Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Winter Wonderland?!

December 7th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

My two children were so excited when they woke up to snow yesterday morning.  It was magical to see wonder on their face.  I was so pleased for them until I remembered how much more difficult it is to get children out of the house when boots, snowsuits, and mittens are involved.  I also quickly recalled how easy it is to be a failure as a mother by forgetting said mittens at home forcing the children to stay in during recess; or worse yet, forgetting a change of shoes so that cannot participate in gym class.  It is all too much for a parent to balance.

As a mother with a full-time job in a family with a husband who also has a full-time job, it often feels as though we are just scraping by.  There is a delicate balance at play.  I drop the children off in the morning and their father picks them up.  For a few hours each evening we eat, play, read, and otherwise pack in some ‘quality time’ with the two precious gems (in between calming down tantrums, breaking up fights, and keeping them alive).  Then we carefully put the little ones to bed so that we can return to our computers for a second shift at work.  I often find myself here at midnight or 1 am finishing up one last project.  If anything unexpected happens (i.e., illness, field trips, or SNOW) this carefully maintained schedule all falls apart.

On days such as this one, I become very grateful for a few parts of my life that allow all the madness to persist.  First, my work is very flexible.  It is incredibly demanding but, at the same time, I can create my own schedule and ‘fit things in.’  Second, I have a partner who understands the importance of my work and makes every effort to ensure that nothing stands in the way.  We often trade off evenings at work or days caring for a sick child.  As a couple, we have developed a strategy whereby we take fairly equal responsibility for all aspects of home and work life.  (I would still say that I make all the decisions about how the house will run – what we will eat? who needs new clothes? signing permission forms? ensuring homework is done? – but it is clear to me that I am not alone).

Research on dual career couples has shown that families choose many different strategies for child care.  There is the ‘job’ versus ‘career’ strategy where one partner has a career that trumps anything the other partner does at their ‘job.’  The partner earning more money typically has the ‘career.’  There is a strategy where couples take turns moving in and out of the workforce.  One partner might step back while the children are young and reenter when the children are in full-time school or at an age where they can manage somewhat independently.  In both cases, the partner who ‘typically’ steps away from work or minimizes their involvement in career is the female partner. Biological, social, and legal reasons are often cited for this trend.  There are also issues tied to identity.  Our culture has taught women that they have a greater responsibility to any children born out of a relationship.

I believe that there were few men like my husband a decade ago.  As time goes on, it is more and more ‘acceptable’ for men to take leave from work for the purposes of child care, and, as my focus groups with Gen Y women are showing, a women’s identity is not as wrapped up in family and children.  It will be interesting to see how our understanding of family changes over the next decade.

This shifting identities and labour demographics are a long time coming.  Women have been in the workforce in significant numbers since World War II and, at present, are participating in labour in equal numbers.  Perhaps the shifts at home signal that other shifts are eminent.  I would like to think that changing family roles means that perceptions of who can be a ‘CEO’ or otherwise lead in organizations will shift as well.  But I am not naive.  I know that while my husband and a large number of my friends’ husbands, take an active role at home, I recognize that this is only a segment of the population… but it is a start.


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