MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 20-Jul-16 11:35:44

Guest post: "In summer, there's no escaping the motherload"

The reason mothers bear the brunt of summer childcare is pure economics, says Ingrid Wassenaar

Ingrid Wassenaar

Blogger, Dutch Courage

Posted on: Wed 20-Jul-16 11:35:44

(31 comments )

Lead photo

"In summertime, the living should be easy - but being the manufacturer of dreams means it is anything but."

Don't get me wrong. I love my children. Some of my best friends are children.

But the Summer Motherload. Oh, the Summerload. I've had a few of these 'summer holidays' now, my two children being 13 and 10.

I had to go to work today, but my daughter's holiday has already begun, and for her, this means doing absolutely nothing, with the blinds down. I came home and told her to load the dishwasher. She grunted. They really do do that.

My son is still seeing out his term. Mothers are strung out at the school gate, knowing that the teachers' countdown has begun and that their own Time to Shine is about to come round again.

Back in summer 2004, when my daughter was one, I sold a flat (mine), resigned a career (mine), organised a wedding (ours), secured an Australian visa (mine), rented out a flat (husband’s), and then flew to Sydney to join my husband, who'd set off early to start a new job and find accommodation for us. Even writing that down now, twelve years later, exhausts me. Ever the overachiever, I felt I ought to be taking on this much. Somehow I felt I had something to prove. It seemed to set the tone. Since then I’ve been the person who, every summer, has sorted out clubs and sports camps, drama weeks and fruit picking, trips to the cousins and to my mum's. It's not my husband's fault: he's out there earning a living for all of us, while I bring up the rear, and the kids, and fume.

Each summer I have had to wheedle and wangle working from home, or come to the end of a job, or have quite simply been unemployed. I've been working on the same book for the last six years (writing it, I mean, not reading - I've read a couple more than that, I just can't remember the plots).

I've been the person who, every summer, has sorted out clubs and sports camps, drama weeks and fruit picking, trips to the cousins and to my mum's. Each summer I have had to wheedle and wangle working from home, or come to the end of a job, or have quite simply been unemployed.


When we haven't had the cash for a holiday, there have been the London staycations - weeks of resenting playing referee for endless squabbles, while wondering why everyone else seems to be doing marvellous wholesome things in Salcombe or Sicily. Days spent putting up the leaking tent in the garden to pretend I like camping, and visiting exhibitions the kids run through to get to the souvenir shop.

But it's all behind me now. At 10 and 13, I've decided that, with a summer holiday booked and paid for, the rest of the time they'll just have to amuse themselves, and I'm going to shut the door and write. I don't care how much TV they watch, whether they dress or not, and whether our son has done any work towards the 11+. I will not organise them, because they need to learn to organise themselves. After a decade of doing everything, I plan on hanging on to the things that make me happy.

The short answer to the question: "Why is it mothers who have to do everything?" is economics. It didn't matter how much better qualified I was than my husband: when I gave birth, he was earning more. And that was that, whether he or I liked it. Sadly, because I'm a competent adult, it turned out I could do everything – by which I mean everything else.

And so I have. But my own feelings about being with my children also come into play. You see, for all that I rant about the capitalist economics that put me in this position, I actually love my children, and almost like spending time with them.

In summers past, I could never escape the high expectations I had of myself as Chief Entertainer - no matter how much I railed against the idea that organising and amusing should be my sole responsibility. I am still haunted by these unrealistic expectations. I miss the years where so much effort went into creating mythical summers for the children, which never really came to pass.

I think this gets to the real heart of Summerload. It just isn't possible to unravel the double standard of being forced to do everything for your children (because society tells you it's your job, and no one helps), while at the same time actually wanting to do everything for your children (because you would lay down your life for them).

That paradox - which then turns into a double standard and a power imbalance, because we still live in a patriarchy - applies all year round. The external and personal pressure to do everything for your children is the fallout feeling of gradually inching towards a time when they will stand on their own two feet, and will no longer need you. Summertime, when the living should be easy, but when being the manufacturer of all the dreams means it is anything but, is only a particularly poignant reminder of what is to come, and what you are going to lose.

