‘Sometimes I feel I swapped one chaotic life for another’
by having me in the home,” Linda says. “My own mam was at home. It was a safe environment. I never had to come home to an empty house.
“We are pushing, pushing, pushing equality, but it’s not really pushing men, it’s pushing women. You have to get back into the workplace, you have to excel at work — that’s the message, but it’s at odds with the fundamental role of family, which is about nurture.
“Returning to work after you have had children is more stress on the woman than it is on the man. To be equal with men in the workplace women have to do even more.”
Giving up work, Linda warns, is not a panacea for mothers. “There is still chaos in my life; Sometimes I feel I’ve just swapped one set of chaotic circumstances for another. So possibly we thrive on it. Sometimes I feel the whole day is hurtling towards those hours when I can go inside to the sitting room at 10pm and shut down. Towards a bit of calm. That I am just surviving the day instead of living. This idea of everyone sitting at home together and eating together isn’t an amazing concept; it’s just living.”
“I regard myself as a ‘survivor’,” says professor Eileen Drew. It’s an interesting choice of words for a learned Trinity College professor: not ‘successful’, ‘educated’ or ‘ambitious’ — although she is no doubt all of these things — but ‘survivor’.
Employers are playing catch-up on a situation men and women have wanted for a long time
The key to her choice of words is her area of study: Drew is director of the Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership, and as such has spent years studying the changing role of women in society. Throughout this time, Drew says she worked full-time while raising two children. “Survivor” is the word she chooses, and she doesn’t choose it lightly.
Providing Professor Drew with the working title of this article as ‘the rise of the stay-at-home mum’, elicits the retort that nothing is going to change for mothers until we change the circumstances for dads.
“I feel that it is not just birth mothers that have a potential nurturing role. In Iceland, where mothers and fathers each have entitlement to three months’ paid leave and three months shared after the birth of their child, there is much less pressure on birth mothers to be sole carers and more opportunity for dads (or non-birth mothers) to ‘share the care’.”
However, statistics for 2016 from the British Office for National Statistics last week showed that the number of stay-at-home dads was declining from a high in 2011, after a steady rise in numbers since 1983.
Is the push to facilitate mothers and fathers in the workplace serving to devalue the role of the parent in the home?
“I would personally, and professionally, welcome more recognition of the important role of parenting for families and societies — it is undervalued and working hours are far too long and insufficiently flexible for modern-day parents,” she says.
Drew imagines an Ireland where both parents work a maximum of three days a week for the first two to three years of a child’s life. Allowing for childcare costs and high levels of taxation, at one stroke we could move towards more equality in the home and the workplace and spend more time with young children, without a huge drop in after-tax income. However, Drew says women are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if they bow out of the labour force due to family commitments.
She says that while leaving work to be at home looking after the children can be very appealing, it’s not going to occupy 40 years of anyone’s life, female or male.
“I don’t believe that women ‘leave’ the workforce — as in ‘forever’,” she says. “Some move to other companies with a better work/life balance record. Some take stock and abandon more highly competitive career paths for ‘safer’ conventional employment. Some re-enter education for motives that range from pure self-fulfilment to labour-market driven programmes. Still others embark upon entrepreneurship.”
Linda, a dietician by profession, says she feels she is “still employable” and that her skills are still relevant should she decide to re-enter the profession. She has also begun an artisan candle-making business and through this she has established a monthly artisan crafts market in Dublin’s St Anne’s Park.
“My kids know that I worked, that I had a responsible job as a mother as well, and that I stopped it to look after them. They also know that I do other things. With Linda’s Wicked Waxes… I could spend 40 hours a week working on it or I could spend six. But I’ve never worked so hard for such little money. On the basis of it, I run a market with a friend and there’s a lot of organising around that.
“The children come down and see the market and that I’m running that business and sometimes I catch them saying ‘my mam has a market’. It’s good for them to see me doing it; but it’s good for me, too. For me to see they are