Is life after children what you expected in terms of who does what with work and caring?

(124 Posts)
carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 09-Oct-08 10:26:57

Hi all

More for the Home Front report needed

We’d like to know a bit about your expectations and the reality of life balancing work and children. Before you had children what did you think would happen in terms of who did childcare and how much paid work you both did? Is this what happened? Is your situation now better or worse than you expected?

We've got tons of great policy suggestions already, so thanks for those, but if anyone has any other ideas of what gov could do to help with this (short of on the spot fines for men for not getting up in the night to deal with screaming children) we'd love to hear them.


Anna8888 Thu 09-Oct-08 10:50:25

My situation is much what I had anticipated. Probably because I was an older first time mother with a partner who was already a father and had the benefit of seeing what the reality of division of family labour was like for so many of my contemporaries.

mummyclare Thu 09-Oct-08 10:59:16

So far reality has pretty much gone along with expectations. However, with dd1 starting school in September I think I am going to struggle to keep working as I had planned.

Also I hadn't anticipated my husband /male contempories doing well. I know that sounds silly but if I was comparing what I could be doing as a father career wise rather than what I at my most ambitious expected as a mother then the gap widens.

Freckle Thu 09-Oct-08 11:07:49

I was in the fortunate position of being able to choose whether to continue working or not. We chose that I would be a SAHM because I'd seen colleagues in my profession (law) struggling to do either job well and we didn't want to compromise the well-being of our children (and this is a personal decision, not a judgement on other who choose to do otherwise).

So the division of paid work/household chores/childcare was pretty much worked out in a fairly traditional manner. DH is very hands on with the children and does not object to doing any housework/necessary jobs if prompted and occasionally will do some spontaneously - although if I ever find him with a hoover in his hands without some prior nagging, I'll faint.

Financially our decision has hit us, because I was earning very good money before stopping work. So policies such as transferring the non-working (in a paid sense) parent's tax allowance to the working parent would help. Having different tax bands for workers with children would also be helpful, e.g. DH pays tax in the 40% band which means that a huge chunk of his money goes to the government. Colleagues on similar incomes with no children pay the same tax. How about a, say, 5-10% reduction in tax payable for those with caring responsibilities?

castille Thu 09-Oct-08 11:17:40

Honestly, I don't think either of us thought beyond the baby stage before starting our familyblush so I don't think I actually had particular expectations (we were young and enthusiastic)

But I didn't think I'd give up work completely and I haven't, but I am making use of generous parental leave conditions this time to stay at home until my youngest is 3 which isn't something I ever thought I'd do.

I naively though my DH would do more childcare but his career makes it impossible for him to help out much (though he was great about getting up in the night)

It is a bit of a solitary grind sometimes

Fennel Thu 09-Oct-08 11:19:19

Before children we agreed we'd share all the caring and paid work, but I wasn't totally sure that DP would be great in practice, I had heard too many stories of men who weren't actually pulling their weight.

But actually DP has been great on this, better than I expected. We argue about the trivialities of cleaning etc but he does do half the housework and childcare and always has. Plus, we have both worked flexibly and part time a lot and both our careers and salaries have been affected by this. It really helps me that DP's career is stalled, like mine, by parenting duties. I would really be resenting it if his career was progressing brilliantly while mine wasn't.

There is so much the government could be doing. Having paid parental leave which either parent could take, rather than paid maternity leave. Having the right to request flexible working being transformed into a stronger right to obtain it, and campaigns to encourage men to do this.

motherinferior Thu 09-Oct-08 11:28:22

It's a longer grind than I vaguely anticipated. I did think I'd probably be looking at working more outside the house by now - although having said that I'd been freelance for a while, happily, so my plans are not entirely skewed. And I worked in-house for three days a week, for 14 months, and DP got up at 6.15 and picked up the girls every evening for those three days. Which I tend to forget, rather a lot.

At the moment I do more parenting stuff during the week, and at the moment more cooking as well during the week. However, I do not feel that housework and cooking are my responsibility.

It has, I think, been quite hard for my partner to get his head round the fact that children need quite a lot of looking-after, because he comes from a background of paid live-in childcare (ayahs). We have quite lot of rows about whether we should use after school club most days, or not.

Rather to my surprise, I haven't minded his career progression because mine has progressed, and also because I do feel that this particular partner (unlike a number of previous ones) respects me and my work.

In policy terms, I agree with Fennel. I usually do.

foothesnoo Thu 09-Oct-08 11:28:29

The baby and toddler stage was much what I had expected. Now both the children are at school I find it much harder than I thought it would be. Am not sure what the answer is as I am not a fan of wraparound care in the school environment - I feel that our children spend a lot of time at school already.

I do think the answer is flexibility with more part time and home working options, where possible for both parents. I manage at the moment because I am able to work a day at home and also feel able to ask for time off (which I make up later) to attend school events - the number of which are phenomenal even with two children. No idea how people with more fit everything in.

