School Holidays – Still Mum’s Problem

“Rightio kids! Tomorrow morning I’ll drop you at Nana’s then, Grace, she’ll take you to Jemma’s for a play date and, Taj, you’ll go to Bailey’s, but the next day you’ll both be in holiday camp at the scout hall, and Friday you’ll have to come into the city with me for meetings but YOU’D BETTER BE QUIET OR YOU’RE DEAD!!!”

Ah, the school holidays.

It’s enough to make otherwise sane folk curl up in a ball, rock slowly back and forth, and moan repeatedly, “Are we there yet…?” like a child on a road trip.

Me? Well, I’m already slightly unhinged.

Society is not set up for women who work.

Yes, women. For it is we who bear the burden of holiday care. And housework, of course.

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows more than 90 per cent of mothers, and only 41 per cent of fathers, take time off to look after children during school breaks.

One would think it was 1914, not 2014.

Senior Research Fellow, Jennifer Baxter, says it highlights the need for flexible working hours for Dads, as well as Mums: “Fathers are much more likely to be working the long hours in employment, compared with mothers.”

But it’s more than that. There’s an expectation, an implication, an assumption that the woman will be the one who makes the sacrifice.

Can’t damage the prospects of the ‘breadwinner’, can we?

Well, I’m sick of being martyred.

Even in our unusual household – where I’m the primary breadwinner and hubby does the housework – it’s my job to work out what to do with the children on school holidays.

It’s simply something we slipped into.

Until now: Hubby has gone freelance after 24 years in full-time employment.

“Hey, I’ve got a job tomorrow,” he said last week.

“That’s great! “I replied. “Just a heads-up, I’m working at Sky from 11am to 6pm that day.”

“OK, can you sort out babysitting for the kids…?” he asked.

Now, I don’t want to sound churlish. Hubby is a modern man, who shares the parenting 50/50 and cleans while I cook.

But I’ve always been the one who arranges childcare.

It’s time-consuming, stressful, and sends the wrong message: that if Mum’s not there, she needs to find a replacement; if Dad’s not there, he doesn’t have to worry about it.

So, I silently scream, “I want a wife!!!”

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family, and one Annabel Crabb addresses in her new book, The Wife Drought.

“Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain,”she wrote. “But why is the work-and-family debate always about women?”

When acquaintances ask, “So, how are you coping with the school holidays?” they address the question to me, not Jason.

Changing the conversation benefits men, as well as women.

Imagine if blokes felt confident asking the boss, “Can I have time off for the school holidays?” Or, “I need to leave the meeting early because I have to pick my son up from daycare.” Or, “I want flexible hours so I can be there for the kids.”

Last week, I visited Sass Place in Adelaide, Australia’s first co-working space with a creche on site.

It’s wonderful to see a workplace built by women for women.

But it makes me wonder – where are the male co-working spaces? Why aren’t men building them?

Yes, the conversation starts at home. But it has to translate to the workplace.

Anyway, better go. Hubby’s been with the kids all day while I’ve been tied to the computer. By now, he’ll have that wild-eyed look usually associated with mothers.

I can empathise, entirely.