I often thought that finding a Part-time job was the answer to our challenges. It would allow me to bring in additional family income, keep my head in the work game, and allow us to address the lack of before and after school care options for our severely special needs child. My search attempts were futile though as the only part-time job opportunities I could find were marginal jobs that wouldn’t get us that much further ahead.
In some ways it is just as well, for even if I did find a satisfactory part-time job in my field, I am pretty confident that my stress levels; which are already high, would go through the roof and take on a new meaning that wouldn’t be pretty for anyone around me.
The reason being is that unless you live in the Netherlands, working part-time does not actually alleviate time pressure for most women but rather increases it. Here is why, just imagine this scenario…. The husband is the primary breadwinner in the family who often is expected to work long hours and sometimes even travels, the wife works part-time and they have a couple of young children.
In this scenario, who do you think takes on the primary responsibility for coordinating any childcare requirements – dealing with a sick child, appointments, extra-curricular activities, play dates, lunches, field trips, etc., and the household logistics – meal preparation, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc.,?
In most households it is the woman who shoulders most of these responsibilities because she has ‘extra’ time given her part-time status. This does not mean the husband does not ‘help-out’ or take on some of the care giving and household responsibilities but study after study reveals that it is the woman who typically carries the weight of the family when working part-time. As a result, leisure time is often scarce for these women and when they get it, it is often scattered, interrupted by work, household duties or children. Men, on the other hand, often have more leisure time and enjoy longer stretches of unbroken time.
So what is the answer – not working at all or working full-time? I am not an advocate for woman to opt out of the workforce, especially educated woman, as the answer or solution to deal with the many challenges associated with raising a family in our western society. Instead, I advocate that both parents should have the option to work full-time in meaningful professions. To accomplish this though a huge shift needs to happen that involves changes to many workplace cultures, government policies, and cultural attitudes; which ultimately translates into men taking on more household and child-caring responsibilities, decreased working hours for both women and men, affordable child care options, and a huge cultural shift in values and priorities.
It can be done and Denmark is one example where over 80% of women with children are employed, most with full-time jobs and they have just as much leisure time as Danish fathers, and more leisure time than others in any other country.
Since it is not in the cards to move to Denmark or the Netherlands, nor can I wave a wand and make the necessary changes within our society, I do believe that there is room for improvement within our household on how we can tackle this desired work-life balance.