Saturday, 30 June 2012

Fathers are happier when doing more housework

A study says...what???

Excuse me???

Fathers are really happier when doing more housework??

Is anyone genuinely happier when doing more housework??

Is this just me? Am I some sort of freak of nature for not enjoying doing the housework I have to do now, let alone more housework? I really can't imagine anyone feeling happier when doing more housework - the whole concept is a complete anathema to me. Not for nothing did someone buy me a fridge magnet with "My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance!"

But seriously, isn't it more likely that men and women, parent and non-parent, would actually like to be waited on hand-and-foot, to have meals cooked, washing up done, clothes washed, ironed and back in the drawer, house cleaned top to toe! No?

Ok, so I read a little further than the headline, once I'd got over the shock. That headline was expertly chosen as it certainly did lead me to read more - like I say - once I'd recovered from the shock.

The study was carried out by Lancaster University Management School on behalf of the charity Working Families. It looked at flexible working and the amount of housework carried out by mothers and fathers. The study makes the serious point that families have changed so that rarely is there only one working parent and that more flexible working for both parents would ease the burden on the family as a whole. Absolutely! I'm all for that. In my experience (including being one half of a male/female job-share partnership) flexible working generates loyal, dedicated, focused employees with excellent time management and organisational skills. But businesses and organisations still don't really seem to have grasped that yet.

The article then lost me again...apparently the best way to de-stress a father is for his partner to share the weight of the domestic burden! I still don't get it. Do these fathers think they'd be shouted at less if they did more housework and therefore less stressed? I still have yet to meet a housework-loving, stress-free mother or father!

Maybe I just need to get out more!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

2/5ths of Mother’s struggle to cope

This was an article published in “Children and Young People Now”, quoting the results of a questionnaire sent out by the NSPCC.

Why am I not surprised? That would certainly seem to be borne out by the research my fellow coach, Lisa, and I did with new mother’s we came across in coaching.

The NSPCC article talks about those mothers who are most deprived as they don’t access antenatal classes in the same proportions. But women who attend antenatal classes seem to focus mostly on issues around the birth – pain relief and the choices available to them in the maternity provision locally. Aside from information on breastfeeding, many women tend to shut off when the realities of life with a baby are presented to them antenatally.

I know, that was me! I remember them talking about women with new babies not finding the time to get showered and dressed until mid-afternoon! Huh? That wouldn’t be me – I’m really well organised and a high achiever! Well, of course, they were right. And I was shocked and depressed by it.

My children were (are!) much loved and much wanted, but even so, I remember thinking “why did no one tell me it would be like this?” Er…they did! I just didn’t want to listen.
So, what is that about? Why don’t we want to hear that?

And I had a group of supportive new mother’s from my antenatal classes and locally that I could bond with a share experiences. But actually none of us really wanted to articulate out loud how hard it was. So we all kept schtum and pretended to ourselves and others that everything was fine. Why, for goodness sake…?

I know in our small nuclear family society that we don’t often get the opportunity to observe what new motherhood (parenthood actually – let’s not forget the partners in this) is really like. I know having supported women planning to breastfeed, that rarely has a mother-to-be seen a baby being breastfed close up in order to have learnt something about how it works.

So how do we help and support those mother’s-to-be to really understand what life with a small baby will be like?  The NSPCC in this article, calls on government to fund more extensive support services for babies and their families, particularly the most vulnerable “We appreciate times are tough financially but failing to provide vital support to new mums is a false economy. Babies are the most vulnerable members of our society… Damage done at this stage of their lives can prevent them reaching their full potential, which also has a knock-on effect on society as a whole.”

And, as Lisa and I have experienced in coaching women, it has a knock-on effect on the women too – their self-esteem and identity. 

So, government aside, what can we do?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

It’s Women’s Fault

I knew as soon as I picked up the article this was a blog (rant!) waiting to happen…

So, now it’s women’s fault that they aren’t better represented at the top of industry (according to a female vice-president at BT, allegedly). Nothing to do with centuries (or millennia) of discrimination and being considered inferior being counterbalanced by only forty years of equality legislation then?

