Work and parenting: does something have to give?

I’ve been on the radio again, darling. This time the station was BBC Radio 5 Live. The show was Nihal Arthanayake. And the main topic of discussion was balancing work and parenting.

Nihal kicked the debate off by playing a segment from an interview he had completed with Louis Theroux, about the TV presenter’s new book Gotta Get Theroux This: My life and strange times in television*.

“Perhaps the most personal chapter in the book is the one that deals with the domestic arguments that Nancy and I had, particularly at the time when we had two children, who were quite young, and I was still going away a lot for work,” revealed Theroux. “Anyone with kids, and especially young kids, who is attempting to have a balanced marriage in which both partners are fulfilled in what they do and supported. You know, that is an enormous struggle.”

The documentary maker went on to reveal that his wife had taken “the professional hit” of giving up work to look after their kids, before adding that while he didn’t think this was a perfect solution, “time is a zero sum and something has to give”.

Work and parenting

Parenting nail hit firmly on the head. As I said at the time, (or would have done if we hadn’t been taken off the airways so the listeners could hear Michael Gove address Parliament), Theroux’s entire quote is extremely relatable, but the four words that really stand out for me are “something has to give”, because they conjure up a number of clear parenting images.

First, you picture a stay at home mum, who has sacrificed her career to spend their time changing nappies, cooking dinners and doing the school run. Then, you visualise a male breadwinner, who has sacrificed his time at home to work all the hours under the sun to support their family.

And then… well, then, that’s it, right? Job done. Case closed. Article over. Every conceivable way that parents “give” when it comes to working covered. Ha. Maybe in the 20th Century, lads. Nowadays, things aren’t quite that simple.

The many types of modern parent

There are working mums. Stay at home dads. Single mums. Single dads. Couples where both parents work full-time. Couples where both partners are freelance. Mums and dads who are in business together. Parents who have an au pair or a nanny. Two dads who both work. Two mums who both have careers. And just about everything in between.

Sure, some of these couples “gives” may be more obvious than others, but, trust me, in modern Britain every single mother or father is a making some kind of sacrifice.

Conclusion? Louis and his wife are not alone, and neither are you and your wife/partner. When it comes to work and parenting, we all have to “give” something – and the chances are this something will cause stress, strain and many, many arguments.

Until next time…

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