Last week, I took a week to myself simply because I felt I ‘needed’ it. I wanted a week of downtime, not working, just to ‘be’. This marked the start of a change in my working patterns, reducing my availability, taking work as and when it arises, rather than working on a set hours basis. A decision taken to balance our family better yes, but also to reflect my own desire to spend more time at home, notwithstanding that this represents a real squeeze on our finances.
Whilst pottering around the house, revelling in the mundanity of working through a large pile of ironing and the simple joy of a clean, calm and ordered home, it occurred to me just how lucky I am.
Not only because of the blessed life we lead, but because of the freedom being born a woman has given me.
Much is often written to question whether or not women can really have it all and documenting the many demands on working mums time and our overwhelming, never ending to do lists. But I wonder if there is enough written to celebrate our choices.
Assuming a certain amount of financial freedom, isn’t it true that many of the stay at home mums or part-time working mums chose their role in response to their own cravings and desires to spend time at home? For many of the working mums I know, it is the days at home which they crave and working part-time allows them to satisfy those cravings, if only in part. Isn’t it also true that, if those mums had a desire to work full time, no-one would stand in their way?
Of course, I am not dismissing or belittling the many restrictions and limitations my sex imposes or the ongoing battle for equality. I am simply struck that I have been given the luxury of walking away from a secure, traditional and well paid career path to explore what it is that I would really love to do, simply because I am mum. I have been given the joy of time at home, just being, again, simply because I am mum: it is expected and accepted that this is my right, simply because I am a mum.
Dan, my amazing and supportive husband does not have the same choice. The expectation of him as a man and as a father is to provide.
These are clichéd stereotypes, but they are stereotypes we knowingly and willingly perpetuate and in this middle class suburban life of mine. These are stereotypes which fill our school halls, delis and coffee shops. We are everywhere.
It is true, that I do expect Dan to be the breadwinner. To provide a certain level of income and to keep us safe and secure. I don’t expect this of him as my equal, I expect this of him as a man, as my husband, as the father of our three children.
How would I feel if Dan decided he needed time at home and had just reached the end of the line in sales. After all, this wasn’t his dream? What if he just wanted to spend time, sprucing up the garden, tidying the garage, hoovering? I’d like to say I would be enlightened, and forward thinking; I know there are families out there who are. But the honest answer is, I would be horrified and I doubt I am alone. It would also take something quite significant for me to sit up and really listen.
Dan, does, I know, sometimes feel the weight of this expectation. The trap we willingly created for him, sometimes tight across his chest. Knowing that for him, there is no easy ‘out’. Yet, how often do we really, seriously consider the mental health, mental well-being and the mindset of the partners we love so dearly?
The biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK is suicide and those most at risk are in their 40s.
Interestingly, women are more likely to suffer from depression but are significantly less likely to take their own lives. Key to this, is a woman’s willingness to seek help and her ability to find it. Help means professional help but also help from peers.
Men, we know, are less likely to do so. Discussing this with Dan, despite the many conversations we have had on this topic and the importance of being open, it is clear, that even in very dark times he would be reluctant to reach out to friends, despite the great efforts being taken to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues and in particular, men’s mental health issues.
We are all of us guilty of complaining about the bad mood our partner brought back from work yesterday, of rolling our eyes as he complains about the 3rd amazon delivery that week, of laughingly ignoring his protests about our (twice) weekly coffee shop visits with friends, but perhaps we should pause.
Maybe his concerns are justified: he might that day have really been feeling the pressure of his job, knowing he absolutely must get it right. He’s a bloke, he’s meant to provide right? And he knows you love him, but he knows deep down you expect that too. Yet the thought of another 20-30 years of this is soul destroying. Maybe he is jealous of your two days a week at home, especially now the kids are in school, but heck maybe he has a right to be, where is his escape? Maybe he does resent the fact that you are sat blogging/renovating old furniture/network marketing products you love/sewing and crafting to your hearts delight but perhaps that is fine when he is stuck in a job he doesn’t feel born to do, in the same day to day routine, hours spent in meeting after meeting, with unanswered emails and phone calls all the time mounting: his own version of overwhelm.
So today, I want to say thank you to my husband for my freedom to make choices, to cherish precious time at home with the girls and to explore what makes my heart sing most. If you are lucky enough to be in the same position as me, I invite you to do the same.