For the last two weeks my spouse and I took part of our annual leave to spend a little more time with the children.
Beyond the bonding and catching up on long-shelved projects, the time spent with the children helped me to identify gaps and areas that we need to focus a little more on as a family. It also helped me realise how little time we are spending with the children and how this needs to change.
I am still soul-searching about how this can be realistically achieved but one idea that keeps jumping at me is how to secure some flexible working hours, especially when the children are on holiday.
After interviewing dozens of middle-class women, looking at survey data about women’s desired work arrangements, I found that a lot of mothers were yearning for more flexibility and time at home, not a more direct path up the career ladder.
Lindah shared with me how she asked for flexibility to work at home on Fridays during school holidays and once she had proven that she could make it work, she asked that it can be extended all-year-round. By doing so, she ensures that her family benefits from her spending more time at home but also works full time.
My simple research is also supported by a survey that was carried out in the USA.
“Among all mothers with children under 18 years, just a quarter say they would choose full-time work if money were no object and they were free to do whatever they wanted,” according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
By comparison, about half of mothers in the US are actually working full-time, indicating that there are a lot out there logging many more hours than they want to. Forty-nine per cent of those mothers indicated that they would work part-time.
But if mothers and fathers are truly yearning for more time at home, it’s important to ask why, and what kind of flexible work schedules they envision. Some of the reasons parents desire to work part-time are the ability to provide adequate care for their children.
But what if child care were no object and there was affordable, readily available child care, and then what would be the added motivation for part-time or flexible working hours? It is important then to explore why parents need that time. One family life scholar put it this way. For children, love is spelt as time. Not just any time but quality time. That is one area I aspire to improve on daily.
Another consideration is how to define the flexible working hours either as a review of starting or ending times, or the flexibility to work less during the intense family times and putting in more time later on.
Of course, I also recognise that a large section of our working parents do not have the luxury to ask and receive flexible working hours. The current economic and social environment is simply inhibiting, and to most parents, finding that balance is a farfetched dream.
For example, many mothers that work in our downtown markets carry along their younger children despite the less-than-favourable conditions. For me, finding the choices and options are either limited or none at all. I guess every mother needs to strive to achieve a work-life balance by finding her own workable balancing acts.