Thursday, December 11, 2014

The risk of sniper attacks in the 'mummy wars'

Have you been ever been injured by a sniper attack in the 'mummy wars'? It could have come in the form of a random comment from a passer-by. A loaded suggestion from your great aunt. An email from a colleague. A voice of 'concern' from another parent while dropping off the kids at school. Or even a sweeping generalised statement from a male opinion writer.

However the bullet arrived, the chances are that it hurt.

Or perhaps you fired the gun yourself.

The 'mummy wars' is that perceived battle that exists between mothers who chose (or are forced into) one way of living over another, particularly working over not working.

But it's not just 'mummies' who get involved in such wars but plenty of daddies and anyone who's ever had a kid, or has spent more than an hour with a kid, and believes they're qualified to comment on the lifestyle and parenting ways of mothers.

As with any need to address the habits of another group of people who are different to the tribe you believe you're in, the reason the 'mummy wars' exist at all largely stems from guilt and fear: the guilt that the choice you believe you're making may not actually be the best one; and the fear of somebody doing something different to the way you have been taught it should be done.

The problem is that those with such fears and guilt can swiftly launch an attack on a mother that can have serious consequences. Such wars can force women into decisions they wouldn't have otherwise made. Being on guard for sniper attacks can destroy the confidence of mothers, it can lead some to try and "do it all", sacrificing much-needed sleep in the process.

Indeed, the 'mummy wars' can seriously hurt the mental wellbeing of mothers. And those who are often at most risk of attack happen to also be the ones who are at risk of dropping out of the workforce altogether.

Currently, we have some decent support services for new mothers -- although recent tragic cases involving abandoned babies in Sydney would suggest the system is still catastrophically failing some women and children.

The problem is that much of this system of support starts to break down as a child moves from newborn to toddler. Community health services are frequented less, and some nurses may even raise eyebrows if a mother keeps visiting. Doctors stop asking questions about how mothers are coping. The, 'isn't she adorable' comments from random members of the public stop as tantrums, food-throwing and a desire to climb everything in sight become the norm. Mothers groups start to meet sporadically, instead of every week.

On top of this, it's during the toddler stage that many mothers will return to work, or transition from part-time work back to full-time. They'll be navigating the childcare system, dealing with difficult drop-offs and the relentless cycle of seeing their little person's immune system tested with seemingly every virus and stomach bug imaginable. They'll probably have even less time for socialising, friendships, exercise and hobbies.

It's especially at this point that mothers feel the expectation to do everything. To work, manage the caring responsibilities and the household duties. While it's perfectly acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas when dealing with a newborn, social expectations on one's appearance start to increase just as the baby's getting more mobile. No wonder it becomes a prime time for voicing that guilt and fear through the so-called 'mummy wars'.

So, not only do support structures break down for mothers as their babies transition to small children, but they increasingly find themselves at risk of 'mummy war' sniper attacks.

Feminism was supposed to give women choice. And yet all these choices made us afraid. The 'mummy wars' have become a cultural habit that will be very, very difficult to break.

However, there a things we can individually do to reduce the risk of sniper attacks against the mothers we know.

A good start involves taking a self assessment. What is it about the choices of others that makes us so afraid? How do our personal notions of guilt affect our respond to the actions of others?

This self-assessment needs to be undertaken by women and men. Parents and non-parents. Bloggers and newspaper comments. Parents who work and parents who don't.

If we really care about mothers, then we should at least respect them enough to ask -- what is it about them that makes us so afraid?

By: Angela Priestley
Source: Women's Agenda

Monday, December 1, 2014

The second shift: The post-bedtime ritual of successful working parents

Almost half of high-earning working parents regularly burn the midnight oil to get to a full-time week. Is it sustainable?

I am writing this essay at 9 p.m. That’s not unusual for me. I write and edit a lot of things at odd hours. I started working this way when my first kid was born seven and a half years ago, and now as I’m expecting my fourth, it’s become the rhythm of my life. Working a "split shift"—some during the day, and some at night—lets me work long hours and still do family dinners and play with my kids. As I talk to other working parents, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this modern version of a second shift is far from crazy. Indeed, it’s often the key to that alleged impossibility: having it all.

This is really a matter of work/life math. While we could all be more productive during the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, when you add small people and a household into your life, these 40 hours are rarely a true 40 hours. In the past few weeks, I’ve had a doctor’s appointment and so have my kids. I had to get new tires on my car. I went to a Halloween parade. My 7-year-old had a morning off from school when we didn’t have a sitter. I transported another kid to a post-school playdate. We had a new dishwasher delivered and installed during an 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. window. My husband and I split many duties, but even if I kept my nose to the grindstone during every non-interrupted minute, it would be hard to work more than 30-35 hours during the classic workweek 40. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor StatisticsAmerican Time Use Survey, the average married mother with kids under age 6 and a full-time job logs just 33.88 hours of work and work-related activities per week. That doesn’t even meet the technical definition of full-time, which is more than 35 hours a week).

It would be nice if some productivity trick could let you do as much in 34 hours as you could in, say, 45, but in the long run, that’s unlikely. In any case, working 45 hours is more likely to lead to the kind of paycheck that can support a family. Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More, has calculated from census data that people working 45 hours per week earn more than twice as much as those who work 34 hours per week.

To meet my income and career-advancement goals, I generally need to work 45-50 hours per week. If I can only log 35 hours by working until 5:30 p.m. most days, I have a few choices. I could keep working every night until 8:30 p.m. and not see my kids. Or I could stop work at 5:30 p.m., hang out with my family until 8:30 p.m., and then get back to work.

So that’s what I do. I’m far from the only one. I recently completed a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their families while researching a book. All these women earned six figures and had kids at home. They worked, on average, 44 hours per week, despite the presence of dentist appointments, preschool volunteer shifts, and the like. About 45% made this work by doing a split shift like mine. In some extreme cases, I saw women leaving work around 3:30 p.m. to get their kids at school, and then scheduling conference calls (often with people in other time zones) from 8-10:30 p.m. They weren’t just catching up on email. They had literally moved the latter chunk of their workdays to the night.

Of course, if I saw this strategy in 45% of time logs, that means that 55% of high-earning moms didn’t do it. Some kinds of work don’t lend itself to this; if you’re doing procedures on patients, you’re probably not going to schedule one for 9 p.m. A split shift requires doing work that can be moved around on dimensions of time and place.

Some people were also just philosophically opposed, which I understand. There’s a certain simplicity when work is work and home is home, and never the twain shall meet. Split shifts cut into leisure time and, if you’re not careful, sleep. Since I usually work from 8:30-10:30 p.m., and I rarely watch TV. I’m fine with that tradeoff, but not everyone is. Since I write for a living, I have an adequate creative outlet. But if I had an office job, I might want to knit or scrapbook at night. My husband generally does a split shift too, but if he worked fewer hours, he might reasonably expect me to spend a bigger chunk of my late nights with him.

There are ways around these problems, though. I’ve started arranging our childcare so I can work through the evening at least one night per week. If I work until 7:30 p.m., then I can often relax that night instead of going back to work. As my kids get older, they sometimes sleep in on weekends. That means I can get up early on those days and use that time (at least until the baby arrives). Two hours on Saturday morning is one split shift I don’t have to work on a weeknight.

But overall, this schedule is a great tool in the work/life toolbox. Sending emails at 9:30 p.m. gets a bad rep, but next time you get such a missive, don’t assume you have a workaholic on your hands. You’re probably just working with someone who’s found a way to get it all done.

By Laura Vanderkam
Source: Fast Company