Modern mothers need a wife - Women's Agenda

Modern mothers need a wife

On a private Facebook group over the weekend, a number of mothers of toddlers were sharing their best ‘hacks’ for saving time.

Most of these related to getting out the door quickly in the morning – trying to get little people fed, changed and occupied while their mothers attempt to also get fed and changed – before getting in the car or taking the bus or train to daycare, and then on to work.

You can save minutes (minutes!) in the morning by partially dressing your toddler for daycare the night before. Then there are the obvious time saving hacks: getting bags and clothing sorted the night before, having ready-to-go meals available in the freezer, and keeping an iPad handy for emergency entertainment.

Welcome to modern motherhood, where what it takes when you eventually arrive at the office by 9am has you feeling like you’ve already earned a glass of Shiraz. The chances of getting to THAT won’t arrive for another 12 hours, long after you’ve done the cooking, cleaning, bathing and packed those bags again to do it all over again tomorrow.

Time-saving hacks are great. But what working mothers really need is a wife.

After all, a good majority of working fathers have had a wife for some time now. A person at home who can manage everything that needs to actually be managed while you can go off and earn an income – you know, the one you need to pay off the home that’s being managed.

Alas, as Annabel Crabb writes in her new book The Wife Drought, wives are in short supply in Australia. As are the homemade baked goods, perpetually clean homes and neat-looking children.

And the wives that are available tend to be on hand to support the careers of men, rather than women.

Crabb recounts the moment she realised she had “wife envy” while at a conference dominated by men where she realized many of them had wives at home, somebody “picking up kids from school, digging play-doh out of the cracks in the floorboards for the gazillionth time, taking Nanna to to the doctor, waiting around for the phone guy to turn up ‘between the hours of eight and twelve’,” etc etc. Many of these men would simply think that’s just how things worked. “Men get wives, and women don’t,” she writes.

In Crabb’s definition, a ‘wife’ can be male or female. They’re a “cracking professional asset” enabling somebody to get on with their full-time career and enjoy their life at home.

Traditionally, wives have usually been women. But the funny thing is, with women entering the workforce and staying in it in now significant numbers, wives still tend to be women. Career-minded men have families and barely see their working hours interrupted. Career-minded women, on the other hand, have families and either have to significant reduce those working hours or double them, taking on extra duties at home.

The stats Crabb uncovered with the help of the ABS tell the story: 60% of Australian couple families with children under the age of 15 have a father working full time and a mother working either not at all or part time. Just 3% of families have those roles reversed.

Having the kind of wife Crabb discusses in her book is a serious career advantage. It means you don’t have to spend your time sharing time-saving ideas on Facebook on how to get through the week, and that you can probably assume you’ll actually make it to work tomorrow, given there will be somebody else available to look after the possibility of a sick child.

But it’s not only those couples with children who require a wife in the relationship. If you’re both working full-time and putting in the hours and required amount of dedication in your career even without kids, the chance are you too could use some extra help around the house.

The Wife Drought is witty, filled with interesting facts and studies, and has plenty of moments where you want to shout “exactly!” across the room. It even offers some amusing insights into how Crabb manages her days (breast milk jello anyone?), sharing anecdotes of juggling motherhood with her career as a political journalist and presenter of the ABC’s My Kitchen Cabinet. Crabb takes the matter of gender workplace equality to the home, suggesting men should have just as much access to flexible work and a life on the domestic front as women. She believes we’re stuck in a system where everyone’s losing, and the only way out of it is to get “people” rather that just “women” involved in changing it. The book takes a good look at the modern Australia we like to believe we’re living in, urging us to challenge the convenient male breadwinner model, accept that history has changed the role of women at work, and reject the idea that work is a physical place that must be attended.

So will you have time to read it? That may depend on whether you have a wife.

The Wife Drought is published by Random House Australia.

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