But why be surprised? Everything else is our fault, isn’t it!

There is this constant sense of guilt with almost every mother – every woman I work with– about our lifestyles and the choices that we make.

You get pilloried if you’re a working Mum as “research shows” (that wonderful catch all phrase which makes no account of the quality or funder of the research) that children fare best with quality care at home.

You get pilloried if you’re a stay-at-home Mum as “research shows” that women who stay at home are more likely to be depressed and depressed mothers are storing up problems for the wellbeing of their children…

Now if you work part-time you can feel doubly guilty!

Women who choose not to have children…are variously labelled as “selfish” and subject to all sorts of unpleasant stereotypes instead of celebrated for making an informed choice about their life.

Single mothers come in for a whole load more derision. Interestingly I was comparing notes with a working single Dad one day at a conference. He explained how he got lots of praise for managing to work and bring up two children – people were admiring and sympathetic and he was considered a bit of a hero. Hmmm!

So now it’s our fault we’re not better represented at the top of industry too.

It really made me laugh when the article quoted that there is now free childcare for children over 2, as if that’s no barrier for women working. Er…for two and a half hours a day? I remember that when my children started nursery at school. By the time I’d said goodbye, travelled home, sorted the post and done the basics of sorting the house out, it was time to set back out on the journey to pick them up again. Not sure how many employers at the top of the working ladder would be open to employing someone available for an hour a day.

It will require a major structural shift in the way we perceive work, childcare, flexible working, how girls and boys are educated about work, the responsibility for unpaid work at home etc etc etc before women genuinely are equally represented and paid in the workforce. That’s going to take time, but it’s right we do so.

Bold steps are needed.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The View from Outside

Sometimes what you really need to get a problem in your head sorted is a bit of space. Some distance from the problem. Metaphorically or literally?

I’ve always found that standing back and examining an issue objectively has really helped me. Talking over an issue with a good friend has often enabled me to get the degree of objectivity that I need. To be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and look back at my issue.

But literal distance I also believe really helps.

A week or so ago, I took a coach journey a couple of hours away to a different city. I had quite a few issues whirring round in my head at the time that I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with. So, using a coaching technique I suggest to others, rather than letting it dominate my thoughts during that week, I planned to set aside the time on the coach journey to mull it over and have some “worrying” time then – and got on with life.

The day dawned, a relaxed start. I had a (worked related) book to read, some music and a movie on my (new)iPhone – and that knotty problem to worry over.

But I didn’t even think about it. I just listened to some music and watched the world go by. Changing scenery. A different cityscape. Oh yes, and I dozed some (hopefully not dribbling and snoring!).

I met a friend, did some shopping, had a lovely lunch.

Leaving the time to go back to unwind that problem.

But miraculously it had gone! It seemed totally clear and obvious what I needed to do.

And I hadn’t spent any time worrying about it!

What is it that a different view, a place away from the normal, a challenge to our normal routine does to our brain? It felt like my re-set button had been pressed and all was back to normal.

Good excuse for some more trips away I think!

What about you? Does this work for you? Are there times you can remember this happening?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Becoming a mother – a huge life transition

I have been really surprised (and now I think back on it…why surprised?) how many of the women I coach have confidence issues that that stem back to an identity crisis when they first became a mother.

They might come to me for coaching for a whole host of reasons - although usually around decisions in their working life: promotion; considering a career move or career change; setting up a new business; redundancy – and many times a combination these. In looking back at their career and life to date, and the decisions they have taken before which have led them to this point, more commonly than not they will have strong feelings about their change in identity when they become a mother. And while there are lots of strong positive feelings – there are deeply held and often hidden negative ones too.

It is, undoubtedly, a huge life transition. Perhaps one we have lost the rituals to truly mark in the way society views the transition today. A baby shower just doesn’t cut it! You do get such mixed message about your value. On the one hand, women with children are treated (generally – I know there are exceptions!) as if they are special (see the front page article in The Guardian’s family section last Saturday) -  which of course they are - and yet with no monetary value place on the work that mother’s do (although which country is it in Scandinavia that includes the value of breastfeeding in their GDP?) it is also hugely undervalued. Many of the women who talk to me say that they felt like they lost who they were at that time.

