothers who find it difficult at times and feel judged occasionally by working mothers, from working mums who feel guilty, some who don’t, most of whom wish they had more time with their children, and everyone wanted a lotto win.
The debate was good, but the article itself left me sad, and weighed on my mind all afternoon. However, I think I can safely assume that in no corner of Ireland this afternoon, was any group of dads having a similar debate. My husband never feels a single moment of guilt about working, not one moment. And I don’t think he’s alone in this.
The article didn’t generate a debate about working dads, and nobody is surprised – that’s not how our society works.
My husband and I both grew up in the 80s, sat Leaving Certs in our respective schools on opposite sides of Dublin in the 90s, and went to the same college though we didn’t know each other. We met at work back in the celtic tiger days, and continued in different companies but the same industry, where we’ve both had similar roles over the last decade, and earned similar pay.
Yet I’m weighed down by guilt this evening, and he is chatting online about the Premiership and showing me *hilarious* videos of Paulo di Canio celebrating his team’s goals.
Hmmm. Time for him to make me another cup of tea I think.