Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Juggling work and family

Aztec-rose has asked a bunch of questions about how people juggle work and family, so I thought I'd answer them here.

1. What are your main work, life, family balance issues?

Hubby and I work for ourselves, and we don't really work full time, so it is hard to justify (or pay for) full time care. Unfortunately, we don't work to any particular timetable either, so we regularly end up look after kids and working, and that isn't much fun for anyone. Except maybe the baby, who doesn't care much either way.

2. Why is work life family balance such a difficult issue to resolve?

I think because largely we don't know what we want. We know we want cash. We know we want happy kids. Exactly what goes on to achieve those ends is a bit of a mystery. We are told that work is adult and fulfilling and part of our obligation to society. We are also told that kids need to bond and need time with their parents. Pretty much any choice you make is wrong somewhere.

3. Have work life balance issues affected your fertility decisions?


4. Why do women, and mothers still take on the bulk of domestic unpaid work, despite juggle jobs and children?

Because the previous generation did, so we are better at it, and we are terrified that the world will come to an end if the kid forgets their library bag. And lots of other related things. Men still earn more, so it makes financial sense that women take the time off. It's catch 22, and unless we are prepared to make mistakes and leap into the unknown, the next generation will do the same. Mamas don't let your sons grow up to be breadwinners.

5. Why do married women do more housework than women in de facto relationships?

Because married women include the more conservative end of the female spectrum? If you control for general views on feminism, is that still true?

6. Does part-time work give mothers greater flexiblity and balance?

In my case it does. It means I can be involved in the school to the level I choose (somewhat less than the school encourages!), I can move stuff around to accommodate important events. But then I have much greater control over my hours than the average part time employee. And still not enough, since I do have to oblige those pesky customers.

7. Does part-time work free mothers up to do more unpaid work?

Yes. Someone has to do it. Having time to get the unpaid work done can lead to sanity. The real question is does part-time work free fathers up to do more unpaid work? And in our family, the answer is yes, although it has been a slightly rocky road, between his blindness to housework and my control freakery. But we are moving in the right direction.

8. Is part-time work for both co-habiting couples with children a way to more equally share child care and domestic work?

Seems to be. Although sexism in the work place makes this a much more difficult option for men. Also, as a company owner and former manager, I don't know exactly how you handle part time management jobs. There has to be an answer, but until there is a good one, it sets one hell of a ceiling on the careers of part time workers.

9. Do fathers feel they can take up family-friendly options at work?

Not in general. Mostly they have to go elsewhere, although I think "family friendly" is becoming a bit like "green". Companies want to be it. They don't really want to have to change much or spend anything, but if marketplace pressure keeps up, they may have to. More power to the companies that use it as an advertising gimmick. As long as it is backed up at least a little, it creates a market in family friendliness, and that seems to be the only thing that the corporate world recognises.

10. Do fathers still feel the pressure to be primary breadwinners?

My other half does. Definitely. In fact, I think it is still a part of the self definition of many men. See my answer to #4.

11. Are dad’s getting their preferred amount of time with their children?

How long is a piece of string? I think they have even less options. I think that social conditioning makes it even harder for them to know what their preferred amount of time is. And the fact that they are pretty much told incessantly (often by their own partners, something of which I am guilty) that they aren't as good at raising kids as mums makes it even more complicated.

12. Do we value caring work enough?

No, not across the board. Not for kids, or others who need care. We are suspicious of people wanting financial support for it. I don't know what we do about it without making everything just more expensive. Maybe we should go back to only counting one income for mortgage applications (although not requiring that it be the man's!). That was largely what created the requirement for such a greater proportion of the population to work and made caring such a massive issue.

13. What’s the meaning of life? (just kidding) that’s probably enough for now…

42, obviously.

I just have one thing to add. It seems to me that somewhere in this debate, people's lives became looking after children and working. Good mothers (or fathers) dedicate their lives to raising their children. Good employees dedicate their lives to their jobs. Well balanced people juggle the two. Having a life that doesn't involve kids or work doesn't rate a mention, and I think it has serious long term consequences for work and kids. Perhaps that is a subject for another post.

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