Working mums, we need to talk. Chances are you already know that women still do more housework than men. What you might not know, is that working mums spend more time on childcare than their stay at home husbands do.
Yes, you read that right.
Stay-at-home fathers and working mothers spent 19 and 21 hours a week on childcare, respectively.
Meanwhile, stay-at-home mums undertake 74 hours on housework and childcare, compared to 47 hours for stay-at-home dads.
This research has been uncovered by a new report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
And before anyone thinks about chastising the men in the 4 per cent of families inhabiting the brave new world of stay-at-home-fathering, I have another idea.
We need to take a deep breath and look at how we spend our time. More specifically, we need to look superwoman straight in the eye and stand down.
Some perspective. American research shows that working mums spend more time caring for their children than their own mothers did – back when they didn’t work.
In other words, 1965 Pew time-use studies show that mothers spent 10 hours a week on child care, while dads spent a 2.5 hours taking care of their kids.
As of 2011, mums were spending 14 hours a week on childcare and dads, seven.
The increase came about despite the fact that mums' time working outside the home jumped from eight hours a week on average in 1965 to 21 hours a week on average in 2011.
This is madness. Because one critical factor has held steady since 1965: there are still only 24 hours a day and still only seven days in a week.
Women are undertaking more paid work which is critical for their financial security to say nothing of the personal and broader economic benefits.
But even when they are devoting 35 hours to paid work outside the home, they are putting more hours into their children than women in past generations who didn’t work. And they are dedicating another significant chunk of their time to housework.
When do they sleep? If they are a working mum, they probably don’t. At least not enough. And even if they don’t have an infant or a toddler waking them through the night, chances are their to-do list is keeping them awake.
A woman who works 35 hours a week, spends 21 hours a week on childcare and 23 hours on childcare has 89 hours left over in any given week to sleep, eat, shower, socialise and relax.
I’m not sure it’s sustainable and I believe it comes down to superwoman.
A figment of our collective imagination who has a flourishing career, an immaculately styled home and happy, sufficiently engaged and entertained children whose futures are being molded adequately. Superwoman makes time for exercise, she prepares nutritious meals for her family, dresses beautifully, has an active social life, a wonderful marriage and always makes time to ensure her children’s emotional development is tracking well.
Superwoman doesn’t exist, we know that, but it doesn’t stop swathes of us from trying to live up to her impossible standards.
Which is why I don’t think stay-at-home dads spending less time on childcare and housework than stay at home mums is a problem.
To the contrary, I think it’s an aspiration; women need to do less.
On the whole men need to step up in the realm of unpaid work: until housework and childrearing are shared in a more equitable fashion gender equality will remain an elusive unrealistic dream. To that end, as mothers, I think we could take a leaf out of stay-at-home dads' books. A book they might even have time to read on account of their efficient child-rearing and housework.
I am not, for a moment, advocating the neglect of children. Far from it. My hunch is that the children in the care of their stay-at-home dads are doing just fine in spite of the reduced hours.
Many mothers might find it impossible to imagine a point in time where there isn’t something to do. Another load of washing to put on or put away. A shopping list to write. A birthday present to buy. Some emails to reply to. Another puzzle to do or book to read.
But just because they can do something, doesn’t mean they ought to. All hours are not designed to be filled. And yet it seems mothers recoil from this: it seems we are magnetically attracted to filling our hours with things.
The reason I suspect stay at home dads have more free time is because they aren’t seeking perfection. They accept done is better than perfect.
It’s a mantra us mums need to get familiar with.