Gone is the 1950s archetype of the man in the house bringing home the bacon and the woman at home with the kids. Women now have the freedom to pursue just about any career they might choose. Most are pleased to see the end of traditional (or archaic) gender norms that were once forced upon us all, however we now have the added pressures that come with balancing a family life. Where it used to be the unavoidable expectation for the wife to stay at home with the children and take care of all the unpaid labour i.e. the housework and life admin. It is now more commonly expected that after having the baby, the woman will return to work.
It’s a well-known fact that has been proven time and time again that women inherently take on more of the emotional and household labour within the family. Not all gender norms are out the window just yet. It is still the case in upwards of 60% of households that the woman will predominantly if not exclusively shoulder the responsibility of cooking and cleaning within the home. It is also in a high percentage of households with children that the woman will take care of the majority of the children’s basic needs such as food, hygiene and emotional support. This is also true of mothers who work full time. Some argue that it is instinctual in women and that is a reasoning for this dynamic, but others would argue that it is in fact a remainder of gender norms in our modern society. Our lucky mothers may have access to or funds enough to cover a full-time nanny or to put their children into a day-care centre. Unfortunately for many families, the cost of full time childcare, however that may look, is only just covered by if not more costly than the earnings the second parents wage is bringing into the home.
As prices continue to rise across the board, we are seeing many either opt out of having children or putting it off until later in life when they are settled and have some savings behind them. Where we previously saw couples having children in their early to mid 20s, it is much more common to wait until you are in your late 20s to mid 30s. This brings with it its own risks and complications. The phrase biological clock doesn’t come from nowhere and while it only refers to women, it obviously impacts men in relationships with women of a similar age. For some couples they find conceiving to be difficult and many find themselves having to consider IVF, surrogacy or adoption as an alternative to biological birth. These modern inventions are definitely a god send to many, not just older women but also for our same sex couples and those with medical issues that limit their chances of falling pregnant naturally. Hell, we even have options that allow us some agency when choosing gender of baby. The IVF gender selection cost may not be in everyone’s budget, but it is quite spectacular to think of the advances we have made.
The idea of it taking a village to raise a child is still extremely relevant in today’s society. Fortunate parents may be surrounded by family to help them along the way – be it biological family or those they have chosen themselves. This input is priceless in the development of children but also for the mental and physical wellbeing of working parents. Between the school runs, sleepover and basketball uniforms that are found the night before they’re needed, the job of a parent never stops. Having some helping hands to lighten the load can make all the difference as well as ensuring the child has a well-rounded socialisation. We can’t forget the social benefits having that outlet brings for the parents – being able to support and be supported by others experiencing the same trials and tribulations as you is extremely validating. You should never underestimate the power of your community when it comes to lifting your spirits.
In the last 18 months or so the world has changed again for working parents. Covid 19 has brought on a completely different set of working circumstances for almost all parents. Whether it is parents trying to work from home without the space and juggling the childcare or it is parents whose jobs are essential meaning they had to work more often and longer hours – also juggling childcare. For many it was team meetings with a toddler on their lap or having to work into the small hours just to get some time once the kids have gone to bed. For many, the restrictions and risks diminished the help from family members such as grandparents that was so heavily relied on pre pandemic. Luckily (if you can call it that) our essential workers were able to access their usual childcare facilities, however, we can only imagine the added pressure of working within restrictions and under a whole new set of stresses. As we see a return to regular working environments there is no doubt that we will be seeing a change in the way childcare for working parents is handled – and rightly so.
In America it is quite common for workplaces to have a childcare option in the office. While we aren’t back to normal yet, and probably never will be in the full 5 days a week again, there is a chance that these kinds of services will become common within the workplace in Australia. Increased flexibility is just one of the many benefits we can see from the changes for office-based jobs. The realisation that we can in fact get our work done without having to be available between certain hours has put a whole new spin on the game and affords more creative agency over one life. This increase in flexibility will also have a knock-on effect in how it supports a household with 2 working parents as they will have the added capacity to work on different schedules to better manage the care of their children. Hopefully we will also see that change in attitude that allows these hard-working parents to bring their children with them if need be.