A woman’s place is wherever she chooses to be

I read an article this week on the NZ Herald website about Tyson Fury (some big boxing champion). What caught my attention was one sentence – “Fury has also been accused of sexism after stating that a woman’s place was in the kitchen and on her back.” Ahh. What? Are we back in the 1920’s? Has this guy been living under a rock? If that’s the case – I take it a man is meant to be responsible for providing an income for the family? Not in my household thanks – I’m more than capable of contributing to our family income, and my husband is absolutely able and willing to be in the kitchen.

It frustrates me that this idea that “a woman’s place is in the home” still exists, and still influences thoughts and actions of families today. I started to think about my own household, and what it’s been like as a stay at home mum. Which is effectively, me living up to this expectation. How we share the parenting and household chores as husband and wife.

Photograph: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

There is this argument that comes up in our house every now and again, normally on days when Miss Toddler has refused to have her day nap, and Baby #2 has been up all day. On these days I’ll be hanging out for my husband to get home (I probably would have called and texted him a dozen times to check what time he is going to be home and how far away he is), just so someone else can deal with the gremlins for a few hours, while I regain some sanity. But he gets home and he’s had a long hot day at work, and all he wants to do is lie on the couch and sleep. He doesn’t want to have a picnic tea party, even though I’ve had five of them already that day and he definitely doesn’t want to watch Frozen and sing Let it Go over and over.

We’re both adamant we have had the more tiring day and are more deserving of some time out. Let’s start with my husband’s argument:

He works a 40-50 hours/5 days per week job, currently drives 15 minutes to and from work each day and one day per week he stops at the butchers for meat. He normally leaves home by 7am, and returns home around 5pm if not before. During the winter he will work 60-70 hours over 6-7 days per week, leaving home at 6am. His work is physically challenging in varied environments (rain, sun, wind, etc). He’s working through an apprenticeship, so he has book work which he completes during his lunch breaks (if he takes one) or in evenings and weekends.

Now my turn (take note of how much longer my explanation is):

If I’m lucky my typical day starts at 6am when my husband doesn’t hear his alarm so I have to nudge him, shove him, shake him, yell at him to turn it off. Then he stomps around the house, so even if I stay in bed, I’m not going back to sleep. Between 6.30-8am Baby #2 and Miss Toddler wake. On an ideal day, I would be able to feed one of them while the other sleeps in, then switch over when the other wakes.

Then the fun really begins. I spend the day feeding, changing nappies, attempting to vacuum (but never managing to get further than the lounge and maybe the kitchen), picking up toys, picking up dropped food, putting Baby #2 in and out of bed, occasionally being yelled at because Miss Toddler needs to watch TV, or she needs something else in her tummy, or she is point-blank refusing to have her afternoon nap. If it’s grocery day I spend the morning with Baby #2 in the carrier, Miss Toddler in the trolley pointing out all the different items she needs to buy.

On days with no afternoon nap, by 3pm my eyes are hanging out of my head and I need a nap. But no rest for mum with a two-year old loose in the house, imagine the havoc that could be caused. So I enlist the help of the babysitter I have a love/hate relationship with – the TV. Then I head to the kitchen, clear the dishes, and stare into the cupboard, hoping that I can magically make food appear on the table so I don’t need to cook tonight. I contemplate takeaways instead (and sometimes give in – especially on a no nap, up all night kind of day).

Baby#2 normally wakes from her afternoon nap either just as I’m about to start cooking dinner, or just as I’m about to start eating dinner. She has awesome timing. Of course everything goes on hold when a baby needs to be fed. And a baby who likes to sleep all night, likes to cluster feed all evening.

It’s somewhere around here that my husband arrives home. But the parenting day isn’t over, there is still dinner to be fed, baths to be had, PJ’s to be wrestled into and Nemo books to be read in bed. And that’s where the stare down begins.

I do believe if both parents came into a relationship together and they jointly decided to raise children, they can jointly partake in the parenting. It doesn’t always happen, but my ideal situation is we both take a kid each, we get through all the tasks, then we can both relax at the same time. To be honest – I also feel I had to do the baby carrying for 9 months, endure the nightmarish pain of labour, breastfeed for months – a few baths and bed routines is the least he could do!

It doesn’t happen every day, I can normally read my husband pretty well and work out when he really is exhausted from work, and some days he can pick up that I just need a rest for an hour or two (although he needs a few more hints than I do) or I even just need some me time.  Sometimes we get it totally wrong and lose the plot at each other, but most of the time we do okay. It’s all about sacrifice and balance.

I will always be career driven, and as much as I love being a stay at home mum, I will be returning to work next year in some form. I know I have great qualities as a mother, and one of them is showing my girls that women can have more than just a place in the kitchen if they choose to. Nothing against mums who choose to stay home and families who have the capacity to do so, in fact I am totally in awe of them. But the point is – it should always be something you choose. Not an expectation that it is where you have to be.

Photograph: Amy Nicole McLean
Photograph: Amy Nicole McLean
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