By Ingrid Wassenaar

Twitter: @ingridwassenaar

misscph1973 Wed 20-Jul-16 13:46:54

How well said! And isn't it strange that men just don't seem to get it? We create happy childhood memories, and they barely notice.

LizKeen Wed 20-Jul-16 14:29:16

Where is your husband in all this though?

It is not society that landed the tasks before moving to Australia at your feet, it was your husband.

If you need to take all the time off over the holidays, that isn't society's fault either. Plenty of men take time off to look after their own kids.

I can see the point you are trying to make, but it feels as though your husband is getting let off the hook here because it is easier to blame patriarchal society than expect our husbands to step up.

CMOTDibbler Wed 20-Jul-16 14:42:42

Well, my dh takes an equal part in working out what our ds will do this summer, booked our summer holiday, will also take time off on his own with him. When I'm travelling for work, if he needs more childcare than our standard, he will sort it out.
Not because society says he should, but because we live in a partnership of mutual respect and equal responsibility for parenting.

BeMorePanda Wed 20-Jul-16 15:20:05

Single Parent here - DC are 5 & 8.

A couple of years ago I suggested that all school holiday childcare is split 50/50 between myself and XP and he agreed!
So I have them half the time - it has been a massive financial and sanity saving for me.Yes I arrange everything myself, for the time they are with me, but that is because I am a single parent.

When with XP he didn't organise anything much - but I was also the higher earner (by far) and he didn't organise anything because .............. well lets just say it was one of the factors in leaving him (converse to CMOT it wasn't a partnership of mutual respect and equal responsibility and because of that it ceased to be any kind of partnership at all.

NotWeavingButDarning Wed 20-Jul-16 15:45:55

Also a single parent with DC 5 and 8 <waves at Panda>.

I think a lot of this summertime additional load people (often, but not always mothers) place on themselves by choice, to be honest. I certainly can't get angst-ridden about 'peer pressure' or 'perfect childhood memories', so most of these things I just don't do. Because I can't. My Ex lives in another country and I work full time, so my two are in clubs and that's that.

I think stressing about what others have, do or expect is a quick path to unhappiness.

370tox Wed 20-Jul-16 17:59:03

Just because I'm the lower earner, PT worker, (my choice) and do all the children organising everything...

Doesn't mean I'm not in a mutually respectful relationship!

There's a limit to how much one full-time working person and commuter who also does plenty at home ... Can actually do.

Going to borrow that phrase almost liking spending time with my children...

CMOTDibbler Wed 20-Jul-16 18:40:03

We both work FT and travel for work though 370tox, and find the time to do organising - in fact time sitting on the train is perfect for life admin work like booking holiday club, doing an online shop etc.
If in your relationship, the mutual decision is taken that one person works PT, and that facilitates them doing more family life admin, thats great - but not if it is assumed that just because one person has ovaries they are immediatly the only one able to purchase birthday cards, check the school website etc.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Wed 20-Jul-16 19:39:56

I can see the point you are trying to make, but it feels as though your husband is getting let off the hook here because it is easier to blame patriarchal society than expect our husbands to step up

Actually I'd go further than that. You have made a rod for your own back and are now complaining about it.

Your lazy daughter is your and your husband's problem and no one else's

What on earth is "Time to Shine"

In summers past, I could never escape the high expectations I had of myself as Chief Entertainer - no matter how much I railed against the idea that organising and amusing should be my sole responsibility. I am still haunted by these unrealistic expectations. I miss the years where so much effort went into creating mythical summers for the children, which never really came to pass

This has nothing to do with society's expectations.

I think this gets to the real heart of Summerload. It just isn't possible to unravel the double standard of being forced to do everything for your children (because society tells you it's your job, and no one helps), while at the same time actually wanting to do everything for your children (because you would lay down your life for them)

No one is forcing you to do this on your own. Sort it out with your husband, get help in for the holidays, hire a local older teen or student.

