Working mums: Why being one is different to being a working dad…

Today we have a guest post from the lovely Molly Forbes. She takes a look at a subject close to my heart; whether being a working mum is different to being a working dad. In our house, it most definitely is. We are very similar to the Weaver household it would appear…

Molly Forbes is a broadcaster, writer and mum. She lives with her feisty toddler and husband in a village in Berkshire. Molly blogs at Mother’s Always Right, where she mostly shares her failed attempts at crafting and her constant lack of sleep.

Working mums; different to being a working dad?
Molly Weaver

“You’ll have to take the day off work, I’ve got a big important meeting tomorrow,”

Stated my husband at 3.30am this morning, as it became clear our toddler was not in a fit shape for nursery.

“I can’t – you know I can’t just take a day off. They need me on the show!”

I replied, already resigned to the fact I would probably be the one not going in.

The thing is, when your child is poorly, you put them first. Of course you do. When you’re a working parent you accept that kids DO get ill and that means parents WILL – at some point – have to take time off to look after them. In the last 18 months I’ve been lucky enough to only have two days off due to a poorly little girl. And on both those days I knew it would be ME taking the time off and not my husband. Why? Because she needed her mum. End of.

It’s not that my husband’s job is any less important than mine. It’s not that it’s easier for me to take time off. It’s that there are times when my toddler just wants her mum. No matter how many cuddles her dad has for her, if she’s vomiting and has a temperature she will only lie in the arms of her mother

And, for that reason, being a working mum in my world anyway) is very different to being a working dad.

Working mums; Who looks after the feisty toddler an their wellies when they aren't well?
Working mums; Who looks after the feisty toddler and their wellies when they aren’t well?

When I ask around my friends, the same is true. If there’s ever a poorly child in the house, nine times out of ten it falls on the mum to make the “I can’t come in today” call. Looking back on my own childhood, that was also the case. Both my parents were teachers, but it was my mum who would look after me or my sister if we were poorly, so it was my mum who would have to take a day off work.

If I try to explain to friends without kids what it’s like juggling a career with being a parent, they look at me blankly.

“But don’t you just drop her at the nursery and then go to work?”

they ask.

Well, no as it happens. My husband is the one who does drop-offs, as I’m in work by 5am. I do pick-ups at lunchtime and am at home during the afternoons before doing more work in the evenings when my daughter’s in bed.

When everything is going well, this routine runs like clockwork. We are all happy, we all get to spend time together and we all feel fulfilled (me doing a job I love, my husband doing a job he loves and my daughter going to a nursery she loves, as well as our dedicated chunks of family time). But if ONE thing goes wrong – a nursery snow closure, a problem with the childcare, a poorly child – the whole plan is out of the window.

Like many families, we live miles away from both sets of grandparents. We don’t have any parents nearby to help out in an emergency. My husband and I are the only players in our team, there is no one on the bench waiting to join us. And for that reason, childcare emergencies or toddler sickness always lead to one of those discussions in the middle of the night, while we tussle with the decision of who will take the day off work.

“It’s impossible for BOTH parents with young children to have a career,”

Stated my husband matter-of-factly earlier today.

“That’s just the way it is.”

My jaw hit the ground at that statement – but (and don’t tell him this) I can sort of see where he’s coming from. If only one of us worked, or we earned enough to justify a full time nanny, the likelihood of these conversations would be minimal. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up though.
All families do things differently and all working parents have to juggle. But articles about the struggles of the working dad aren’t as common as those about the working mum. We try to share all our domestic responsibilities at home, but I’m pretty sure my husband’s daily inner monologue wouldn’t be one mixing work deadlines with reminders to pay the nursery invoice, or pick up that card for the toddler birthday party at the weekend. Is this what we mean when we talk about juggling a career with motherhood?

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that being a working mum IS different to being a working dad. Maybe it’s not always harder, maybe the juggle is not always worse, but I’m pretty sure the division is there.

Or maybe that’s just the case in my house. What’s it like in yours?

11 Comments

  • Luckily me & my OH can share taking time off if necessary but once OH took the day off because L was poorly & when I mentioned the situation, it was like tumbleweed in the office! They were shocked that I had come into work & let OH take the day off. The next time he was L I called in to say I would not be in & they were displeased with me so basically I cannot win! Interesting piece & am looking forward to reading others comments

  • I have similar struggles. I really enjoy my job but went part-time when I returned to work as I wanted to be at home for Mushroom’s milestones. This means the the bulk of the childcare, housework, etc. (all the 1950s ‘women’s work’!) falls to me. My husband will do things if I ask him, but I do have to ask repeatedly. I also think he’s still a bit scared of being left alone to look after Mushroom, especially if he’s ill and crying for me! I suspect that’s because I am happy to hold him close while he vomits. Mr is a bit sqeamish! I don’t really have any answers, I just wanted to say that I empathise with your situation!

