Working parents – the debate goes on…

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Tuesday 13th November 2012

“Enough about saintly working mothers. What about me? I’m a working dad.”

That’s the headline emblazoned across the front page of Times 2 today, trailing a piece by Hugo Rifkind that sticks up for working fathers.

His gist is that society isn’t treating fathers equally. “… when she gets up many hours before going to work to deal with our children’s poos and pees and frankly unreasonable moonlit demands for Cheerios, she is a brave and selfless warrior for feminism,” he writes of his wife. “Whereas when I do, I’m just somebody who if he didn’t would be an a***hole.”

The most striking thing to me is that the parenting debate hasn’t moved on at all over the last few decades. The trouble is, as each generation discovers in turn, if you’re a parent (whether you’re a mum or a dad) you really can’t have it all.

Whatever anyone says, you can’t have a superstar career and be there 24/7 for your children. It’s just impossible.

In our house we never sat down and discussed how we would share the parenting. When my two were little my husband worked as a company turnaround expert, which meant being catapulted into businesses all over the place that were in trouble and needed sorting out. It sounds glamorous but it wasn’t. It was gruelling, tough and completely unpredictable. But he was self-employed and earned more than me, so no way could I say: “Hang on. You can’t go tomorrow. You’re looking after the children.”

If I’m honest, it irritated the hell out of me at the time. But then again, I knew that if he didn’t drop everything and go, then the mortgage wouldn’t get paid. OK, I could have found a live-in nanny and gone back to my old job as a news reporter but then I would have been away all the time too – which would have been terrible for the children.

So, we muddled through. I did the childcare and freelanced from home (a plus side of journalism), while my husband paid the bulk of the bills.

But suddenly everything changed. First my daughter went to university, followed this September by my son. And after all these years of wondering whether I did the right thing, I’ve stopped worrying. My children’s childhoods went by in a flash and I’m glad I didn’t miss any of it.

11 comments so far

  • What a shame that The Times firewall means I missed that article – I do think that working fathers are frequently given a difficult time, in some way damned if they do and damned if they don’t

    I cannot believe how quickly time goes when you have children – perhaps that is the one lesson I wish I had learnt earlier

  • I’m still in the early days of my mothering journey and I have to admit that I’m not as good as you not to whinge every time hubby is away from home due to work, but even with me working we could not afford a nanny. So, tag I’m it with another on the way. I’m also guilty of wishing them to grow fast, kinda like a child hoping that their watercress to grow the day after its planted. I don’t regret having kids but I didn’t anticipate how much my life would change and seemingly little my husband’s would. Ah well, here’s hoping that like you I’ll look back in the one day and feel the same pride you do, when they kids are grown :0)

  • I agree! The time seems to speed up and whizz by faster and faster. And my daughter is 21 next month! Thank you so much for commenting. It was a thought-provoking piece and I think Hugo Rifkind made a good point.

  • Hi MsXpat. I promise I wasn’t as calm as all that. Most of the time I was in complete chaos and not coping at all. Maybe I’ve got rose-tinted spectacles or something. When my children were babies the time seemed to go by quite slowly and then it sped up, and whoosh, they are suddenly grown-ups.

  • I think I am still a little bit at the MsXpat stage. I can’t wait for them to grow up and then am pained when they show signs of doing just that. I get fed up of being home with them and doing homework and all the unpopular things. But then I miss them terribly the instant I am away from home. You put it really well, Emma: if you are a parent, you can’t have it all, and there are some days when we are more convinced that it’s worth it, and some days when we do wonder a little…

  • Mine are 8 and 10 and the time seems to have whizzed us here. If I could I would stop time her; 8 and 10 year olds are so interesting and there’s no need to wipe bums. :))

  • Good to hear this as when you are in the middle of it all you don’t realise how you will miss them when they fly the nest.
    Muddling through – I think that is what most of us do but few brave souls like you admit it openly enough.

  • Exactly, Marina. Although one thing I don’t miss is the homework. Mind you, I now worry whether they’re up to date with their work at university – but there isn’t a thing I can do about it…

  • Thanks so much for your comment, Kate. I’ve just had a lovely weekend because my son came home for two days. But now he’s gone back to university again and the house feels very quiet.

  • Mine are 13 & 16. The house is constantly filling and emptying out, preparing me for when they really do flee the nest. Many of my friends have children away at Uni or college, finding themselves suddenly flung back with their husbands (whether they like it or not & no children to use as an excuse), thinking where did the time go? I loved the chaos of small children, although at times I felt weary and out of control. I love the teens too & the different set of challenges they present. Part-time work has helped me keep my sanity.

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