The juggle struggle: when your child is sick and you once again realise how f***ed we are as working women

Doesn't this picture look idyllic?  My life is so far from this picture 90% of the time. 

My youngest daughter was poorly all of last week, meaning a week of no childcare and the week ending with us going to A&E (she is now fine, nasty infection).  As I sat in the children's waiting room and looked around me, what I saw was a group of tired and exasperated mothers, along with a handful of Grandmothers.  I did not see one Father.  

As a working mother, there is nothing like your child being sick to highlight the inequality surrounding us and fuel the fire back in your belly.  We, my husband and I, had a sick child but I, the mother, am responsible for this sick child; I am rallying around both my children, trying to care for my business and quite frankly, keep it alive, so I work through the night.  My husband's week didn't change (apart from dealing with a v grumpy wife).  While I worked in tech at Oracle, I can't tell you how many times this happened.  

This isn't a criticism of my husband, he is an excellent and supportive father and husband, he provides for our children emotionally and he works incredibly hard to provide for our children financially.  However, we are a family of two working parents, and for whatever reason in these situations, it is always me that is affected.  He has such little flexibility with his work and honestly, it cripples me.  Its part of the reason I left tech to set up Lullaloop, every drop-off, pick-up, bedtime and weekday crisis is down to me.  Even if you aren't a working mother, the pressure on women in these situations is immense.  I know I am not alone.

When these situations arise I always wonder how many other mothers are in this position, I have friends who certainly have a better balance but they still are the primary caregiver, no matter how successful.  I also have a small handful of friends who share the responsibility almost equally, but honestly, they have even more conflict in terms of mum guilt.  Is it my choice that I do all of these things, would I really let my husband go to the hospital if he could? Is this my biological makeup as a mother or is it a social construct? 

These situations always drive me to once again, look at the data and the research.  I also find lots of information through @reshmasaujani and @feministabulous @pregnantthenscrewed and many more.  So, what is the reality?  

COVID19 gave us a real insight into the pressure on working mothers - when everyone is in the same situation, most of us at home, fathers included, who does the responsibility fall on? Women.  It was proven time and time again that during the pandemic it was mothers, working mothers especially, that suffered. What was the fallout? McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report, conducted with LeanIn.Org, revealed a startling statistic: one in three working mothers said that they were considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce entirely.

I was on my second maternity leave during the start of COVID19 and honestly I feel lucky that was my situation, while my maternity leave wasn't what I had hoped, I wasn't trying to balance work with two under two (well, ish - I had started working on Lullaloop).  When I went back to work and I had to deal with bubbles bursting and children home for 10 days, while I was trying to work and run pitches in nap times, honestly - it pushed me over the edge.  There is no question it forced my decision on leaving tech, I just couldn't do it anymore.  Whilst I am lucky in some respect, because it gave me more of a reason to start Lullaloop, I just can't understand how mothers coped.  

What's more, the data shows us that still, the majority of the household chores fall on us, men do more but it's proven they think they contribute far more than they do.  In the same McKinsey study they found more than 70 percent of heterosexual fathers in dual-career couples think that they are splitting household labour equally with their partner during the COVID-19 crisis, though only 44 percent of heterosexual mothers in dual-career couples agree.

If we look at Our World In Data - in every country they have studied, mothers spend more time in childcare activities than Fathers; 70% of working mothers spend more time in childcare activities than fathers.  

This has also been exasperated by how parenting has changed, Our World In Data has shown that in every country (other than France), the time we spend with our children over the last 50 years has continually increased.  We are at a time where important research has shown us that we need to be present with our children, spend time with them and nurture them - this has driven the social norm of parenting to change dramatically.  While this is obviously crucial for the future of our children, it also puts parents, and especially mothers, under pressure to do more with and for, their children.  I've read many books telling me: don't let your child cry, talk quietly and softly to them, spend an hour alone with each child, be off your phone, don't work in front of them...if they need you, be there. But also, parents and mothers, please look after your mental health.  If could someone explain to me how these work in parallel, I would be forever grateful...

So, here we are, working mothers - proven to do the majority of the childcare and household jobs, as well as our full or part-time jobs and despite this strain, research suggests that mothers are still more productive as a group.   Companies also have been proven to perform better with women in leadership - McKinsey research highlighted that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom.   Women also direct 83% of all consumption, in buying power and influence - so they are integral for companies to understand what the consumer wants and needs.  

So, we must get treated and compensated extremely well, right?

Of course not.  The gender pay gap in the UK is still 7% and women face exasperated sexism from the moment they are pregnant.  It's been shown with data that working mothers are less likely to get jobs and promotions, while fathers are more likely to.  While at Oracle I was paid less than the majority (if not all) of my male colleagues, I lost accounts while on maternity leave, I was given rubbish maternity pay and I fought to get the money I was due.  I had to put up with countless inappropriate comments about pregnancy, being a working mum and my appearance.  I took a pay cut for going down to 4 days a week, even though I was bringing in more business than many of my 5 days a week counterparts.  Don't get me wrong, I had some champions in the business, some supportive managers and some people who wanted to make it work for me, but it doesn't fix the culture we still live in.  This also all happened to me, someone who is white and privileged; I can afford childcare, (which works out at 55% of average earnings in the UK), I have space in my house for my children to play and an office to work in, I have had a good job, people respect me simply because of my skin colour, my education and voice.  I only have to deal with sexism, I had it pretty good compared to so many other mothers...

So, what is the answer?  

Honestly, I don't know - I am not an expert and I do not have the expertise or knowledge to know. 

For my privileged life, the answer seems to be:

1. Greater flexibility for men, as well as women.  Dual-Career households need to both have the same level of flexibility, so that the responsibilities can be shared. 

2. Encourage fathers to take paid leave from the beginning, not only does it benefit the child but it sets the right precedence for men. 

3. More affordable childcare - let's not push ambitious women out of the workforce because they can't afford it.  Keeping women in the workforce is vital for the economy.  

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


Jodie - a tired and angry mum, wife, sister, friend, entrepreneur and housemaker.  

p.s. I know this doesn't really touch on stay-at-home mums.  Honestly in my eyes, YOU ARE HEROS.  I have done both jobs and working at a company / for your own company is the easier one.  I also think it's probably the most selfless thing you can do, as a mother - I salute you. X

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