In logistical terms the margin for error in a household where both parents work can be slim. In my house it certainly is. Someone getting sick is the most common spanner in the works and so it was this week that my husband and I scrambled to juggle our various work responsibilities with the care of our youngest daughter. (It is during weeks like this that I dream of having a fulltime nanny to make the juggle less complicated but, alas, that’s not an affordable dream.)
On Wednesday we managed to balance everything quite well and the only reason I’m sharing that is because it’s not always quite so straightforward. I had some not-negotiable work on Wednesday until lunchtime and my husband had a not-negotiable commitment starting after lunch so we did a tag team approach. He spent the morning at home while I worked and then we swapped for the afternoon.
Aside from the obvious benefit that our daughter had a parent to look after her all day, there was another significant benefit from my perspective. These days in our house I tend to be the primary player on the parenting and domestic front, but it wasn’t always this way and on Wednesday I caught a backwards glimpse.
When my husband and I met we were both uni students and when we first started living together I was working while he finished his degree. We shared the housework without any discussion because why wouldn’t we? We both ate so we shared the shopping and the cooking. We both required clean clothes so we shared the laundry. We both preferred living in relative cleanliness so we shared the mopping, vacuuming and dusting. (Truth be told I was a bit hopeless at the latter so he always did more of that but generally we split the domestic duties down the middle.)
When we had our first child we approached her care the same way; she was our joint venture in both emotional and practical terms. This remained our method until about two years ago when my husband’s working hours rendered it a logistical impossibility. If I waited for him to cook dinner or hang the washing out, there would be weeks where we wouldn’t eat until 10pm and never have dry clothes.
When he is home our old approach springs back to life. On Wednesday morning when he was looking after our youngest he cleaned, cooked dinner and did a few loads of washing. And from both of our perspectives that was heaven; for him to spend some solo time with our daughter and do some of the domestic drudgery was a welcome change for both of us.
Every job is different and there is a responsibility on the part of individuals to set boundaries. During our recent My Agenda event Microsoft’s managing director in Australia Pip Marlow pointed out that work will absorb whenever you let it, so if there are certain things you don’t want to compromise on, for example traveling interstate on your children’s birthdays, you have to enforce that.
Equally, however, there are still jobs and employers who make that difficult. It is a generalisation of course but male managers who have never played an active role on the home-front can and do baulk at young fathers needing time off to care for their children. As I have written previously, where they actively discourage fathers from taking an active role on the home front it simply reinforces and perpetuates old-fashioned stereotypes about men and women.
Which is a shame because there’s so much to be gained – for men and women – by sharing the load. As much as I dislike our daughter being sick, I enjoyed the chance to share the responsibility for that equally.
How do you manage logistics when someone gets sick? And more generally how do you share the domestic duties?