After writing about my hellish experience finding suitable childcare for our daughters a reader asked a very valid question in the comments section. If I have a partner where was he in all of it?
She commented that if there is a father around the fact the childcare responsibility appeared to have fallen on my shoulders is part of the bigger picture, and also, the bigger problem; children should be the joint responsibility of parents not the sole domain of mums.
It was a comment I anticipated when I decided to leave my husband out of that article. I left him out, not because he’s not involved, but because I resisted detailing the inner workings of our domestic arrangements because they’re complicated.
In theory our partnership is like the one Marina Go described here.
We approach every aspect of our lives as equals; our house and our girls are our joint responsibility and our careers are equally important. But, at the moment, I shoulder the majority of the childcare responsibilities, not because of my gender but because of his job. Not because his job is any more important than mine, but because in practical terms, at this point, his job has peculiarities in its demands that require it to be that way.
His working day starts at 6.45am and can finish anywhere from 4pm to 10pm or later still. He works at least every second weekend and until a month ago, he was on call every single Monday through Friday, whereas now it’s only alternate weeks. His phone can, and does, ring around the clock and when that happens he is required to go in – whether it’s 10pm or 3.30am.
As a doctor in the junior stages of his training in a public hospital there is very little scope for flexibility around these parameters; resources in public health are not abundant enough to cover multiple people doing a particular job. The nature of medicine is also obviously unpredictable; patients get sick at odd times, emergencies transpire outside of hours and no amount of time management or planning can prevent that.
There is undoubtedly room for improvement in the way these factors are managed to enable doctors to achieve greater flexibility but at the moment every junior doctor in a public hospital – whether they’re male or female – is required to work within the relatively rigid confines of the current system. At the junior level training positions are competitive and the required training is, understandably, exhaustive. The light at the end of the tunnel is that once the training is complete, there is much greater scope for autonomy and flexibility.
Many of my husband’s supervisors and senior colleagues – both male and female – work around school drop-offs and pick-ups and do short weeks to maximise their time with their families. Their seniority makes that feasible and, for us, that’s the end goal. In the meantime we’ve accepted the path that will get us there requires certain logistics, namely that I shoulder most of the legwork in looking after our girls.
From the outside our marriage might look old-fashioned but on the inside there is a critical difference. I do not fulfil the role of primary carer because it’s expected. It’s a decision we have made together, not based on gender but on our chosen career paths. If our positions were reversed and I was pursuing a career in medicine there is no doubt my husband would afford me the support I provide him at the moment. I do think we’re lucky that we’re not both pursuing careers in medicine because logistically that would be tough, but I also know if we were we’d make that work.
I should also say that when my husband’s not at work he is the girls’ primary care giver and does at least half the housework. For now that’s how we make our family and both our careers co-exist.
How do you make things work?