A couple of months ago radio and television personality Mark Richardson claimed live on air that being a mum was not a job but a fact of life. I was aggrieved, indignant, outraged — so was my husband. I have worked at many jobs in my life but the one I am doing now, staying at home with my three preschoolers, is by far the hardest and undoubtedly the most important, and yet people like Richardson insist on diminishing and belittling my work.
A few weeks ago my husband, writer Greg Bruce, thought he'd test Richardson's theory and do the work of a stay-at-home-parent for a week. He figured he'd write an article about it because he knows how overworked, underpaid, exhausted and stressed I am, and because doing stuff and then writing about what he does is how he makes a living.
Read more: • Greg Bruce: Parenting is hard: Here's why
Boy, was that a great week for me. I got so much done, including our taxes, and I ate lunch that wasn't somebody's crusts every single day. Greg had a hard week though. While looking after our three preschoolers is nothing new to him, it is not his full-time job — he does not usually prepare the lunches, do the kindy run, go to Playcentre and deal with the constant unrelenting tantrums, accidents, cleaning up, emotional and physical demands, loneliness and isolation of the job of a stay-at-home parent.
He could — and I'll come back to that later — but he doesn't. And so he wasn't as good at it as me and his article reflected that. I've been doing it for a long time, I think I'm pretty good at it, I take pride in the skills I have developed from managing three tiny dictators through a busy week. I am a professional; he was a newbie with some prior experience. The article published in Canvas two weeks ago was met by a backlash from some who felt that it played into a stereotype of "hapless father tries his hand at women's work". Television host Hilary Barry tweeted a photo of the cover with the words "Alternative Headline: Father Parents His Children". And just like that I was slapped in the face and my job was once again being belittled in the media.
It was the subject of a takedown article on The Spinoff, which claimed that dads parenting is normal, that we shouldn't make out that it's not and that it doesn't do dads any favours to have them publicly appear as bumbling. The problem with this argument is that if my husband is supposed to be able to walk into my job without my level of experience and nail it immediately, then the implication is that my job is easy, not at all complex, completely unskilled.
I reject that. Let me tell you a little something about my job. I have three bosses. They are all tyrants. I am their only employee between the hours of 7.15am and 5.15pm and they work me like a dog. Their deadlines are absurd — they scream at me, "Why aren't you making my toast?" as I am putting their toast into the toaster, and I never get any leave.
A couple of weeks ago I had a tummy bug.
It was dreadful and at 3am as I was huddled over the toilet, feeling like I might die, my 4-year-old stood next to me, wailing. "How sweet," you might think, "She's worried about you." No, no, that wasn't it. She couldn't find her special toy and how dare I attempt to get out of work by projectile vomiting last night's pad thai.
I am constantly having to upskill and retrain as my children develop and their needs change and evolve. In one moment I'm a safety officer for my 15-month-old and in the next I'm a psychologist and counsellor for my 4-year-old when she tells me she doesn't like it when people like her. I have to know something about everything and be prepared to answer because I could get asked literally anything: why people sneeze or why I sometimes wear makeup or what happened to dinosaurs and could people become extinct.
If Greg's article had him take a week off paid employment to take on my job and he wrote about how easy it was, that would have been outrageous, that would have been demeaning to women and all stay-at-home parents, that article would and should have had feminists and mothers up in arms.
The truth is, in order to prove that women are capable workers, we as a society have worked so hard to diminish the work in the home and the role of stay-at-home parents that mothers themselves must pretend what we do is no big deal.
The patriarchy has women so ashamed of our roles as parents (often subconsciously), that we now feel we must overload ourselves with additional "real" work. We end up taking on two jobs in order to maintain our value to society and quite frankly it's not fair.
I'm not saying women don't want to work outside the home — of course many, many do and for great reasons — but I am saying we shouldn't be made to feel we have to work because the work we are doing at home is not valuable or worthwhile enough. And nor should stay-at-home dads.
While The Spinoff's article was well-intentioned and made a valid point that we shouldn't make out that it's novel for dads to be parenting, it inadvertently joined Richardson in saying stay-at-home parenting is not a job — or at least not a skilled one. And so instead of acknowledging the hard work of stay-at-home-parents, The Spinoff, Barry, later Duncan Garner and the people who concurred with them on social media started diminishing our work again and again saying phrases like: "It's just parenting, get over it" and "What does he want? A trophy for looking after his kids?"
This narrative does absolutely zero for the cause of women. Yes, women do the job all the time and don't get any prizes for it, nor even any compensation, but, setting aside the fact that the article never suggested Greg get any accolades, why shouldn't we get a pat on the back for our job? It's bloody hard work when I do it every day and it was bloody hard work when Greg did it for a week.
A man finding parenting hard does not mean he's a feckless parent, it means full-time parenting is hard. Let's not trivialise stay-at-home parenting for the sake of an important but different gender parity problem.
I think we can all agree that men can be capable parents but there is no point pretending that they are doing as much work in the home as women, because statistically that's just not true. Perhaps if we could fix this pesky gender pay gap issue we might start to see more men working in the home. Then again, why would they want join a profession that is constantly being demeaned and called "basic"?
Most of us would all love to live in a world where fathers parenting is the status quo but it simply isn't the way the world is. Let's aim to get there but in the meantime can we not keep kicking stay-at-home parents while they're down by saying it's "just parenting"?
I'm really pretty sick of being told I'm "just a mum".
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