Both my children are now back at school after a nasty bug that meant they were at home for pretty much two whole weeks between them. I work from home so this wasn’t a problem, but it certainly got me thinking. For two full-time working parents this sort of situation is nothing short of a nightmare. But in this modern, digital world, surely we must be able to come up with a decent solution to the dilemmas which face working parents?
Providing flexible working hours and allowing men to take time off to raise children as well as women has gone some way to addressing the issue. However, the impact of the recession since 2008, which has resulted in widespread insecurity about jobs, and the stagnation of pay has meant that many families are reluctant to take advantage of these offers. The bread-winner’s career remains sacrosanct. That’s certainly the way it is in our house and the reason I gave up my part-time teaching job. My husband’s career requires him putting in very long hours during term-time and it became increasingly clear that I would need to be the one who took full responsibility for the childcare. This meant adopting a less rigid approach to work.
What I have discovered, as a result of this shift in my working patterns, is that I’m far more efficient now. My children being off school ill didn’t really put a dent in my schedule. In fact, it meant I was stuck at my desk with nothing else to do but get on with my job. So how might this observation translate into the wider job market?
Firstly, I think we need to debunk the myth that the number of hours you are seen at your desk or in the workplace equals how valuable an employee you are. Women need to rush out of the door bang on five, to pick up the kids from childcare or school. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t putting in another few hours back home later.
In certain professions, working from home just isn’t possible. Teaching and medicine immediately spring to mind. There needs to be one-to-one contact with students and patients. But having said this, the world of education is gradually changing. In a few years from now, it will be possible for students to follow an entire school or university curriculum remotely, needing a tutor’s feedback only through e-mail or Skype. Pre-recorded tutorials and seminars could be produced for a global market. This type of future would clearly benefit those in the poorest parts of the world and enable the primary carers who have an educational background to achieve proper, flexible working.
This example is just one of the many potential possibilities, but I strongly believe that as a society we aren’t giving enough thought to the issue, largely because we all manage to muddle through, just about. Some new and innovative thinking is required in this area. We aren’t utilizing our female workforce effectively by not taking this issue seriously. With a recent boom in the birth rate in Britain, it’s an issue which certainly isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Tomorrow night (Monday 20th April) there’s an intriguing new four-parter on ITV called Safe House. It tells the story of a married couple: Robert (Christopher Eccleston), a former detective; and Katy (Marsha Thomason), a teacher, who are asked by close friend and detective Mark (Paterson Joseph) to turn their remote guest house into a police safe house. Their first ‘guests’ at the safe house in the Lake District are a family in fear for their lives after they are violently attacked by someone who claims to know them. For Robert protecting the family resurrects fears and anxieties bound up in a terrifying night 18 months ago – where he was protecting a star witness who was about to testify against her gangland husband. He was shot, and she was killed. As a consequence of running the safe house, Robert re-questions this incident and uncovers a web of lies. Here’s an interview with Chris…
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I’m sure that many people read the Huffington Post article doing the rounds yesterday. It was about a woman who said she loved her husband more than their children. It was a controversial sentiment, shocking even. But what immediately struck me when I read the piece was that the premise of her argument was quite wrong.
When our babies are born, the first instinct we have is to protect and nurture them. This is the basis of maternal and paternal love. You are both terrified and in awe of this tiny person whose entire existence depends upon your skill at being a parent. Yet when we start out, we possess no skills at all. Of course, with time, we start to get used to the concept. But it’s still bloody difficult.
To compare this experience with the romantic love that a parent has for their spouse is erroneous. It just isn’t the same. My husband doesn’t need me to protect and support him in the way our children do and because our offspring need us so desperately and demand so much from us, especially in their early years, the relationship we have with our partner inevitably takes a hit. There is really no getting away from this. Young children absorb so much of your time and energy that it could hardly be otherwise.
What I think the lady writing in the Huffington Post was suggesting was that she had ‘ring-fenced’ her relationship with her husband in an attempt to ensure that their romantic love was not damaged by the unremitting onslaught of parenting. In order to achieve this, she had upgraded the romantic love of marriage to be more important than the love she had for her children. However, I’m not entirely sure that such a distinction is necessary.
This kind of direct comparison is unhelpful and certainly damaging to a child’s sense of security and belonging. Every child needs to feel they come first. Your other half is a grown up and doesn’t require this sort of pampering any longer. This is simply a natural element of the life-cycle. When your children are older, there can be more time for the two of you as a couple once again. It can actually be quite nice to ‘rediscover’ your other half in this way.
Our children seem so vulnerable and tiny when they are little. There’s a reason for this. We are designed to feel responsible for them and worry about their safety every minute of the day. If I felt this way about my husband it would be slightly odd. He’s a grown man and doesn’t need me to fret about him in this manner. But actually, my children really do.
There’s no denying it’s tough. Several of my books explore the difficulties that emerge within families under the pressure of bringing up small children. But I do try to stress the fact that it gets easier, time passes and the burdens lessen. On the other hand, the writer PD James, in her later Dalgliesh novels, discusses the circumstances created for the child when its parents adore one another to the exclusion of others. As always, her observations are astute. The child feels isolated and diminished, as if he was an awkward and unwanted presence in his own home.
The truth is that as adults we can accept that we might get shunted down the pecking order when our babies come along, because we know how much we were loved ourselves as children. But our offspring can’t understand this concept, they aren’t designed to. They need to come first and as grown-ups we need to gain our reward from knowing that we’ve done our very best to make them feel this way.