The father of my children who is away for up to three months at a time and so isn’t around to help.
My mum, who’s always been so much more capable than me, and who I felt didn’t understand the pressures of modern work and long tracts of single parenting.
Some friends who don’t work and thus have time for yoga, reading books, accessorising and making delicious food not just seven boring meals on rotation.
I’ve even blamed the bloody cat for needing to be fed because it’s another thing I have to do.
But then I read something that pulled me up hard. It’s from one of my favourite authors, Anna Quindlen and I admit the fact I read it rather disputes my claim that I have no time for myself.
“You are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life,” writes Quindlen. She goes on: “Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul… ”
I’ve carried around that quote for a few weeks now and I’ve come to the conclusion that many women, particularly mothers, are martyrs. We’re exhausted, unhappy, overworked and resentful yet we neglect to sit down and have a stern talk with the one person who can change any of it — namely ourselves.
But first some facts. Yes, men’s parenting time has increased but women’s has too. Statistics from America show fathers tripled their child care time from 2.5 hours per week in 1965 to seven hours per week in 2011. But did this lead women to step back?
Hell, no. Over the same period women’s parenting time increased from 10 hours to 14 hours per week. Why?
In short women feel they have to micromanage their children’s lives and parent as they work — professionally, attentively, exhaustively — to ensure they raise the best child possible. Further, as Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan from Ohio State University points out, we’re reluctant to give up control over parenting.
“What ends up happening is that fathers spend less time in sole charge of their children.” Women, she says, are in sole charge of their children for nearly one-third of their time whereas men for only about 8 per cent of their time.
In the course of her research, Schoppe-Sullivan revealed two other inequalities: mothers do more multi-tasking which leaves them feeling frustrated, irritated and pressed for time and they also do more managing and organising. She called the latter the “worry work” of parenting — the managing of activities, schedules, appointments and childcare.
Resonating for anyone?
Yep, me too. It would be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of resentment. To rail at men because they don’t see what needs doing, they don’t care about household standards and they couldn’t find a number for the babysitter unless you inscribed it on the bottom of a golf club.
Or maybe we could scrutinise ourselves. Are we doing the “worry work” because we don’t think men can do it properly? Are we still making our kids’ lunch boxes because we don’t trust them to eat nutritiously? Are we multi-tasking because we glorify our busyness over far more sensible and nourishing choices like, say, exercising or watching TV?
Indeed, a few men have told me they feel like spectators rather than participants in family life because women are self-appointed ringmasters who not only seize the whip but believe there’s only one way of cracking it.
Perhaps it’s the break up of my marriage or maybe it’s looking back over 16 years of parenting and wondering what I might’ve done differently, but increasingly I think women need to act on rather than react to the circumstances in their lives.
It’s a theme in Rebecca Huntley’s brilliant new book Still Lucky. In a compelling chapter on why Australian women are underpaid and overworked, Huntley chronicles the usual gripes: mother guilt; the problems of part time work; loss of identity, the gender pay gap; “having it all”; the housework imbalance. But far from just reporting what she’s heard as one of the nation’s foremost social researchers, Huntley comes to a stunning conclusion: in part, it’s our own fault. Women, she says, need to throw off the mantle of martyrdom and interrogate themselves about the attitudes they take to their own lives.
Practically, she suggests two things. “First, we have to make room for men to try, to fail a few times and to learn. The second is that we must believe we have the right to ask for what we want.”
As she concludes: “The women who thrive are the ones who reject the martyr’s path, or who recognise they are on it and find another way.”
Both she and Quindlen are right: we are all responsible for our own happiness.