Saturday 16 November 2019

The supermums who need a 'wife' to stay sane

Being a working mum is a juggling act
Being a working mum is a juggling act
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Every working mother needs a 'wife'. Imagine the bliss of coming home to a clean house, dinner in the oven, bathed and fed children, homework done and dusted...

The reality, however, for working mothers is that they come home after a long day's work and before they can take their coat off, they are shoving chickens in the oven, helping one child with homework while simultaneously bathing another.

The bottom line is that working mothers are not adequately supported and the one quote you hear over and over again is: "I'm barely managing to keep my head above water."

A friend who runs her own company, and is the primary bread winner in her home, recently delivered 40 (dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free) home-made buns to the school cake sale.

She had been up until 1am baking them because she felt too 'guilty' to buy buns in a shop. She didn't want her daughter to be the only one with shop-bought buns.

When the teacher gently informed her that she had the wrong day, that the cake sale was actually in a week's time, she said it took all of her considerable willpower not to throw the buns on the floor, stamp on them and weep.

Working mothers in Ireland are stretched too thin. There is little or no support from the Government for assisting mothers to go back to work.

Clare O'Hagan, author of 'Complex Inequality and Working Mothers', says that women today are forced into making "superhuman efforts" to be working mothers.

Her research has shown that things really haven't got better for working mothers 40 years after the lifting of the marriage bar - which used to force women to give up work after they married.

It's very disheartening to see that things haven't improved.

Since the downturn, many more women are now 'bringing home the bacon' as their partners lost jobs or suffered severe pay cuts.

One friend who met with the headmaster of a Dublin primary school inquired about after-school care. Looking decidedly grumpy to be asked the question, he barked, "We don't do that here."

When she asked why not, mentioning the rise in the number of working mothers, he said, "We don't feel we need it and besides, it's too complicated to organise."

Is it really that complex to allow students to stay in school and do their homework until their parents turn up to collect them?

The attitude towards facilitating working mothers, and indeed parents, in Ireland is archaic. How can so many of our European neighbours manage to provide decent, low-cost childcare but not us? How come schools all over Europe offer after-school care at a minimal cost, but not us?

Paid childcare for infants aged under three in Ireland is very expensive. In particular, low-income parents are much more likely to use relative care, or no non-parental care at all.

For a typical dual earner family seeking full-day care for two pre-school children, the cost amounts to 29pc of the family's net income in Ireland, compared to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 13pc.

The extensive 'Growing Up in Ireland' study notes that, "Given the role of employment in protecting low-income families from income poverty, high childcare costs are likely to act as a particular disincentive to employment for this group and have implications for income poverty."

The study also notes that high quality, affordable childcare would promote women's continuity in employment, a key issue in terms of the gender wage gap.

Sweden is often hailed as the finest example of a society that assists working mothers to get back to employment. The support for Swedish mothers begins at birth with mandatory maternity leave that protects the woman's job while she stays at home with her baby.

The Swedish parental leave is extremely flexible and allows both parents to spend time with their children.

The country's family policy is aimed at supporting the dual-earner family model and ensuring the same rights regarding family and work for both the mother and the father. Imagine that - equal rights!

But the real key to the Swedish success is the public childcare that is guaranteed to all parents and operates from 6.30am until 18.30pm.

While the vast majority of Scandinavian mothers work, in Ireland, statistics show that while 86pc of childless women work, that falls to 57pc of those with children aged three or under. By contrast, the number of childless men working is 85pc and this falls to 79pc when they have young children.

Regardless of why a mother chooses to work, she can be guaranteed that her unpaid workload will continue to be far higher than a man's. The work a woman does at home - housework, childcare, etc - adds up to a full month more of work per year. It's no wonder they are so stressed out.

The availability of good, affordable childcare is the issue all research and experts name as the biggest problem working mothers face. It always comes down to the same issue - who will mind the children? If you know your children are safe and well looked after, you can go to work with a clear head.

You'll still be ironing at midnight, getting stains out of football shorts and baking buns in the wee hours, but at least you'll be able to concentrate in work without your head full of child-minder issues or crippling nanny wages.

Alternatively, you could always just try to find yourself a 'wife'.

Irish Independent

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