As my children get older I realise that it's realtively easy to delegate the care of a younger child to nursery/ nanny etc, but as they get older it's so much more complicated. So I would ask government not to lose the focus on the importance of parental input and presence all the way through the child's life, not just when they are at infant stage.

mppaw Thu 09-Oct-08 11:28:57

Totally as expected. All child care down to me while DP works hard.
Do have days when I feel a bit resentful as he can go out at the drop of a hat, but I have to organise a night out weeks in advance, but would not change anything.

Am sure this will change once DC2 comes along, how it will change though I am not sure !!

mppaw Thu 09-Oct-08 11:28:57

Totally as expected. All child care down to me while DP works hard.
Do have days when I feel a bit resentful as he can go out at the drop of a hat, but I have to organise a night out weeks in advance, but would not change anything.

Am sure this will change once DC2 comes along, how it will change though I am not sure !!

wilbur Thu 09-Oct-08 11:30:27

I'm a freelance writer. Before having ds1, I imagined a few months of chaos and hard work and then the baby would sleep peacefully under my desk while I wrote and kept earning money (not as much as before, but still a living wage)...

[falls off chair laughing]

I totally underestimated the undertow of family life. My situation was complicated by a sick parent and various other issues, but the point at which I realised I was unable to earn enough to pay my childcare was very, very depressing indeed. I feel guilty about not earning more money and so I let dh off a lot of household/child-related tasks. I shouldn't, but I do.

Tax breaks for childcare; proper education for young men about family life (not just babies, but the whole thing) so that they can appreciate what needs to be done to get everyone fed, dressed, to school etc.; and fewer shrill arguments about the SAHM/WOHM divide would help.

wilbur Thu 09-Oct-08 11:34:22

I should add, in dh's defence, that he does a lot of cooking and he has also learned far greater diy skills than I could ever have imagined, having known him as the laziest and least responsible teenager and young man on the planet. He just comes from a v trad background and I struggle to change some of the attitudes that are ingrained from that.

yomellamoHelly Thu 09-Oct-08 11:36:05

Before our children arrived I'd always assumed I'd carry on working / studying / whatever as did dh.
In reality I couldn't find any suitable good quality childcare and decided ds1 would be better off staying with me (difficult baby). Then had ds2 and dc3 on way. So looks like it will be a while since cost is a factor now too. Have panicky moments where I think it'll be very hard to get a decent job again and where I worry about the lack of pension contributions and being able to put some savings away.
We've had a few wobbles adjusting to one salary and for the last few years dh has chased jobs which earn more to make ends meet which then expect him to work longer hours. So now he hardly sees the boys in the week and is knackered at the weekend. And I do all the daily grind that makes our lives work.
It's not how I pictured life, but at least the boys are getting what we feel is the best start.

madmarriedNika Thu 09-Oct-08 11:55:04

I guess like some others we were fairly naive when we had our first, and hadn't thought that much about juggling things further down the line.

Before I had DCs I was the higher earner with better prospects career wise, but could only have obtained these by working full-time and long hours, which I wasn't prepared to do. Worked full-time for a while after DS but when pregnant with DC2 shifted to part-time. At the same time DH changed jobs and now his career is really progressing- but demanding ever longer hours. So we are falling unintentionally into the traditional roles. In a way I don't mind as I have found I want to be around more with the children, but I do wish domestic duties could be a bit more evenly spread and also wish even as a part-time worker I had better career opportunies which I have foregone by choosing to work PT. DH's work are very unflexible whereas my work is more flexible which I don't feel is very fair.

I would also like to see maternity leave transferred to parental leave and flexibility of hours etc. promoted for both parents. Ideally I would love for both DH & I to be able to work flexibly, perhaps with slightly reduced working hours so that we can do the school runs etc. ourselves and share this together, take turns to cook the evening meal etc. I sometimes don't think the children know their father as well as we'd like them to because of the hours he works.

notsoseriousanymore Thu 09-Oct-08 12:19:40

My situation is totally as expected, though (like ANna888) I am with a man who already has children so had an insight into how he parents and divides roles and responsibilies.

I def. do 99% of the childcare and housework, but he does 99% of the earning.

We are, I suppose, quite traditional!

My father worked away for months on end, I rarely saw him as a child, but we have a great relationship now and he is a great father and grandfather, so I have no problems with my DH being away while DS is little. DS will understand he has a loving and dedicated father too.

lalaa Thu 09-Oct-08 12:41:56

I hadn't got a clue.

I'm still massively frustrated about it 6 years down the line.

One of the things I personally would have liked would have been someone (parent/government/don't care) saying to me that if you have a child, you may not be able to 'have it all'. Something has to give. There seems to be no acknowledgement of this.

