- Part-time work is more common for new mothers, but by the time their children reach school-going age, the idea of a full-time job becomes more doable, and more appealing.
- Once their children reach adolescence, mothers are more likely to work full-time than part-time.
- Most fathers make no changes at all to their work lives when their children are born, although this is changing. Some dads are opting to work flexitime, do shift work or work from home.
- Meanwhile, most mothers make changes at work to fit in with their children and their school commitments.
The challenges faced by working moms can be overwhelming at times, especially if the school principal is not sympathetic to their plight.
According to one mom, when she and a group of other mothers couldn’t pick up their children from school at a certain proposed time and asked for the time to be changed, the principal dismissed their concerns, saying other mothers had found alternative arrangements in previous years – but when the fathers (who all had working wives) went in and argued the same point, the principal organised after-school care.
“In some ways, it’s not at all surprising because schools respond to what they see around them,” says Annabel Crabb, author of The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives, and Men Need Lives.
Yet they could be powerful agents of change. “There’s a huge capacity for schools to be influential in this area,” says Crabb. “You can change so much just by questioning basic assumptions. So, instead of schools saying: ‘check with mom to get these forms filled out’, they should say: ‘check with your parents’. In my house, no one would go on excursions if it were left to me.
“Even in my [children’s] school, the reading roster is overwhelmingly female, and maybe this is a situation that can evolve through more men stepping up – and more eyebrow-raising when they don’t step up.”
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Fathers need some encouragement
Simon Spinks (44), a father of two and project manager, was the only dad who helped with reading in his son’s first year of school.
“It gave me a chance to get an insight into my son’s class, the level he was at and how he learned,” says Spinks. “More men need to do it. We have a different view on things and the little boys love their dads being there. My son was really proud.”
Of course, if fathers did more, mothers could do less, but work culture is still so gender-focused that relief seems a long way off. Perhaps men need to feel more comfortable doing the unpaid “caring” duties that society just expects from women.
“Having someone encourage you would be helpful,” says Spinks. “If I pressured a few fathers, they might look at it differently and act.” Being involved, after all, has its benefits. In an ever more socially isolated world, schools offer a rare opportunity to be part of a strong, supportive community.
“One of the great pleasures of school life is that you make friends,” says Crabb. “It’s one place where you absolutely meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet. There’s a lot of fun to be had and, in an ideal world, everyone would have equal access to it.”
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