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Modern day women and the roles we play

Is it possible? Am I writing about something that isn’t grief or parenting related? Believe it!

This has been such a strange time to live through, hasn’t it? One of the themes that keeps recurring in conversations with my friends is male/female gender roles. They’ve been brought into the spotlight for many of us. It’s something I’m still grappling with, so I’m not sure how coherent this will be, but here goes…

I have friends at many different stages of life. Some just married, some married for 15 years, some with kids, some without. Those with kids are stay-at-home, work from home, work in office, part-time work, full-time work. And yet, and yet. All of us are the homemakers in our families.

There’s nothing wrong with homemaking, of course. I love baking, I love eating good food, I love living in a beautiful space. But I didn’t realize quite how much of that was on my plate until lockdown took all the extra stuff off our plates. Once there was no more commuting and rushing, it started seeming strange that I spent more of my workday looking after kids than my husband does, that I planned all our meals and cooked every weekday, that running the house naturally fell to me.

It felt strange because I’m not that person. I am not a people pleaser, I know what I want and how to ask for it, and I’m very aware of my boundaries and how to staunchly protect them. Why then – and how? – had our gender roles become so 1950s, especially when I have a husband who is only too willing to do his bit?

I recently read Glennon Doyle’s Untamed (along with thousands of other women), and although I didn’t need the battle cry of reconnecting with my inner spirit, I did need the battle cry of recognizing that our culture has vastly different expectations for men and women.

If a woman with stainless steel boundaries who cares deeply about her work and has a husband who pulls his weight and respects her work can fall into imbalance, what are the chances for any of us?

It’s a question I don’t know the answer to, so I’ve been talking to friends at all different stages of marriage and motherhood, and they all agree that things are still wildly imbalanced when it comes to gender roles. Part of this is the invisible workload women carry. Part of it is that I think many of us were raised by moms who didn’t work so that’s our model of motherhood (mine certainly is).

But I think part of it also stems from maternity leave and the resulting loss of sense of self that happens when you have a baby. For a few years there, I was dumb. I loved my babies but they stole my brain cells during pregnancy, and they only grew back once the sleep deprivation ended (which was about 2 years ago).

For over four years – from when I was pregnant with Arty till when Ella was one and a half or two years old – my brain was so consumed with mothering and getting through each day and night that I had no capacity for anything else. And then, when I suddenly had a rested mind that could function again, I couldn’t remember what I liked doing with it. I couldn’t remember who I was before all this started.

This is significant, I think, because that’s where the gender balance can get out of whack. I started work half-time when my kids were 4 months old but my heart wasn’t in it for ages. It’s only when my brain woke up again that I really flourished at work, and by then our lives had become entrenched in a new normal that didn’t leave much space for me to claim more work time without a tug of war.

Perhaps one of the unintended benefits of COVID-19 and lockdown can be the spotlight it has placed on our daily lives. What have we learnt that we can carry forward into the future? How can our lives be better balanced?

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