A Womans Work?
A Book By Wendy Jones
NZ author Wendy Jones has collected stories from ‘role-reversed’ parents.
Eight years ago, with two small children, I took an opportunity to work in England in full-time paid employment as an occupational therapist for one year.
We travelled overseas, and my husband became the househusband he’d always ‘threatened’ to be. Since then we’ve mixed and matched our roles as our family has grown, and each of us has undertaken periods of further study as well as work assignments.
Our willingness to consider other ways of ‘doing family life’ was a major factor in why it has worked for us – but the insecurity and fluctuations in income, and the renegotiation of responsibilities as we swap roles back and forth have also been stressful at times.
But this pattern has allowed both of us to spend more time with our children, something that we both feel strongly about.
My interest in this topic, as a result of our own family experiences, prompted me to write a book for other men and women who were in similar situations, or who were considering making changes in their family lives.
I was particularly interested in four key aspects:
How women view their roles as main income earners in two-parent families.
How women and men view their roles in the home.
Why and how the change in roles came about and the ease or difficulties of transition.
The effects of changing roles, particularly in relation to self-concept and worldview.
Initially this was to be a book on the women’s perspective of the situation, but it soon became apparent that I also needed to interview men to provide a fuller picture.
Of the 19 women I talked with, and whose stories are included in this book, 11 of their partners and ex-partners agreed also to contribute.
I met with families on the West Coast of the South Island, in semi-rural South Canterbury, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and areas slightly further north. I even compiled one chapter from emails and phone calls to England, as my subject travelled for her job.
It was great meeting so many people from different backgrounds and each family had found their own style and methods for incorporating a “role reversal” into their daily lives.
In A Woman’s Work? often the initial trigger for returning to the paid workforce was financial.
However, the women in this book became the family wage earners for a number of reasons: illness, redundancy, their partner’s preference to be at home, the woman’s preference to go out to work, her greater earning potential. Most were a mixture of factors.
They talked about the social and mental benefits gained from working outside the home environment and the benefits of having some independent income.
The people I interviewed expressed little guilt about the decision to change roles, but some of the women mentioned the guilt of feeling that they should be doing more at home on a practical level.
Some men mentioned guilt associated with not making a financial contribution to the family. It was interesting to note how the couples dealt with the question of who held the power when the woman became the source of income within a family.
For some of the women in the book, role reversal happened naturally and easily, while for others it was more difficult. Each person experienced various levels of success and satisfaction. One woman said that, though she might never meet the other women, she hoped that contributing her story and reading this book would help to create a sense of community for her.
Some interviewees chose to use pseudonyms to protect their privacy where the nature of their stories could have negative effects on themselves or their families. All have been open and honest about sharing their feelings, which has created a book of narratives that are fascinating, educative and often moving.
In each case, the decision to speak out has not been made lightly and the finished book is the result of a collaborative effort between the interviewees and the author.
Quotes From The Book
It was nice to have someone at home to do something even though there as this guilt that I was not doing enough and maybe I was not appreciating him enough. When I came home and the house looked like a mess, or he was watching TV or lying in bed, probably my face dropped and then he felt guilty and angry.’
‘So I’ve had an opportunity to do it differently with Jak, and I can leave him with better memories than I have of my parents, or that even the older children have of me as a parent.’
‘Stephanie gets a bit confused at the moment because Daddy tells her that I’m in charge because I earn the money, and I’m saying, “No, Daddy’s still in charge.”‘
‘I do feel that even though I’ve decided to go out ot work, that my main job is Mother, so I am therefore responsible and nursing comes second.’
‘I do feel that the person who earns the money has more power in stating how it’s spent. I think it’s important for anyone looking after a child to have some degree of independence and, therefore, some degree of income.’
‘It is definitely different for men. As women we are judged much more harshly in terms of how we are as parents. Even in my own circle of family, friends and work, people judge me not by the fact that I’m the breadwinner, but by the fact that I sometimes have to leave my son and husband in order to do my job.’
‘It would be nice if I could get a job that I could do at home, but I think I would be lost if I had to go out to work. I’d be standing there in the middle of the day wondering what the kids were doing.’