I’ve not been blogging much since the middle of the year, for the very straightforward reason that I simply haven’t had time. All my time has been taken up by my paid work, and three other things I am committed to, aside from caring for my lovely daughters and my partner. This is not as it should be – my paid work is in theory, part time. We have found in the past that our household starts to fall apart when we work more than about one and a half paid jobs between us, so we very deliberately chose that I would work part time for the next few years, until our girls are a bit older. However my paid employment has taken up far more time than it ought to have in recent months. Work load issues… I have them. The issues are at present unresolved, ‘though they have been given some attention, and may well be resolved shortly. I am however, resolute in my intention to make absolutely sure that the issues do not recur next year.
In the meantime, this is the first weekend during which I have not had to work since about July this year. So I am still in bed, and I intend to remain here for quite some time yet.
Best of all, my darling daughters have brought me breakfast in bed, nicely set out on a tray.
And they have suggested that I keep the household bell on my bedside table, so that when I feel so inclined, I can do this…
… and ask for more coffee.
I think I shall do that right now.
I had a huge amount to get through at work this week – study material that simply must be prepared and loaded onto websites and ready to go a week ahead of the second semester starting. The second semester doesn’t start until mid-Juiy, but there are two weeks of school holidays first, and my part-time job means that I don’t work then. As well as masses of work, I had two rehearsals for my choir, and a concert at my daughters’ school, and a meeting for a trust board that I am on. On top of all this, as is reasonably common, Mr Bee was away some nights, for work. I knew that the week would be frantic.
And then, on Monday morning, Miss Ten the younger came into our bedroom, looking very pale and droopy. She has a sore throat and sore ears, and really was quite miserable. She spent two days aawy from school, but by Tuesday evening, she was looking much better. Good, I thought. I can have three really good days in the office.
Except that by Tuesday evening, Miss Ten the younger was getting paler and paler, and clearly getting sicker and sicker. She was away from school on Wednesday and Thursday, and again today, ‘though by late afternoon, she had recovered.
I didn’t get a single day in the office all week.
There are some things that make managing sick children easier for me than for many parents. I have an office to myself, which is standard practice for academics in universities, and it’s large, so I have a sofa in there, which is ideal for sick children. I had meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday that I didn’t want to miss, so on those days, the girls came to campus with me, and languished on my sofa, with books and my iPad to keep themselves amused. My work can easily be done at home, although it’s a nuisance not having ready access to the resources in my office, and not being able to wander down the hallway to consult a colleague over a problem if necessary.
But working at home has its limitations, notably with respect to my laptop. By Thursday I had sore arms and hands thanks to the height of the dining table where I was working, and the clunkiness of my laptop’s mousepad. I could solve both those problems (mouse instead of a mousepad, swapping to a different table), but the ergonomics at home are not nearly has good as my desk in my office. And try as I might, I never get as much done at home as I do in the office.
It was been a tough week. But even then, for me, as a working mother, it has been comparatively easy. Academic jobs are one of the few jobs that are output oriented instead of input oriented. My employer doesn’t really count the hours I put in. Instead, I am measured by the number of students I teach, and the amount of research I do. If I happen to do my work in the middle of the night, that’s just fine. Obviously, I have to turn up for the classes I teach, and as a rule, I ought to be in my office and present in the department during normal work hours, but if I need to work from home, I can. And I am not a sole parent. Because Mr Bee has a Big Job, we have consciously decided that I will work part time, so that we can manage childcare.** However, even though I end up taking most of the childcare responsibilities, if the sky really fell down, I could call on Mr Bee for help.
But what say you have a job where being present is what matters? How many bosses are going to be happy with an employee taking a whole week off to care for sick children? And here’s the thing about children: they are little repositories of disease. They get sick, with winter bugs and illnesses, and sick childen cannot go to school or daycare. That means that you cannot go to work.
And if you are a sole parent, then by definition you do not have a partner with whom to share childcare. This is why the National party’s plan to make sure that all those sole parents are out working will fail. It’s not that that parents don’t want to work. All the evidence shows that the great majority of people who are on the DPB are only on it for a few years, and move off it when they are able too. Many of them find employment precarious and difficult to manage – witness Paula Bennett’s struggle – but they are willing to work. The problem is the lack of jobs where employers are happy for employees to take leave to care for sick children. Add to this the need to take leave for school holidays – 12 weeks school holidays each year, but most employees only get four weeks annual leave – and the minor detail of most jobs running for eight to nine hours each day, while school runs for only six, and trying to find work that enables a sole parent to work suddenly looks very difficult indeed.
