One evening my friend dropped a thought bomb into our conversation.
"All the research shows that nobody multi-tasks well."
Emma happens to be the Chief Investment Officer of an eco investment fund, family breadwinner, and mother.
Her comment stopped me in my tracks. I may seem ignorant, but it hadn't really occurred to me that women being better at multi-tasking could be a myth.
I've thought a lot about it since, and now believe women cope better only because they get more practice at it. To me, multi-tasking is exhausting, deeply unfulfilling, and ultimately life-sapping. What I didn't know, before giving up the day job (actually for me presenting involved 3am starts, but let's stick with the concept) was that parenting is all about multi-tasking. So the person who is the primary caregiver is constantly left feeling guilty for not doing their job very well.
For Episode 19 we'd set out to research parenting guilt. Actually, our listener had asked us to investigate mom guilt, but we didn't like to be sexist about it. Yet the more we dug the more we realised that it isn't really a thing for men; the ones we asked don't seem to feel any form of guilt about their parenting.
*Please do email us if you're the exception because we would LOVE to talk to you.*
So why is this happening? We believe there's a societal 'motherhood myth' that expects women to be naturally good at it, whilst also dumping every miscellaneous household task on their To Do list. As a result, they are constantly juggling and inevitably dropping balls.
Don't get me wrong, things have definitely begun to change. A young mother I know has told her husband that she refuses to be defined by motherhood and demands he takes responsibility for their child for agreed set periods so that he can both bond with his son, and give her space to carve out her own career. Other mothers roll their eyes when they hear about it, but I'm both a little jealous and in awe of her strength of purpose.
She's an outlier. Women still seem to be expected to do the majority of parenting and household tasks. Take the story I noticed on the BBC website. England has a fantastic women's football team called the Lionesses, who've just won 4-0 against Sweden. Yet an interview with one of the team players focused on coping with being a mother AND a professional footballer. I suddenly realised that I've never seen an article looking at how male professional footballers cope with parenting; it sounds almost laughable. Why? Being a professional and a parent means that someone's doing the juggling. Why should that automatically be the woman, and if she is, surely she should be getting credit for how much she is doing to make having a family possible?
If this whole thing interests you, then read Helena Morrisey's excellent book 'Good Time to be a Girl.' In it, I've read the most compelling arguments for diversity in the workplace that I have ever come across. Why compelling? Because company profits go up, mistake-making groupthink goes down, and everyone gets more opportunity to choose life roles that suit them.
On the flipside, rather than parenting guilt, my friend's partner has to constantly fight for his rights as the father of his two children, despite the fact that his ex-wife is an unfit parent through alcohol abuse. He feels the automatic assumption in the UK is that the kids should be with their mother. Accepting that both sexes could be equally good, and bad, at parenting is surely better for everyone.
Back to my friend, Emma. Her husband is mostly at home managing the house, their teens, and building projects, admirably well. She is most often seen boarding a plane to another country. Many working women feel terrible mum guilt too, yet Emma knows enough to realise that it's a fallacy that someone, somewhere is doing it perfectly.
Let's stop expecting mums to wear their happy clown face whilst they juggle their life away, then judging them when they drop things. If half the population aren't feeling guilt, then why should you? And if nobody can do the job perfectly, then be kind to yourself. Try to do your best and accept that your child's successes and failures are not entirely your doing. Most of all, there are enough peanut throwers in the gallery. Rather than judging, or waiting for them to make a mistake, let's try and offer more support to anyone who's trying to parent well because what they're doing is ultimately going to benefit the whole circus.