I have talked to women about whether some coaching around that time would have been helpful in this transtion (coaching being the practice of supporting an individual through a facilitative process to find answers within themselves based on their values, preferences and unique perspective). The answers are a resounding yes, but the timing varies. For some women considering this during pregnancy would have helped; for others it would have been at 2 or 6 months, or at a time when they were considering options around a return to paid employment outside the home. What about for those of you who are mothers? Would it have helped you? And at what point?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

It's only when we truly know and understand

It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up - that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.  Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

There are quite a few inspirational quotes about living life for the day and not focusing on the past or the future but truly living as if each day would be your last.

Sadly this week has been a stark and tragic reminder of this.

We really do not know.

I’d like to feel that I do try and make the most of every day. I don’t put off things that I want to do but launch forward to try and fit as many experiences in my life as I can. Sometimes this is a problem as I rarely say no to things and end up cramming too many things in my life.

I know that I do this in part as a reaction to my life experience: when my father was 47 - and I was just 21 - he had a major stroke from which he never fully recovered and for him (and my Mum – and to some extent the rest of the family) life completely changed. He also went on to develop early-onset Parkinson’s Disease shortly after.

But he had dreams that he wished to fulfil – travelling across Canada by train; standing on the Great Wall of China - that became impossible after that one unforeseen and unpredictable moment. So, I don’t ever think “I’ll do that when I’m older/when I retire” as I know that it just might not be possible.

But still...I also don’t live enough of my life in the present.

I don’t necessarily dwell on things from the past, hold a grudge, or chew things over that happened yesterday or last week.

But I do spend much of my time looking forward – planning the next thing, organising the next event, activity or get-together.

I don’t stop and smell the roses often enough. I am not mindful of my situation in the present. I miss out on enjoying all the things that I have planned, because I’m off then, planning the next thing!

I need to learn to just enjoy the moment; be grateful for what I have; count my blessings as they happen and enjoy them.

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are.  Otherwise you will miss most of your life.  Buddha

Dedicated to Paul Henderson 1966-2012

Friday, 13 January 2012

Equality – a subjective value?

In the news today is David Cameron’s visit to Saudi Arabia to broaden the link between the two countries.

Interesting this! We censure countries where there is evidence of active discrimination against a group of people. Historically we have suspended or severed diplomatic relations, installed economically disruptive embargoes and even restricted aid in extreme cases.

So what about women in Saudi Arabia? Do they not count as a group denied basic equal rights? What about their rights to self-determination? Education? Travel? What about their rights to drive a car?

Do we think that’s ok? As individuals? As a nation? Obviously, as a nation we must do, given this visit.

Why is that? Er...oil!

Is this so much more important than the rights of a whole nation of women? Is it because they are women?

Now I do have a couple of caveats:

I do have an issue with anyone judging another and thinking they are superior or have got it right. I know there are Saudi women who campaign for change and want western cultures to understand that they want to use their own culture, religion and role models rather than campaign for rights which reflect western values and lifestyles.

And what about that entire splinter in your eye stuff? We have a far from perfect record on gender equality.

Women in the UK have historically been disadvantaged in many areas compared to men and still face barriers as a result of their gender. The Commission on Equalities and Human Rights report only a couple of years ago demonstrated a 60% pay gap between men and women in the financial sector. How many women lead FTSE 100 companies? How many women MPs are there? We have a long way to go.

And it’s not just about women’s rights in this country -it’s about looking at gender imbalances. There are far too few male primary school teachers and childcare workers and I think that should be seriously addressed as I think male role models for boys in education are essential. Although look at the percentage of male to female primary headteachers!

I really love this quote from the Baha’i Faith:  The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. This speaks so eloquently to me.

So what is the answer?

Well, for me, I am just grateful that I can travel without the permission of a male member of my family. I can vote. I can study law or architecture should I wish to. I can freely meet my friends – male and female both. I can drive a car.

And I think it’s wrong that we censure one country for their actions on human rights and support another - simply to suit our own interests. We are one world. One people. Including Saudi women.