It’s Saturday now, and at last, everyone is well. With a bit of luck, I will get a whole clear week in the office before the school term ends on Friday. Fingers crossed….
* Working in paid employment
** Yes, this might create issues in many careers. As it turns out, in an academic career, I should be able to go back to fulltime work fairly easily once my children are old enough. Also, I no longer have a career. I just have a series of jobs which do well enough for the time being.
Earlier posts on the National Party’s policies for sole parents:
- Get those sole parents working
- Keeping its promises
- I did it, so why can’t you?
- Making those slappers cross their legs
That is because work is a socially valuable experience. It does not just pay us, but it has some latent social functions:
- Employment imposes a time structure on the working day:
- It involves regularly shared experiences and contacts with people outside the nuclear family:
- It links an individual to goals and purposes which transcend her or his own:
- It enforces activity.
….A quick summary is that we because we are social animals we are happy to work, for it gives us more than just income.
That all seems plausible to me, and it certainly explains at least some of the disconnection I experienced when we lived in Adelaide, where my work was irregular and not integrated into a particular workplace community. Easton uses the analysis to show why we need to do better with respect to managing unemployment, and why we need to change our attitudes towards the unemployed. If you are at all interested in New Zealand’s economic priorities, or in social justice, then Easton’s column is very much worth reading.
It’s the next thing that Easton says in his column that has had me thinking.
You will observe that housework is not quite as successful at covering the latent functions – as well as it is not paid – which may explain why it is unpopular.
- Housework has no time structure, for it is always there, always waiting to be done, always able to be done. One cannot resolve to finish housework for the day, turn off the computer, leave the office and go home to relax, because home is the very site where housework occurs.
- Housework occurs within the nuclear family.
- Perhaps housework does link one to goals and purposes outside one’s own goals and purposes, in the sense that it helps to create an environment in which other people can thrive, but that seems to stretch the idea of transcendence a little far.
- But it does enforce activity. It’s just hard for me to see it as particularly enjoyable activity, ‘though I know that others differ in this regard.
I find it very, very hard to motivate myself to do housework, ‘though oddly enough, i find it easier to do so when I have to fit it in around my paid work. A quick 15 minutes here or there is not too difficult to manage. But 15 minutes here or there isn’t really enough to keep it all under control, especially when we are both in paid employment. So… we have outsourced the horrid work, and hired a cleaner.
And there’s the rub. I know that all of us have work preferences, that just as the thought of academic work might send you running for the hills, the thought of say, accounts work makes we want to crawl under my desk in despair. But it seems that most people loathe housework, and really, I don’t see why my cleaner would enjoy it any more than I do. Of course, he can lock the door and go home… to more housework. And he gets paid for the work, which must help. However he works on his own – no social structure around work for him. Just in and out of different houses, cleaning, with no one to share the work, no one to chat to, to sit down for a coffee break with.
I tend to try to be out of the house when our cleaner comes in, partly so that he doesn’t have to work around me, partly because even though academic work is flexible, I prefer to work in my office on campus, and partly because our current cleaner insists on chatting to me, so that I can’t get on with my own work, and partly because I always find it hard having tradies in my space (that would be my native curmudgeonliness and introversion coming out ). But I’ve just started to think that making an effort to be absent is unfair, and that if I am going to provide a decent work environment, then as well as making sure that he is fairly paid (we hire and pay for cleaners through a local company, which means that we can be sure that the workers are getting the going rate, and holiday pay and sick pay and so on), I ought to be open to making sure that some of those latent functions of work are served as well. I don’t think I need to make a special effort to stay home, but scuttling out as quickly as I can seems to be at least a little churlish.
Or maybe this is all just too middle-class-angst-ridden for words, and I should just get over it.
Previous writing on housework (as you can see this has been a bit of a touchstone issue for me over the years):
- Dinosaurs thundering by again
- Simone de Beauvoir on housework
- We need a wife
- Sharing the load
In today’s astounding and astonishing research that everyone is completely surprised by, a survey has shown that women are working harder than men to achieve work-life balance.
Well, that’s a real road-to-Damascus revelation, isn’t it.
The causes are standard: women do a double shift at home and look for higher standards. And because they are better at some tasks, it just seems sensible that they should do them, in a gender based division of labour. Here’s how one chap justifies the way tasks are shared out in his household.
One witty reader thought a functioning household should use each gender’s natural strengths. “Each gender has its own strengths in its own areas. For example, my wife can do the washing and ironing far quicker than I can hence she completes these tasks more efficiently than I.
