Working Mums: 'Being the breadwinner has brought us closer as a family'
A new survey finds that a third of working women are the sole earners in their household, says Deirdre Reynolds
Published 26/10/2011 | 05:00
Like most busy working mums, Zarah Hartung from Lucan lives by 'the list'.
It starts at 7.30am, when three-year-old Josh and 15-month-old Jenna wake up -- and doesn't relent until long after they're tucked back up in bed at the same time that evening.
Juggling two small children and two jobs, there's no room for Zarah -- who's the sole breadwinner in the Hartung household -- to stray from the daily to-do list for even a second.
And statistics show the stretched Dublin mum isn't alone.
With male-dominated industries such as building razed by recession, last year the unemployment rate for men in Ireland was 16.7% -- almost twice the rate for women, as mums return to the workplace in record numbers.
Recently, we reported on the resulting rise in stay-at-home dads -- but what about the mums who've been left to ensure the fridge is full?
"As the female breadwinner, I do feel like I have a lot of responsibility," says Zarah (34), who runs online baby store CherishMe.ie. "Running a business, home and still finding quality time to spend with your family and friends can be incredibly difficult. But I want to give my kids all the opportunities in life that they deserve."
Up until two years ago, Zarah was a stay-at-home mum to Josh, working part-time in a pharmacy at the weekend to help pad her wallet.
But overnight, the family's financial fortunes flipped when Andre, an aircraft engineer, lost his job in October 2009.
"When Andre told me he was being made redundant, my world was turned upside down," recalls Zarah.
"At the time, I was only working part-time and, as the financial strain continued to increase, I had no idea how we were going to make ends meet.
"A month later, we discovered we were expecting our second child," she adds. "And while we were over the moon, we knew there were only two choices: uproot the family and emigrate or find some way to make it work here."
Taking a gamble on staying at home, Zarah continued to work weekends and got a small loan from her local Credit Union to set up her own website, while her other half went back to complete his Masters in Environmental Science -- all while sharing child-minding duties.
"It's forced me to become very organised," says Zarah. "I'm a great one for making lists and ticking it off as I get through each task.
"In the mornings, after Josh has gone to pre-school and my husband Andre takes Jenna to the park, I head straight up to the office.
"Then after lunch, I take the kids for a playdate with my friends' children.
"In the evenings, we have dinner together, before bathing the kids and reading them a story," she adds.
"Once they've gone to bed, Andre and I get stuck into some housework for about an hour and then I go back to work.
"Sure, I miss the time when I could just put my feet up and watch the soaps in the evening, but I don't want to let my family down."
It's a balancing act that Sarah Jessica Parker is shown struggling with in her new movie I Don't Know How She Does It.
From Manolos to motherhood, the Sex and the City star plays Kate Reddy -- a stressed working mum seen bashing a shop-bought cake to make it look homemade. Inevitably, the role has invited comparisons to the mega-famous mum-of-three's real life.
"I loved the script -- it was funny but also very honest about the complexities of wanting to have it all," says Parker (46).
"I think the things Kate wants for herself -- to be a great mother, a loving, respectful and supportive spouse and a success as a working person -- are not uncommon.
"She has enormous guilt about leaving her family in order to pursue her career, but obviously the work plays a really important part in her life."
All over the country, real mums are finding themselves in the same boat as Kate Reddy.
In one of the most significant social transformations of our times, around 33% of women are now their family's main breadwinner -- a twentyfold rise since 1969.
"It's a radical shift in society," says Dr Suzanne Doyle-Morris, author of Female Breadwinners: How They Make Relationships Work and Why They Are the Future of the Modern Workforce.
"When I gave a talk recently, I asked all the female breadwinners to stand up. Nearly all the room did. Everyone gasped and was saying, 'Not you, too!'"
"It's most couples' best-kept secret, even though such couples are everywhere."
Reversing traditional gender roles in the home, it's led to much chin-stroking about what happens when mum earns more.
One recent study by Cornell University went so far as to say that men whose wives out-earn them are five times more likely to cheat.
For breadwinning wife Zarah, however, the opposite has been the case.
"I feel very blessed to have such an amazing husband," she says. "Even though it's been hard for him to switch roles, he finds being at home with the kids so rewarding.
"We always take one afternoon a week out to spend together -- and our families step in to help with the kids when needed."
"At the moment, we're getting ready to launch Cherish Me in Germany, where Andre is from," adds Zarah.
"So everything I make goes back into the business and paying bills."
"But while it's been hard at times, being the breadwinner has brought us closer together as a family."