I don’t believe equality between men and women in relationships exists at all. No matter how much is touted about ‘modern men’, I still think we are in the dark ages when it comes to equality in the home.
I am in no doubt that if you did a poll of every marriage or committed relationship in this country where a man and woman share the house, it would come out that women did far more in terms of housework, regardless of working hours.
When you add children into the mix, I can guarantee that the woman will do far more to take care of the children and the home than men will ever do. A sweeping generalisation? Possibly, but you only have to talk to a few women or log onto a relationship forum to see that this is a problem for many thousands of women.
The idea that men work and women look after the home is so ingrained that even when both people in a relationship work full time, the running of the home will still largely fall on the women. I have lost count at the amount of couples I have known where both parties finish work at half past five. While the man heads out to the pub, or heads home to an evening of relaxing, the woman will be the one to go food shopping, pick up the children from childcare, come home to cook the dinner, clean the house and put the children to bed.
When one of the couple stays at home to look after the children, it is usually the woman who does so, either out of a continuation of maternity leave and horrendous childcare costs making it impossible for her to continue working or because her partner out earns her making the decision of who should stay at home for them.
Having been a stay at home mother myself, it is very easy for a woman in this situation to be taken for granted. I had grand ideas that housework would still be shared, as I was working too – by looking after a baby. This is the ideal, isn’t it? That you could stay at home with your baby and have a supportive partner who realised that you were doing something all day, and the fact that you were still in your dressing gown when he walked back through the door at 6pm didn’t mean you were lazy; it meant that you had been too busy catering to the whims of a three month old dictator with reflux colic to even open the wardrobe.
More often than not, the working parent sees the stay at home parent as having it easy, so they baulk at the thought of having to do a share of the household tasks. While I do believe that if you are at home, it doesn’t take too long to bung in a load of washing, fill the dishwasher, run the hover round and stick dinner in the oven, part of the role as a stay at home parent isn’t housekeeper to her partner – but the amount of men who expect just that is astonishing.
I’ve never met a man who has said outright that he expects his stay at home partner to be his housekeeper, but the subtle signs are always there. When the partner shows exasperation that the house isn’t immaculate when he comes home, or ‘jokily’ complains that his partner doesn’t know where the kitchen is. These little things build up when you are a stay at home parent and can cause resentment, especially when your role never seems to end. Yes, it’s hard to get up each day at 6.30 am and head off to the office, but it’s also hard to stay at home with the constant demands of children and housework with no break in the day to recharge for a few minuets. At the office you can sneak in a five minuet break to go and make a cup of tea and have a chat with a colleague, or take an hour for lunch to go for a walk and clear your head. When at home there is no such luxury; a trip to the loo a spectator sport when you have a toddler and you can forget a lunch break – you are too busy making sure the children eat and afterwards scraping the mess from the floor, walls and ceiling.
Weekends and holidays are another bug bear of the stay at home parent. When you look after children, there is no break, no clocking off for the day, and if you have children who still wake in the night, you are on call 24/7. This can be especially hard to bear if the partner who works insists they need down time after work, at weekends or when they take holiday. Yes, everyone needs a break, but shouldn’t it be equal? When the idea of having time off or a break is in favour of the parent who goes to work, when does the stay at home parent get a break? The same is to be said of illness. When a working parent is ill, they take the time off work to recuperate and rest. When a stay at home parent is ill, it’s a case of hard luck, you just have to get on with things.
Money can also be an issue for the stay at home parent. While money from the parent who is working should be seen as ‘family money’ this sometimes isn’t the case. I have known women who have stayed at home plough through their life savings as their partner sees all his earned money as his. There is no greater cause of resentment than this, especially when the woman has to stay at home as childcare fees would wipe out any earnings through work and in some cases, leave her in a deficit.
I have also known a few stay at home fathers in my time, and I must say, the difference is stark. They are practically fawned over for staying at home and in a few families I have known the woman who works still does more than her fair share of housework because the poor man is at home with the children all day. It really is a sign of how undervalued a woman who stays at home is when a man who stays at home is treated like a maverick. One stay at home father I know even gets dispatched to the pub for a pint and an hour to relax as soon as his wife steps in the door as he’s had a hard day with the children. I often wonder if he would offer her the same relaxation time if the roles were reversed.