I have noticed something in my current job. The shock on my male colleagues face when I say I have a nearly 4yr old and a 14 month old. This is often followed by questions and statements:
How do you do it?
How do you cope with everything?
How do you travel?
How does your husband cope?
How does your husband cope?
Wow! or Whoa!!
It's generally a disbelief and shock and and sometimes a little judgement. Judgement that I could possibly leave the house with such a small child there. I guess. I'm finding the double standard quite surprising but I'm not always offended. It comes from a curious place. Usually. And when it comes from a curious place I am always happy to explain how my husband Arran and I work it. I myself am curious about the double standard I perceive to be there.
It seems to be ok that men work when they have a little baby, but not women. Has anyone else experienced this? That women somehow have that magic ingredient that only they have, which means they are the ones who need to be the primary caregiver. Of course if the baby is being breastfed then it's a little tricky but on all other matters it's not. I think a lot of women promote this too. I have seen men in the relationship with a small child treated as though they are stupid or unworthy to look after their own child because they do things differently with the kids.
From the very start when Aiden was a new-born, Arran used to defer to me on lots of issues, because he perceived that I somehow knew how to do something for him, because I was the one who gave birth. Complete crap. I didn't automatically get an instruction manual as my milk came in. Nor was I an expert just because I carried him for 9 months. In the end I said to Arran that I only knew about as much as him and that he could make decisions too. Arran took it all on board and probably became a bit of a baby hog. He had as much or as little confidence as me. That's ok. Made both our lives easier.
I don't believe men get the same questions in the workplace. They don't ask each other these questions, and if they do it's about sharing and comparing and showing how proud they are of their beautiful children. There is no judgement. I don't think men consider judging other men about their children because there is an assumption, in my view, that there is a woman somewhere who is carrying the child care and domestic burden.
The questions I get the most is "how do you work and travel with small children?" I don't think a man in the same circumstance would get this question. I'm not sure Arran ever gets this question when he is away for the weekend, riding his bike in the middle of nowhere. Will any of his mate's acknowledge or even wonder who is looking after his two boys when he does Tour Divide in June this year? Men seem to acknowledge that it's hard at home with small kids and they will have to "pay" when they get home from a work trip. There seems to be a belief that the man will be in a "points" deficit when he gets back but there is no issue with him working long hours or having to travel away from home. It's ok because there is a woman around and she is expected to look after the kids and tend to the home, whether she works outside the home or not.
I get questions like "how does your husband cope?" Firstly, no one asks me that question when Arran goes away! I am just expected to cope. Secondly, I think it's also offensive to Arran and to men, who are completely capable of looking after kids if only women would just let them.
When I have to travel for work of course I miss Aiden and Charlie, and they miss me. There are lots of "mum, mum, mums..." from Charlie when I'm not there and lots of "Where's Mummy" from Aiden. I try to do a few things to make the days I'm away a little easier for Arran, who has to take the burden of getting them to and from childcare, caring for them if they are sick and feeding them, dressing them, bathing them and generally making sure they are ok.
But I enjoy the time away too. How shocking! What kind of mother am I? I enjoy hopping on a plane in my freshly dry-cleaned work clothes free of drool and jam. I like having a little time to myself to read a magazine. I enjoy having a hotel bed all to myself without the chance of being woken by a screaming child and having to fling myself out of bed in the small hours of the morning, to replace a dummy before the crying escalates so much that it will take 30 minutes to settle him down. I like just having to do my own hair and get myself dressed. I like eating breakfast alone in the hotel restaurant or a nearby cafe. I like not having to get up and down a hundred times to tend to some small child's need during said breakfast and then rush them to daycare. I'm sure my male colleagues who travel also enjoy such things. And I like coming home again. Actually the time I came home to a vomiting bug wasn't great....anyway you get the point.
I love my work and the company I work for. I also enjoy working with men. I have always worked in more industrial businesses which have tended to be more male dominated. I often find myself as the only woman in the meeting. I like these businesses because they are practical and down to earth, and I feel like what I do can make a difference. That's all very well but driving innovation and creativity in businesses requires diversity of thought and that I believe requires diversity in the employee group. Different ages, different experiences, different cultural and religious backgrounds, different ways of working, and men and women in different roles across the organisation.
Inspire meI wanted this post to be an observation of what I experience at work, as a woman and as a woman with children. I wanted it to be thought provoking and a conversation starter. I asked Arran to read the post before I put it live on the blog, mainly because I didn't want the post to be too critical. I love my job and our workplaces are what they are, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be challenged and continue to evolve to be places where every person can contribute and be valued, not matter their personal circumstances.
After reading this post Arran and I had a really good conversation about his experience at work and how his responsibilities looking after our beautiful boys are perceived. It's not just women who are struggling. Men who want to contribute equally to looking after their children find it hard in the workplace as well. He suggested I write a follow up post about this but I had a better idea. Arran is an accomplished writer. He writes his own blog called Musings of a Wannabe Racer and has written articles on mountain bike riding for many print and online magazines.
Arran is going to be a guest writer on this blog next week, giving his view of how people in his organisation view his want and need to care for our children equally. Stay posted!