Martin Saunders, creative director of Youthscape, contributed excellent thoughts on work and parenting to Equals.
At Jenny’s invitation I wrote a piece for her fabulous new book Equals on the way that my wife Jo and I have tried to work out gender equality in our relationship. We’re aware that the cultural norms and pressures mean that’s something you have to work at – it doesn’t just come naturally unfortunately. That said, we were hardly gender stereotypes to begin with…
I’ve recently changed jobs, so we’re in the midst of working out new rhythms of life. But here’s how life worked for us for the last eight years. My alarm went off at 5.45 each morning. I got up this early because I worked in central London (where I don’t live), and this was the only way to ensure that I could spend a decent amount of time with my children every day. I would then get home in time to help them eat dinner, to bath them and to read them stories. I did this because I love them, because I know that the strongest upbringing they can receive is from two committed parents, and because while my nearly-12-hour working day involved sleepy train journeys and uninterrupted trips to the local coffee shop, my wife’s nearly-12-hour working day is non-stop.
Raising children is a full-time occupation. You might choose to sub-contract that work to a nursery, nanny or enthusiastic grandparent, but to do it well is to do it all the time. Children’s emotional, physical and developmental needs don’t let up for a second. I am in awe of the input that my wife – a trained and accomplished primary school teacher – invests in our children, but I don’t for one moment consider my full-time occupation to be the ‘real’ job which enables her to play mum. We both work full-time. We both contribute to raising our children AND to my ability to travel into an office each day. When money got tighter at one point, my wife returned to work two days a week, and I was part of the childcare ‘solution’ that we came up with (a six month period that left me in no doubt about who had the easier job).
The area in which we live is extremely affluent (we’re called to be misfits there!). The people who live alongside us are generally materially rich, but time poor. On the occasions that I’ve had to work late, I’ve travelled home in train carriages full of those same men I would see on the 6.20am service, many of whom I know to be parents. In the lucrative pursuit of a city job, they relinquish the chance of seeing their children during the week. I also know at least a few of these men are keen and regular weekend golfers. In the pursuit of relaxation and of spending their hard-earned rewards, they relinquish the chance of seeing their children at the weekend too.
My children need to see me every day, far more than they need an annual holiday to Disneyland. It’s much more important that I’m around regularly, than it is that we have everything we want. They also need to understand that their mum and dad are an equal partnership, working and parenting together. For the past eight years, my getting up at 5.45 each morning was the best strategy we had for being the best role models to them that we could be.