  • I know exactly how you feel.

    Women still take on the major roles in looking after children in most households. In many ways it is worse than our parents generations where many women stayed at home to look after the children, now we work and look after them !

    I know there are exceptions however in most households I know the working mum is the one who does the organising of the children’s lives.

  • I can totally relate to what you say. Aaron was sick the whole of last week. He spent the WHOLE week on my knee. He ONLY wanted his Mummy. At the end of the week the husband made a dig that the laundry wasn’t done. Well whoopey de doo I can’t sort out laundry when I have grown a toddler as securely attached to me as if he were still a “bump”.
    Insensitive bar steward!!!! Sorry, that memory has made me CROSS>
    Liska xx

  • This is where the Dad busts in with his rebuttal ;D My wife and I both have full time jobs to go along with a 2 & 4 year old. I think it’s very important that families keep working towards breaking the stereotypes of the old school gender roles. I realize there are still going to be times when the little ones want to snuggle with a particular parent but I know that I would be devastated if my kiddies always wanted Mommy when they weren’t feeling well. Furthermore, it’s time that more men start to step up and realize that doing laundry, dishes and general housework isn’t just for the women of the house. In my particular situation, because my wife works at a daycare center, she enjoys the housework, but that’s only because I will take the kids out for an afternoon of fun while she takes the time to herself. That doesn’t mean I don’t contribute to the daily household duties, it’s just a great schedule we’ve agreed upon. It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good man there and I hope you are able to get everything sorted out, Molly. Cheers!

  • This had me shaking my head and feeling the anger rise. Really?! Honestly?! Your child will only go to you when they are ill or have you always been the one that’s there when she is ill so that’s how it is? Snow day this week, my husband was at home because I was away working. Party invitations replied to by him, present bought and wrapped by me. Swimming bags packed by him, swiming badges sewn on by me. Equal work. Equal juggling. Weekly dairy meetings where we go through our boys agendas that are just as complicated as our own lives and work out who is doing what. Please don’t wind the clock back 50 years by accepting that it is always the mum who has to worry about the juggling. It always will be if YOU let it. But it doesn’t have to be if you don’t. Also, isn’t it kind of sad if the dad can’t comfort them when they are poorly?

    • I agree there needs to be equal juggling. And believe me, my husband does do his fair share in terms of cooking, shopping etc etc. But when my daughter’s really poorly she just won’t be comforted by him – she wants me. I think different families do work things out in different ways and I guess you have to play to your strengths – I know if I ASK my husband to do something he’ll do it, but he’s not always aware what NEEDS to be done (i.e.. birthday present etc etc) and so I’ll end up asking, then reminding, then reminding again, then giving up and doing it myself. I’ve painted him to be a 1950s throwback, which isn’t the case at all. But there are some responsibilities in our house which naturally seem to fall on me.

  • In 8 years of being a mum, it has been ME who has taken time off work to look after ill kids. There is a definite feeling that my husband’s job is more important than mine, never mind the fact that at one point 30 kids were waiting for me to come to work. But for me, the kids don’t always want me specifically, its just that it comes down to me 9 times out of 10. Its the same with getting up in the night and with housework, making dinner, cleaning, laundry etc. It is seen as my job. GGRRR! My husband is a lot better than he used to be but there is still an element of him doing me a big favour if he has the kids for an hour while I get my hair done or something!

    • I really hate it when some men think they’re doing their wife a favour if they’re looking after THEIR OWN kids! I know someone who refers to it as “babysitting” even when the children are his own children. Nope, that’s just “being a parent”!

  • Molly this had me nodding in agreement. I so empathise with all you say and I have this conversation daily with the mums I work with. I think the inner monologue of a working mum compared to a working dad is down to two reasons. Firstly I think we have unwittingly grown up with the expectation that certain jobs are done by mums no matter how much we try to share it out we’re still the one organising the sharing! For me I think it’s also tied up with that feeling of being in control and equating that with being competent. I want to be able to work and be a great mum and what better way to show it than becoming juggler supremo. I know to my detriment that falling into this trap comes at a cost – in the past it’s been me that has been the one getting ill as a result of doing it all.
    If it’s any consolation when they get to school it can improve- I made a concerted effort to get to know more mums which helped loads the occasional time I needed some emergency childcare. Good luck Molly.

    • Really great advice Elinor. And nice to know it’s not just the case in our house. I think you certainly have a point about the “control” element. I tend to worry stuff won’t get done if it’s not me doing it – and that’s no one’s fault but my own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.