We are all well aware, that recent times have shone a spotlight on how well, or not, our work and home lives blend. Research by McKinsey, Pregnant Then Screwed, Mother Pukka and many more has proven just what a negative impact the pandemic has had on women. The research has highlighted how in many cases women continue to be primarily responsible for the running of their homes and families. Covid has indirectly heightened the inequalities that women face in work and at home daily. A societal norm for mums that needs to be changed. But what does the future hold? Has this time taught us anything. Can we change to shift our societal culture for the better, for everyone?
There has been a lot of focus on the impact of work on home life. The fact women still find it hard to climb the ladder because historically flexibility hasn’t allowed for this. However I also feel there is a shift required (which incidentally, is beginning to happen) in our home cultures too.
The Socialisation of Societal Norms
Socialisation is defined as “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society” and impacts both men and women. This starts as early as birth – think pink and blue blankets. It then progresses through how we are taught, communicated with, what we absorb from books, TV, movies etc.
Socialisation puts an almost invisible pressure on us to conform to ingrained societal beliefs. Dr Shawn Andrews has found through her work, time and time again, a family’s culture shows as one of the biggest influences of our gender beliefs and gender roles – and seems to be ubiquitous across most races and ethnicities.
We have also all heard of the “mental load”. In the majority of cases this tends to fall to the mum in a heterosexual parent family. The role of “knowing all the things”. The kids schedules, where to be when, the shopping list, meal planning, laundry, making or ordering school lunches, planning and booking in childcare. We even go as far as to say it is the mother’s salary, if she goes back to work, that must cover childcare and ideally more, otherwise her work is “not worth it”.
Why doesn’t the dad’s salary have any bearing on the cost of childcare? It becomes a reason for a mum to not be “able” to return to work. Financially it doesn’t stack up (of course there’s a whole other issue here about the insane cost of childcare in the UK, but that’s another blog!). But what about that mums career, sense of self, achievement and all else that comes with having a career?
Where am I going with this? I am not jumping off on a ranty tangent. I believe we have come to accept that it is a societal norm for mums to assume responsibility for and carry this load. It is a hangover from women not working and men being the breadwinners. Whilst women now can have and want to have careers, we haven’t relinquished the bygone responsibilities. Isn’t it time we changed these societal norms for mums?
Time to challenge the responsibilities of mums!
We don’t have much to thank Covid for. However, I have witnessed a shift in cultures at home. For many, the norm had been for dads to go to work Monday to Friday. Out of the home for the vast majority of their children’s waking hours. This has stopped. Not only has this allowed dads to be more present – it has also allowed visibility of exactly what happens at home!
I am well aware some families already balanced things well, where as in some homes sadly no shift has happened. However in the main I see a huge amount of dads now at the school gates. I see dads doing runs to extra curricular clubs. I know in my house only about 75% of the washing is now done by the laundry fairy (that’s me by the way – and yes it’s a work in progress!). What I also hear from dads is that they are really enjoying this shift. That being present in their children’s lives and being able to share the load more is not only now possible, but bringing them fulfilment.
Don’t be a Martyr!
On the less positive side however, I hear far too much of the “it’s easier to do it myself” dialogue. Mums leaving instructions and lists if they have to leave their husband in charge. Saying things like “I’m too much of a control freak… I’d have to re-do everything anyway. If I don’t leave a list the kids will be wearing pants on their heads and eating Haribo for dinner”. I get it. We know how to run our homes with our eyes closed.
It’s hard to understand how remembering the weekend timetable of various sports activities and sorting food out appears to be so hard for the men in our life. But really? Imagine if you were treated like that at work? Someone waiting for you to fail. Just so they could jump in and make it known what a terrible job you did? Or just never given the chance at all? We have to ask have we just assumed the role and never allowed our partners to learn it?
Are you project managing your home?
If we assume the “Project Manager role” the rest of the household will always assume that too. They will always say “you should have asked!” when we get all shouty. It may often feel like life is the shortest route to done, to do it ourselves. But spare a minute to think about yourself. What does it do to you to always be the doer of all the things? And how sustainable is this if we are home a lot more lines blurring between working and non-working hours? If we carry on holding the load, we are in huge danger of making it worse for ourselves. Being at home more means we have more opportunity to do more of the “things”. If we don’t let go of some of them and pass the baton on to partners or children – we could quickly be in an even more resentful place.
Socialising Future Generations
If our own wellbeing isn’t motivation enough, how about what we are teaching future parents – our children? If we want our sons and daughters to live in a more equal world where families are teams, managing the load together, we must teach them this now to influence socialisation.
Of course one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one family is another’s idea of hell! But as we move into an incredibly exciting period of cultural change, find what works for you. As we gain more flexibility at work it is imperative we take good care of ourselves. We don’t want to end up living in a blurred workplace – family home where no boundaries or team work prevail. We can’t simply just take on more.
The Culture Shift That Needs To Happen Now
So share the mental load, make space to hop on your Peleton daily or have a clear self-care routine. Don’t let these positive changes get thrown to the bottom of the pile as soon as a family need arises. We have the privilege of being able to play an active role in the culture shift of these outdated societal norms for mums. Let’s keep flexible working alive. A societal revolution that future generations will thank us for.
Rebecca Amin is a Career Coach helping parents feeling stuck in their careers, find their paths back to career happiness. Rebecca can be found via her website; Facebook Page and Facebook Group, Career Happy Mums.
If you wish to read more about societal change, why not have a read of what it is going to be like working in a post-pandemic society