Mamatallica Wed 20-Jul-16 19:56:06

Be thankful you have a garden for them to play in, cousins to visit and two children to entertain each other (admittedly between squabbling). Not everyone is that lucky!

thereisalwaysone Wed 20-Jul-16 20:48:17

Blimey OP is your life goal mummy martyr of the year award?

Batteriesallgone Wed 20-Jul-16 22:54:15

Yeah I don't get where your DH is in all this either. My DH works FT. I'm a SAHM. Obviously I do more with the kids as they are my job - but DH is much more of the 'creating wonderful memories' type than I am. He's always looking up things to take them to either at weekend / days off or suggesting to me (not in a shitty way, in a helpful oh did you know this is on tomorrow way).

I can't imagine being left to organise a whole summer on my own. How lonely.

Theydontknowweknowtheyknow Wed 20-Jul-16 22:56:55

"I think a lot of this summertime additional load people (often, but not always mothers) place on themselves by choice, to be honest"

Oh come on, someone has to do it.

It's the mental work of organising it all that people just don't appreciate as well as the physical.

My friend and I are both going on holiday tomorrow and have sat lamenting the fact that it falls to us to make the lists, do the packing, nag the children.

My standards aren't high but still, someone has to do it.

gandalf456 Wed 20-Jul-16 23:04:07

The perfect summer must be a myth - a bit like the idea that parenthood is the key to fulfillment.

I agree with the 'rod for own back comment.' I do everything because,well, I just did it and dh neither knows quite how or quite how much.

And, as for the children, I bought into the chief entertainer role which our mothers and fathers never did. My own mother let us out to play in the morning and called us in for meals but we were happy. We did not look to our parents to entertain us so they didn't so they were happy too

FlattenedWhite Wed 20-Jul-16 23:11:12

Sweetie, it's perfectly possible to look patriarchal societal expectations in the eye, say 'Screw you!' and then do your own thing. I'm the last one in the world to be ignorant of the appalling weight of sexist expectation that still dogs women into believing they 'can't afford to work' (because seemingly childcare comes out of the 'extra' ie female salary) and that because they have a vagina they are responsible for caretaking all family relationships, friendships, school uniforms, cooking etc etc - but resist the bloody weight!

Back in summer 2004, when my daughter was one, I sold a flat (mine), resigned a career (mine), organised a wedding (ours), secured an Australian visa (mine), rented out a flat (husband's), and then flew to Sydney to join my husband, who'd set off early. Even writing that down now, twelve years later, exhausts me. But it seemed to set the tone. Since then I've been the person who, every summer, has sorted out clubs and sports camps, drama weeks and fruit picking, trips to the cousins and to my mum's.

Why on earth did you cancel your life to follow your husband to Australia and, having done that, let it somehow set an incredibly sexist dynamic for the rest of your lives? Did nothing whisper to you that giving up your life for a man wasn't a good idea?

It just isn't possible to unravel the double standard of being forced to do everything for your children (because society tells you it's your job, and no one helps), while at the same time actually wanting to do everything for your children (because you would lay down your life for them).

It is perfectly possible. I would also lay down my life for my son, but this does not mean that my professional work isn't just as important as my status as a parent, or that it isn't just as important as my husband's job. For instance, right now, I'm away for work for a week while our childminder is on holiday - my husband has taken time off to look after our son. The world hasn't ended.

Xmasbaby11 Wed 20-Jul-16 23:51:33

I can't muster up any sympathy. I wouldn't imagine many parents can afford to take 6 weeks off every summer - mine didn't, and I certainly won't. When dd starts school, I'll have 2 weeks off, so will Dh, and she'll be in clubs the rest of the time. We don't have any family willing and able to share the load. I thought this was normal? Surely the only parents who have school holidays off are teachers and the self employed (who may have to work evenings to catch up)?

