It’s Saturday night, 23:40 as I'm writing this to be precise. I have just finished another epic pyjama party which ended with Caitlín, aged 6, being conned into going to bed at 23:30 because she thought it was past midnight, and Conor conking out at 21:30 on the sofa.
This is mummy’s golden hour – the only one of the week. That precious ‘me’ time that I shoehorn in between a hectic working week and a hustling and bustling weekend of cleaning, washing, ironing, entertaining the kids and mentally preparing myself for the week ahead.
Yet, I am enormously lucky. I work full time, full on and full steam ahead as Director of Marketing and Communications at University College Cork here in Ireland. My husband, Tony, gave up his business as owner of a health and beauty spa in London, to relocate to Cork for my job opportunity, and look after our two children full time. So he also works full time, full on and full steam ahead.
While in London, we both worked full time and relied on a combination of family and childminders to look after our children. We moved to Ireland for a better quality of life, which to a large extent has been achieved. But there are trade-offs: Tony lost his identity, in part, when he gave up his career whilst I lost regular contact with my family and we left lifelong friends behind.
As the sole income earner, I have also become the absentee parent while my husband has the role of chief carer. It is hard for me not to beat myself up about the lack of time I have with my children. I have worked out that I spend a total of 30 hours per week with my children, that’s just over 25% when you take account of sleeping hours. My husband spends around 46 hours per week, that’s 41%.
He does homework with them, he has contact with teachers and parents at school and he has more time to engage with them and find out what they have been up to during the day, all whilst undertaking a myriad of household chores including getting dinner ready. Not an easy task. However, I do still envy him at times.
I am always the last to find out when Caitlín or Conor have had a fall or a bad day, or a good day. In fact, whilst on a recent play date, three of the parents I was with, all mentioned, very innocently, how upset Caitlín had been earlier in the week in the school playground as she had forgotten to wear something blue for blue school day.
I hadn’t accompanied Tony on the school run that morning as I had to be in extra early for work that day. Not only did I not know about blue school day (to be fair Tony didn’t know either as Caitlín had forgotten to tell us), I had no idea she was so upset. Of course, she got over it quickly enough, so much so that she had forgotten to mention it to us. But I did feel at that point that I am missing a big chunk of Caitlín and Conor’s life, it is just slipping away.
And today, my children recounted the things daddy does for them that ‘makes up his full-time job.’ The list goes something like this:
"He gives us showers, he gets us dressed for school, he brushes our teeth, he makes our breakfast, he takes us to school and mummy to work, he does the shopping, cooking, baking, washing, feeding kiky cat, he picks us up from school, from lego club, from our parties, from town. Daddy does too many things…"
This list makes me feel even more inadequate as a parent and as a mother. Sure, I would do many of these things at the weekend but I still feel like a part-time mum.
So, I have come to a few conclusions and here is where the real tension for us parents lies – it’s a tough gig, the toughest we’ll ever face and there are no easy choices. Whether you are a single parent or a couple, whether you have an extended family you can rely on or you are raising a family by yourself, whether you work part-time, full-time or are a stay at home mum or dad (and I don’t like that term, by the way, because it in no way does parenting justice), it’s just hard. Full on, full steam ahead, 24/7 kind of hard. And there are no perfect answers to the choices we have to make as parents, just the right choices for you and your situation. The real battle of parenthood lies with ourselves so let's call a truce and just enjoy the ride.
It’s now 24:30. My golden hour is almost up. Time to go to bed as I have a busy day of washing, ironing, cleaning, feeding and entertaining ahead with a bit of prep for work thrown in for good measure.
I'd love to hear where you stand on the issue.