The Mother Movement runs projects to address the challenges faced by mums. I am launching Tough Mother to address the very real issue of building empathy in dads for the mother's role. Most mums I talk to say "I'd love my partner to do Tough Mother." The media have been interested in it so the coverage has been pretty good (see Press page). But with 2 weeks to go, there are less than 20 sign-ups. Why is this?
The facts point to a real problem
- 90% of couples are less happy in their marriage after they have kids.
- In about 50% of cases, this unhappiness leads to a family break-up which are highest among couples who have kids under 4.
- 2/3 of break-ups are initiated by women.
- 80% of mothers cite lack of understanding and support from their partner as the biggest contributor to family break-ups.
It was these facts that prompted me to create a Challenge that truly built empathy in dads for their partner's world, so families could avoid these statistics and create a more harmonious life for themselves. Empathy has been proven to be one of the most valuable "skills" to live a fulfilling live and have fulfilling relationships. I took inspiration from the CEO Sleep-out, which sees CEOs sleeping rough for a night to better understand homelessness. But I have found the conversation has been muddied with objections, many of which are steeped in historical gender issues.
How dads feature in all this
- We love dads and men! Just because we are focussing on mums here, doesn't mean that we are taking anything away from dads. There is enough love for everyone. Just like the CEO and the homeless person, mums and dads (assuming they follow the more traditional roles) can lead very different lives and empathy can bring the partnership closer. Just as the CEO Sleepout is not making any judgements on the work of the CEO, Tough Mother is not suggesting that dads don't have their own pressures at work - let's not make this a competition between mums and dads or a battle of the genders - it's an acknowledgement that motherhood, or being the primary care-giver, has some unique attributes (zero pay, 24/7, minimal recognition etc) that don't exist in the world of paid work and therefore it's a role that needs to be experienced to be understood.
- We love how dads contribute to family life. However, while dads do more now than they used to on the domestic and parenting fronts, ABS tells us that women spend more than double the time on these areas than men, whether the woman is in paid work or not. Averaged out, 2/3rds of women’s time is spent on non-market work and 1/3 on market work and for men these proportions are reversed. So whilst dads have come a long way from their dads, mums are still picking up the majority of the work at home, often now on top of paid work.
- How on earth can we enrol them in this Challenge? When creating Tough Mother, I wanted to make it as enticing as possible for dads: I avoided talking about the serious underlying issue and instead talked about dads having a laugh with their kids and mates, competing in a gruelling challenge and being nice to their partner which will give them more sex! And this blokey angle was because I knew it was going to be very, very hard for the mums to get their partners to do it. For all the reasons we know but are scared to say because we will be criticised for sounding like a raving feminist: (i) we live in a patriarchal society where men have 85% of leadership positions and trying to claw back some power for mums, both at a high-level and in the home, is going to be very, very hard; (ii) as a result of the previous point, it is convenient for dads to have their partner pick up the majority of work on the home-front because it's boring and hard and gets in the way of the fun stuff. And doing the Challenge might mean they have to acknowledge how little they have been contributing at home and how much they may have to change. I've had guys say to me about Tough Mother: "Why on earth would I want to do that over the weekend?" and "Don't be surprised if you don't get any sign-ups, it's because we are running scared."
What to do?
I think Tough Mother will be a work in progress - maybe it needs to be tweaked here and there to make a controversial topic more palatable. Any ideas would be most welcome.
But there are a few things I am really clear and sure about. That it is tackling a really important and live issue for mums. And that it's going to be a battle for me and most other mums who want to see this issue addressed in their household. The poor sign-up rate despite enormous effort from me is testament to that. But as I was chatting to a gorgeous mum this morning about the Challenge and she looked down and said "I would love my partner to do this…..he thinks I do nothing", I thought, "Fucking hell, I'm going to make this work, even if it's just for you."