Dozer Thu 21-Jul-16 07:21:51

It's not down to "simple economics"! Your H earned more when DC1 arrived so you covered all this stuff? That's not the only option available.

Perhaps you're exaggerating about writing all day while leaving the DC to it, but surely there's a happy medium between the SaH martyrdom stereotype and (paid) working all the time?

DH earned more than me too, still does, but for many reasons - especially economic - I continued working too and we share the holiday care and/or pay for it. I appreciate that not everyone can afford childcare, however.

Flisspaps Thu 21-Jul-16 07:57:03

Every summer, I swan off to work and leave DH at home with 2DC. I don't have to think about feeding, entertaining or clothing them, and he does most of the housework.

In term time, things are split around 60:40 with me doing the bulk simply because my job means I am around at home more.

There's certainly no feeling of pressure of 'Time to Shine' (wtf?) or 'Summerload' here.

thyroidmum Thu 21-Jul-16 12:09:31

I think the main issue is the ridiculously long summer holidays
My 3 have au pair and going to Playscheme tennis ballet horse riding clubs
My husband will wfh one day with eldest DD
It's ridiculous 6.5wk off
End of story.
And no teachers don't need x3 long holiday every year as normal worker ever gets (2wk). Kids also forget lots.
3wk off every 3m would be better

bibbitybobbityyhat Thu 21-Jul-16 14:09:50

My husband's work involves professional football and so he is usually pretty much off work from late May to mid August (unless there is a big tournament) thank God! The fact that schools are closed for something like 13 weeks a year, whereas most adults in paid employment only get 4 to 6 weeks is a huge problem and not one that any Government seems willing to address.

Felascloak Thu 21-Jul-16 14:16:46

The fact that schools are closed for something like 13 weeks a year, whereas most adults in paid employment only get 4 to 6 weeks is a huge problem and not one that any Government seems willing to address.
Totally agree. Child care for holidays is stressful and uses all my leave allowance pretty much. (And DH too, especially if god forbid we have a family holiday)

thyroidmum Thu 21-Jul-16 14:31:22

And extremely expensive!

I think all schools should be open every day of the year. And teachers should be consultants who do shift work. And pupils have a log of tasks they have to complete and each week is repeated. Each student must have minimum of 25 day year off. Max is parents discretion as long as the log is complete / on track

All classes and learning objectives are online. And instead parents manage kids education segments, rather than childcare before/ after school and hols.

Schools become bigger and house private before and after school clubs and holiday clubs and are open 730-630pm every day.

Paid for by the increase in maternal employment taxes.

It's ridiculous childcare is so patchy across the regions. Also ridiculous the low pay and high working hours of teachers.

I work with big 4 consultancies and I'm sure this is what they'd suggest. Model is old and rubbish at present ! Doesn't suit anyone - kids, teachers or parents, or the economy (low maternal employment = low taxes).

Also be lots of job creation in education, play workers, maintenance people, school building projects, dinner ladies, catering, etc. So lots of patents could get jobs at schools .

thyroidmum Thu 21-Jul-16 14:33:37

Give each kid an iPad with an app that logs segment attendance and shows calendar of classes and what is left. This is what parents Manage on behalf of child. Then repeat weeks are same in regions eg Middlesex, so you make sure your kids all go to week3 of Feb, so tou can take week6 may (the repeat week) as your annual leave.

IronMaggie Thu 21-Jul-16 15:01:16

I think it might be good for you to examine where your expectations of yourself come from. I'm lucky enough to not have internalised that particular societal burden.

I do hear women complain of this imbalance (mostly on MN admittedly), although I know lots of women in RL who share parenting duties equally.

I'm not any more capable than DP of organising holiday camps and working out who needs which shoes for the next day - all that tedium is gender neutral as far as I'm concerned.

Batteriesallgone Thu 21-Jul-16 15:33:20

thyroid part of the history of free school education is providing for children who's parents are unable to manage their child's education. Your suggestion assumes a certain level of parental input to schooling which shouldn't be required by the model (as much as we all know involved parents improve results)

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