There’s just a few weeks left until eligible UK mums and dads will be able to share parental leave, and last Thursday I delivered my first webinar on that very subject. The sensation of presenting something to an empty room, over a silent phone link, is strange to say the least, yet I hope I got my point across. Which is that take up of this new leave entitlement is going to be extremely low.
That’s not because it’s complicated or an administrative nightmare. It’s because women are still left holding the baby most of the time. Literally. And I’ll let you into a secret. Most of us want to keep it that way.
Why? I’m not denying the pivotal role fathers play in a child’s life, but there’s some things only a mother can do.
The mothers role is a well established and historically celebrated. This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the UK, when we traditionally give our mum a bouquet to thank her for, well everything. Officially it’s known as “Mothering Sunday”, it’s roots being in a centuries old tradition to be released from work to visit our “mother church” with our family.
Contrast this with last Sunday, which was International Women’s Day. It first began at the start of twentieth century as political suffrage, evolving into a celebration of women’s great achievements in fields such as science and literature. So too we’ve graduated from venerating the “greats” among women to almost, just about, appreciating the commitments and sacrifices the slightly more lowly among us regularly make.
Yet never the twain shall meet. If celebrating women in their working lives one week, and their home lives the next isn’t an ironic representation of life then what is. So close and yet so far.
We’ve got it wrong. “Having it all” isn’t the dream, because it isn’t even an option. All the work and all the responsibility. No wonder we’re forced to choose. A more flexible home life via sharing care responsibilities isn’t the answer. On which day and from whom do we get the recognition of the constant pressure to perform to the best of our abilities in both Worlds? Until those two Worlds meet, we’re just two sides of the same coin.