‘Some­times I feel I swapped one chaotic life for an­other’

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - I’M A SUR­VIVOR BACK TO WORK

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

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