Resilience Isn’t the Solution: Why We Need to Rethink Gender Roles for Working Mothers

I was chatting to a woman who said after her first child, when she ended up in counselling with her husband, she was told to work on her resilience. This was against the backdrop of her husband not doing anywhere near half of what she did with their child while she was still holding down a full time job. I could feel my blood boiling while listening to her account and I knew I had to process my emotions through writing, so please indulge me.


I am a woman of a certain age so young people ask me what makes for a good marriage and this question always makes me chuckle and here’s why. You meet someone, you fall in love, move in together but at no point within the loved up phase is anyone pulling up a chair to discuss the logistics of how you are going to do life. People just assume roles based on societal expectations which are still stuck in the dark ages: Men go out and bring home the bacon, women stay home and do the home making.


Society has moved on, past the dark ages that is. Most women now have to go out and work, otherwise the family finances will not add up. But, societal expectations have not budged. Women are still treated like the primary carers regardless of how many hours they go out and work. Research shows they carry 70% of the care burden. This burns them out. To compound the issue, nobody comes inbuilt with the ninja communications skills required to let a loved one know that they have to pull up their socks and do their part, without them feeling attacked. 


It is quite THE skill to know you need support and ask for it in a way that the other person does not just feel obliged to help but also understands that this is a shared responsibility. Here’s why: Nowhere along the path to coupledom and child rearing is anyone saying, the logistics are a shared responsibility, that the roles will constantly have to be renegotiated and that sometimes you might not know which way is up and it is up to your partner to shoulder the full burden.


To be fair to the men and those who play that role, the societal expectation is that they will go out and bring home the bacon, so they also live with that pressure. But, even when the reality turns out to be that the woman brings home the bacon or half of the back, the men still get the reflected glory. The women meanwhile crumble under the burden of the resentment of the lack of recognition of bringing in at least half of said bacon, plus the exhaustion of the sheer hard work of childcare and home making.


No matter how resilient you are as a human being, when you have been up half the night and still have to get up and sort up kids for school and then go and crush it at work, at some point, you are going to crumble. You will deplete your stores of resilience. You are going to lose it with your partner and the kids. You will hear some raving lunatic shouting at your kids and realise that person is you. You will end up in counselling because you will hate your partner when you realise that his career has progressed uninterrupted whilst yours is tanked.


So to the counsellor (who happens to be a man) who said to the woman I was speaking to, to work on her resilience, I am sure you are really good at your job but may I suggest that there is more to the story that meets the eye? I’m afraid the resilience ship has sailed on this one. What we need is for societal expectations to change. For workplaces to be more sympathetic to what people with caring responsibilities deal with outside of work.


If we don’t support these women, marriages will break down, the female talent pipeline will forever be broken, workplace productivity and the economy will be affected and society will pay for this in the long run.


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