Part-time work: my choice
Please don’t congratulate me for choosing part-time work.
Many do. When I told people that I was going to work part-time this year, it was often met with glowing responses, as if I were some kind of pioneer in work-life balance. People would tell me how lucky my 11-month-old daughter Hannah was to have a dad at home, they would tell me that it was wonderful that I had made the choice to spend more time with my little girl. They told me I would love it, that it would be so much fun. They told me I was lucky to have a four-day weekend.
This is all great and lovely and supportive, but my problem is that they are saying this to me because I am a man.
They don’t say it to my wife.
Emma isn’t told how lucky Hannah is to have her mum at home, and she isn’t treated as if she has made a choice. They don’t tell Emma that she will love it, and that she will have so much fun. They don’t tell Emma that she is lucky to have a four-day weekend.
These things aren’t said to Emma because there is an expectation from many that if a career sacrifice has to be made, it will be done by the mother. It is the mother who should be engaged in part-time work. I know households where this wouldn’t even be up for discussion. Emma isn’t told how lucky Hannah is to have her mum at home because that is the norm. It is the picture people have in their heads. It’s what they are used to, what they know.
Emma isn’t told that she will have fun or that she is lucky to have a four-day weekend because immediately people expect that her reality will be dirty laundry, dirty nappies, dirty high chairs and dirty floors. They expect that it will be her job to make those clean again, to maintain the house. To cook and clean and simultaneously look after all of Hannah’s emotional and intellectual needs. They expect that achieving balance will be difficult, that work will expect too much from her while she simultaneously has the burden of running the household. She is expected to never truly escape the burden of full-time motherhood.
There is an expectation from many that if a career sacrifice has to be made, it will be done by the mother.
The reality of our lives is that Emma and I are doing the exact same thing. Yet she is often perceived as the mother who is leaving her child to work three days each week, while I am the father who is taking time away from his work to be with his child an extra two days. The difference is subtle, but it is significant.
Hannah is lucky to have her dad at home, but she is also lucky to have her mum. Emma and I are both fortunate that we have been able to negotiate with our employers and find the balance that we crave. We have both made sacrifices in our careers and our incomes for the sake of giving Hannah the best possible start. We both have fun at home with Hannah on those extra days and we both love watching her grow and develop. We share the hard work. We are both surrounded by the reality of the dirt that has to be tamed; it never ends. We work together to cater for Hannah’s emotional and intellectual needs. We both know what it’s like to be housebound and exhausted from a hard day’s parenting, and we both know what it’s like to walk through the door, exhausted after a hard day’s work.
Please don’t congratulate me for choosing part-time work. Instead, recognise that all parents have choices to make (whether they know it or not). Marvel at the way they juggle their lives as best they can. Understand that for many mums AND dads who work full-time, the separation from their children is painful, but that they perceive it to be necessary. Acknowledge that those of us who are working part-time – mums AND dads – sacrifice pay and opportunities for the sake of time with our kids. Finally, never, ever fall into the trap of equating those parents, mums AND dads, who don’t work with laziness and reliance on welfare. They are often some of the hardest working people you are ever likely to meet.
Please don’t congratulate me for choosing part-time work, unless you would also congratulate Emma for choosing part-time work.
Please don’t congratulate me for choosing part-time work, unless you would congratulate all parents for the choices they make about how they support their family.
James Smith is a Sydney-based parenting and lifestyle blogger. This article was originally published on Blog of Dad, and has been republished with permission.