Should I Stop Calling Myself a ‘Working Mother’?
I spend a lot of my time, both in the working world and outside of it, advocating for better support for working mothers.
After all, I’m a mother. I work. Ever since I returned to the office after maternity leave, it’s been a key part of my identity. I love my kid to bits, but I also love spending time away from her doing something that I’m good at. I’ve fully embraced the sleek-blazer-covered-in-snot-stains look.
So why has this whole ‘working mother’ thing started to bother me?
Because no one ever calls my husband a ‘working father’.
It’s weird, yeah? Because there’s really no difference between his role and mine. We’re both working parents, just doing our best to juggle our careers and our family. He loves what he does and is a leader in his field, but he also leaves work at 4:15 every day so he can pick our daughter up from nursery.
The difference isn’t about what we do as parents – it’s about what society expects us to do.
Fathers are expected to have a child, take a few weeks off, then get on with working as though nothing has happened. And that’s what most fathers do. The vast majority of dads with young kids work full time – nearly 90% of them, compared to only 25% of mothers. The introduction of Shared Parental Leave was supposed to help redress this imbalance, but with take-up among eligible couples as low as 2%, it’s made little difference.
As a society, we still expect mothers to take on most of the parenting stuff. When they reduce their working hours, we’re a bit judgy about it, but not surprised. We ask them whether they miss their kids while they’re at work and question how committed they can be to their job now that they have children to take care of. If you’re a ‘working mother,’ we assume that you’re constantly trying to balance your parenting responsibilities with the demands of your paid job, and probably not doing either one all that well.
But your partner? He’s not a ‘working father’. He’s an employee who just happens to have children at home. No one ever says to him, “God, it must be so hard to balance it all. Working, raising a child, housework…you must be knackered!”
Maybe they should.
Maybe if they did, I wouldn’t have an issue with being called a ‘working mother’.
I don’t have a problem with acknowledging my dual role as a breadwinner and parent – actually, I’m proud of it. But can we please stop acting like this is a uniquely female struggle? Both parents need flexible working options. They need employers who get that they might need to stay home at the last minute because their kid puked all over the floor that morning. They need to work for companies that support and appreciate their part-time employees for the quality of their skills, not the number of hours that they work.
Regardless of whether you actually grew a small person inside you or not, being a working parent can be rewarding and fulfilling, but also challenging and exhausting. Let’s start having that conversation.
Guest post written by Katie Dickerson, SquirmyPopple.com. Katie is passionate about advocating for better flexible working and childcare options for mums.