An inconvenient truth & the solution to 'having it all' we cannot ignore

An inconvenient truth & the solution to ‘having it all’ we cannot ignore

Devouring The Weekend Australian magazine is a rite I savour and Saturday was no exception. The cover story “An Inconvenient Truth: Mothers, Families and the Secrets We Keep…Is Work Life Balance a Lie?” immediately caught my eye.

The feature, crafted by British author Christine Armstrong, was compelling and comprehensive, borne from her soon-to-be-published book The Mother of All Jobs: How to have Children and a Career and Stay Sane(ish).

It is not unfamiliar terrain: for many working mums the tales recounted by Armstrong of women the world over desperately seeking to blend work and parenting will scrape the bone. For many of these women life is a relentless treadmill in which wine, a lack of sleep, loneliness and disconnect feature prominently.

It wasn’t sensational, rather it was eminently sensitive, but it was desperately sad to read. How can it be this hard?

It’s the question so many of the women featured ask themselves often. It’s the near universal dilemma many families are living.

Technology has enabled work to bleed into every waking moment. Progress has meant women are educated and working. House prices and the cost of living render two incomes necessary in many households. These factors have converged but it’s women who are carrying the “mother-load” to make it all work.

Having it all is an unquestionably difficult proposition and yet there is an answer we overlook –  a solution we cannot ignore.

Earlier this year at the Stockholm Gender Equality Forum I heard the CEO of Promundo International Gary Barker speak about men and caring off the back of global research on the subject.

“No country in the world has achieved full equality in daily caregiving and no country has put a plan of action into place to achieve it,” Barker said. “Not only have we not achieved it but we have lacked the imagination to even believe that men in fact could do this.”

The global average is that women do three times more caring on a daily basis than men do. In some areas of the world Barker says it’s as high as six times as much while in others it’s closer to two times as much but it’s not equal anywhere.

“There is no place in the world where men are working more hours daily than women,” Barker said.

That right there is – categorically – the reason that ‘having it all’ is the total “clusterfluff” that it is for women. There are only so many hours in the day and if the load isn’t shared women will break under the pressure. The reality is that if men did as much as women on the home front life would be infinitely easier for women. Sharing it all would make ‘having it all’ almost a cinch.

Having just spent a month immersed in the subject of fathers and caring I cannot overlook the transformational impact of shared parenting not just on gender equality but on the quality of life that men, women and children can enjoy.

Anyone interested in the field of gender equality has likely relied upon the line that there is no single silver bullet to fix the structural problems that perpetuate the gap between men and women. For a long time I believed that. Not anymore. Dads leaning in at home is the silver bullet.

Obviously it’s not a catch-all. There are not always two parents present in every home and for many single parents having a co-parent to step up is light years from their reality. That is one reason that policies and practices – from government and employers – that support families to blend work and home life are so critical. Paid parental leave, having access to affordable childcare and being able to work flexibly, don’t make the single parenting juggle easy but they help make it possible.

Where there are two parents – even in different households – it is time we actively and relentless focus on sharing the load. It is time we are bold enough to not just imagine a world in which fathers share the care but we start working towards it.

In Melbourne on Friday a group of academics, business leaders, agencies and community groups came together to focus on precisely this.

The reality is the majority of Australian dads want to spend more time with their kids.  It is time we do everything we can – in our own homes, in workplaces and in parliament – to make that possible. Move that needle and perhaps working women will need less wine, get a little more sleep and might even start enjoying life rather than just enduring it.

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