I was hugely ambitious, worked hard at school, uni and at work. Earned good money very quickly. Promoted, etc, etc, etc. Had a child. Goodbye work life as I knew it. I do sometimes wonder why I bothered! Hugely naive. Thought I could do it all. Now know that I can't - too stressful for me.

Anna8888 Thu 09-Oct-08 12:48:05

lalaa - the government/men aren't saying "you can't have it all" because the government would just love all mothers to continue working and earning and keeping the economy/family coffers growing while continuing to do all the unpaid labour that women have traditionally done.

Gumbo Thu 09-Oct-08 12:52:14

Completely the opposite to what I had expected.

I had anticipated going back to work by the time my baby was 6 months old, with him most likely in full-time nursery.

Instead, after he was born, to my astonishment DH decided to become a SAHD; I went back to work when ds was 4mo without a care in the world!

(However, I still do all of the housework and a lot of the cooking, but I can't say I mind too much... that was an expectation that never changed!)

blithedance Thu 09-Oct-08 12:52:27

I think it's early to tell. I've only been back at work for a month, DH and I are about 50-50 in childcare and both working part time.

It's worked out better than I ever thought in that DH has been prepared to cut his hours and deal with some of the morning school runs, so that I can work at all.

The problem with sharing domestic duties is communication. It was fine when we were both working pre-DC's ("D'ya want to cook or shall we go to the pub?"), and when I was on leave, I just organised everything, but now the sheer workload is so much that even the Organised Mum super-calendar is struggling. The week lurches from dinners cooked with wrong ingredients to missed swimming lesson to lost school notes to forgotten laundry.

So there are pluses and minuses to it.

motherinferior Thu 09-Oct-08 13:01:26

But Anna, that is also an issue of personal and domestic politics. In other words, individual men taking on the stuff that women have always done.

I don't consider my partner remotely special for doing the washing or putting a loaf of bread on or dealing with incontinent cats/children or cooking the supper. I don't send his Christmas cards and have no idea whatsoever when his relatives' birthdays are. None of that is to do with over-arching government policy.

wasabipeanut Thu 09-Oct-08 13:03:56

The reality broadly matches expectations in my case. I was lucky enough to be able to choose whether or not to return to work. I had assumed that I would want to be a SAHM but missed work so much that I went back after 8 months of leave, although 3 days a week only.

Balancing ds and a 3 day a week marketing job is, to be honest, not too difficult. Add another baby to the mix and it could get a little more challenging, especially if the health of my parents (in their 60's)starts to deteriorate.

In terms of policy I get a bit annoyed with the assumption that as soon as we hand our kids over to the professionals the better for everyone. I am seriously considering quitting work when ds reaches his 3rd birthday to avoid him being pressured by the EYFS. I like the very radical idea of paying an allowance of sorts to SAHM but not sure how workable it would be in practice.

Anna8888 Thu 09-Oct-08 13:04:34

Government policy and legislation influences personal thinking. You can alter a culture through policy - look at what happened in the Netherlands when policy was brought in to make part-time working more viable for businesses. Unprecedented numbers of women moved either into the work-place part-time, or changed from full-time to part-time work.

rookiemater Thu 09-Oct-08 13:06:19

I completely underestimated how much work is involved with having a child. Stunned by the sheer amount of washing, additional housework and now because he is 2.5 homecooking that is required.

Working more days than I wanted as 3 days a week not agreed by my work. DH does roughly his fair share, I think he could do a little more, but then he does do paperwork and the garden whilst I do most of the indoor stuff. TBH its easier to do most of it myself, rather than DH doing half of it , mentioning it loudly, me thanking him, and then doing the rest of it. But thats my problem more than anyone elses.
He is also able to do 50% of pick ups and drop offs due to where his present contract is located.

I agree with Lalaa and with Anna for the reasons behind it. I'm not saying that the traditional arrangement of MAN at WORK, WOMAN AT HOME is necessarily right for everyone, but feel I have been sold up the line in terms of working and carrying the brunt of the domestic work. I struggle to manage sometimes I really do.

Govt should stop forcing mothers back at whatever cost, p/t nursery for 2 yr olds what on earth is that about (?), and focus on the tax changes that Fennel suggests & implementing proper flexible working policy which (shock horror) is targeted most at the people who actually need it which is generally working parents and those with other caring responsibilities.

motherinferior Thu 09-Oct-08 13:07:18

Yes, and this is why I'd like more active pressure on men to consider part-time working in order to meet their family responsibilities. On some days I quite fancy the idea of all fathers being forced to cut their hours to four days a week maximum.

Tightening up on working hours and the late working culture would help too.

motherinferior Thu 09-Oct-08 13:09:43

Oh, and I disagree about free childcare. Lots of it, I personally like the option of having. The more the better. Childcare's bloody ruinous. Don't use it if you don't want to, but stop alleging it's part of an Evil Plot to force women into the workplace. I've spent a bloody fortune on it over the years (actually it's been a real factor in my decision not to have any more children).

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