“Comparatively, I can surf the MySky evening programmes much more efficiently than her and decide in a quicker time frame what programmes we will watch. Our work-life balance is kept in check much more efficiently by both of us working to our personal strengths.”
Behind the joke, there is a serious issue. Yes, it does seem sensible that in order to get household tasks done quickly, because most of us really don’t like having to devote time to doing hosuework, we should each do what we are best at. She should cook and clean and iron, he should mow the laws and do the maintenance. But therein lies a trap: he who only ever mows the lawns never learns how to cook, and never becoems able to take on the daily drudgery of preparing meals. And it *is* a daily drudgery. I love cooking, I enjoy trying new recipes, I derive a fair degree of satisfaction from preparing meals, but being responsible for it every day becomes wearying.
And then there are the familiar issues:
spending time deciding which leisure activities to engage in is NOT work;
deferable activities, such as mowing lawsn, do not create the same weight as non-deferable activities (children must be fed everyday, after all, and one can’t simply decide to defer their eating until a less busy day);
the daily drudgery of cooking and cleaning is never done, because it must all be done again tomorrow, whereas a newly painted fence will stay painted for quite a few years;
childcare is actually work, and a person who is responsible for the children is constrained to choose only activities that fit with that work (no heading out for a walk or a run if you have to take care of the children).
So…. I am about to negotiate this day’s work life balance. Mostly it is going to consist in announcing that I will sort out the meals and the children’s washing, and do nothing else… in order that I may spend the day on my paid work.
Perhaps I am missing the point?
Oh, the old “All those fat children should walk to school and get off my road” debate again… The Dominion Post has a front page article this morning: Why don’t children walk to school?” Apparently most children are driven to school, including 50% of those who live within 2km of their school, and only 35% walk or bike. This is a BAD THING.
The reasons for children not walking to school are to my mind, obvious. Time, and safety. If you are in paid employment as well as parenting, then time counts. Even twenty minutes walking your children to school is a huge impost in the mornings when you are racing to get to work. I’ve written about it before:
If it’s not the children who are at fault, it must surely be their parents. They are the ones who won’t take 20 minutes out of their mornings, or afternoons, to ensure that the children get to school safely, on foot. Never mind that many families need to have two income earners, just to pay the cost of housing and food. Two incomes means two jobs, and frantic mornings trying to get everyone cleaned, dressed, fed, lunches made and school bags packed, all while trying to ensure that both adults can get to work in reasonable order, and hopefully, on time. Twenty minutes may not sound like much time, but it is a huge chunk out of a busy morning. Yet somehow, the “children should walk to school” brigade think that parents can just dream this time up out of nowhere.
And let’s not forget that some parents are told very clearly that they ought to be working. Sole parents are perhaps the busiest parents of all. And now here’s yet another thing that they ought somehow to be doing.
Then there’s safety. Getting across busy roads is a difficult task, even for adults. And it’s not just roads that are problematic: children are typically totally unaware of driveways, and cars reversing out. Yes, the driver of a reversing car is responsible for ensuring that she or he doesn’t run over any pedestrians, but that legal nicety is of little comfort when you are confronted with terribly injured children. There is a vicious circle here: driver awareness of pedestrians and cyclists would be better if there were more pedestrians and cyclists on the road, but the numbers are so low that at present it is simply dangerous to be out there, so the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are decreasing, so awareness drops even lower and it gets more dangerous, so even less children walk and bike. The problem is well known.
Those points are obvious. But there are some other issues that might be raised. Children’s age makes an obvious difference. We live near one of the local highschools, and every morning, we see hordes of teenagers trudging along the nearby streets, and virtually no congestion outside the school gates. The article in the Dom Post notes that 70% of five year olds are driven to school, but only 42% of eleven and twelve year olds. My guess is that one critical factor in determining whether children are driven to school is the age of the youngest child in a family.
Second, parents are given competing directions about what to do with their children. On the one hand, we are told that we should make our children walk to school, but on the other, we are told that we are not allowed to leave our children unsupervised. So it’s okay to send your child out alone to walk to school, but it’s not okay to leave them at home alone.
Third, my guess is that many adults live within easy walking distance of their workplaces (the article seems to have two distances in mind: 2km for easy walking, and 5km for possible walking or riding), yet there is no pressure on them to leave their cars behind. Yet it would be just as easy for adults who don’t have responsibility for children to take the extra 20 minutes in their day to walk or bike to work. But as usual, it’s just so much easier to ladle blame and shame onto parents and children.
My children walked to school in Adelaide, where we lived about 600m from the school, and the children could use a controlled crossing to get across a very busy arterial route.
We drive our children to school here in Greenhills, where we live about 3km from the school.