I came home today from visiting my poorly father. A stressful if short visit, to be met by a house so untidy and dirty, Mr Messy would have hung his head in shame. I know the kids can play up, but as I wearily climbed the stairs to put away the washing that was still on the floor where I had folded it up 2 days previously, I felt irked that yet again I was to pick up the domestic pieces. I (perhaps a little aggressively) asked my husband for some help to which the response was “well you only have to ask”. It’s a phase which to me sums up the inherent sexism in motherhood and a phase which automatically places all mothers at a disadvantage in running their own businesses and enterprises, or having successful careers.
Why should I have to ask? You are 50% responsible for this household, 50% of those children are yours so why is it my responsibility to allocate household tasks? Who gave me the role of team leader? If I went into business with an equal partner and they sat around waiting to be instructed in the days tasks, I’m not sure of the longevity in such a union.
If that partner then assumed I would manage all the staff, and office admin and logistics whilst also bringing in 50% of business, I would be at a distinct disadvantage in fulfilling those targets. But for many working mothers this is exactly what is expected of them.
But this is not just a rant against the domestic injustices most mothers face, I also run and own a small business. I am struggling with business development, I can’t seem to compete in my marketplace. Why? well because I am time poor, I have what is termed a large ‘mental load’ so that even if I allocate the physical tasks to my husband I still need to put in the planning of those tasks.
I can’t attend networking breakfast meetings, I am doing the school run. My meetings are limited to school hours, any business I do, I have to manage within not just school hours, but school holidays. This summer PepperStreet closed for 6 weeks whilst I took my children swimming, to the beach, on walks at obligatory National Trust properties, and generally gave them the time and attention they deserve. Whilst I acknowledge this is a choice I make, it isn’t a choice my partner makes. Come September I find myself having to rekindle business relationships and again search to fill a pipeline drained by the demands of motherhood.
The sexism at the heart of a mothers life is that the default position seems to be that the woman will do the domestic and child related tasks, ( I understand I am generalising) Whilst we live in a epoch which actively encourages women in business, be it employed or self employed, male society seems applaud this only if it is not at the expensive of our perceived domestic role. It seems to me that our emancipation from the clutches of the kitchen and nursery comes at a cost. Of course we are free to work and earn money, but we are not yet free to neglect that other more traditional role of carer. We are expected to accomplish both whilst creating and running businesses that can rival our male counterparts. The injustice is that this is not expected of men.
I don’t have an answer for this, and please don’t misinterpret me, my husband is one of the good ones, he takes care of the kids, cooks (occasionally) , has been known to move a hover around the living room, he definitely gets rid of spiders and always mows the lawn, but I feel the bar is so low for equality in parenthood that the good ones are simply less awful than the bad ones. Shouldn’t we be teaching our sons and daughters that a partnership should be that. A 50/50 split, I shouldn’t have to “just ask” for 50% of the tasks to be done, because by asking I have had to think ‘it’s not been done, it needs doing, who should do it’ and then find a way to ask in a non-nagging manner for it to be completed. The mental load! Tasks should be undertaken and completed, an equal partnership where we both take responsibility and therefore both have equal opportunity and energy to fulfil our goals whatever they may be.
If you are interested in the mental load and some of the stuff I said rings true, check out Emma in the Guardian. Whilst she focuses on the domestic side the principle applied to business and why we often have little room left for our careers. She’s far more eloquent than me and sums it all up in cartoon form, so those of us with no mental space left can get it ?