Last week I was listening to Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show on my way to a job interview. The show’s guest Mr Mike Buchanan, the founder of the Justice for Men and Boys political party, caught my attention immediately. He was arguing that “men and boys need representation…and I’m not aware of a single area where women are disadvantaged relative to men.” He went on to claim that it can only be women’s fault that they do not have highly paid jobs or are more likely to take part-time jobs, as they are lazy and do not like working! He refused to recognise the responsibilities of motherhood as a major factor that holds back many mothers.
My job interview that day went pretty well, and a few days later I was offered the job. After a few sleepless nights I had to turn down that very attractive job offer. To be precise, I had to turn down an opportunity to do my dream job, simply because it would not fit in with my family commitments. It would have required my children to attend breakfast clubs and afterschool clubs every day on top of their busy school schedule. Our family time would have shrunk to an hour and a half a day. And that includes preparing meals and having dinner. In those 90 minutes two exhausted parents should create opportunities to engage and communicate with two over exhausted children. Is 90 minutes a day enough time to get to know your children? Does this time slot provide opportunities to connect with them, create an environment of trust and establish communication channels? I do not think so.
Modern parenthood is a hard job. Children require and deserve our time, care and devotion. As parents we have the responsibility to engage with them, prepare home-cooked nutritious meals, communicate with them. We all want to raise happy, confident and resilient individuals. But there is no magic wand to achieve this. Parenthood takes time and effort. And it is often the mothers who carry the majority of the workload. Consequently it is their lives and careers that are affected.
It used to be simpler and rather straightforward. Men would go to work and women would raise the children. This is the model that has shaped our society for years. But as the world we live in changes, the modern work place culture has certainly not caught up. Although UK is not a bad place to be a woman, and there are certainly more opportunities for flexible working, the role and demands of modern parenthood have not been addressed. There are several reasons why women want to work – we need the stimulation; we want to earn money; to some of us working is part of our identity. Having children does not change our attitude towards work. But it certainly changes our priorities in life.
Listening to that interview on Radio 4, I felt frustrated. I found the comments of Mr Mike Buchanan laughable, if not outrageous. I am sure he is not alone in thinking that mothers are to blame for not working or for taking lower-paid jobs. And this is probably a direct outcome of the lack of a public conversation about what it takes to be a parent and what it really requires. Parenthood requires time and clarity of mind. Raising children is a wonderful but complex and difficult endeavour.