parent opinion

What most women need for Christmas is a clone.

What do we want for Christmas? Time.

We have officially entered the Christmas season countdown and for many of us this means madly establishing just how as parents we are going to physically attend the huge number of concerts, fairs, meetings, parent interviews and various other end of year school-related events.

What do kids want for Christmas? Watch Jimmy Kimmel have some fun below (post continues after video).

Video by Jimmy Kimmel Live

The conversations at our house go a bit like this: “Ok, you miss that meeting and go to the school parent Christmas breakfast thing” and “I will finish work early, grab the baby and then if I run with the pram I think I can make it to the school concert on time.”

Or sometimes, “No I am not doing the volunteering at the fair as well, you have to do that,” and “do you think she will notice if we don’t make it to the choir? Maybe if I just arrive at the beginning and she sights me in the crowd I can shirk it to the back and get back to work?”

sad christmas two FI
What do we want for Christmas? Time.

Then on top of all the events you need to provide a “physical presence” for, there is the extra amount of “remembering” required at this time of year.

“Remembering” special outfit days, christmas costumes, significant schedule changes for rehearsals, money for a gazillion different themed events, gifts to donate for the raffles, money for teacher presents, money for the parent volunteer presents …

You need to have a memory like a CEO to manage it all… and a bank balance like one to pay for it.

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Then on top of the events is all the “volunteering” pressure. And yes it is pressure – exerted at times quite heavily.

This is not good pressure. This is a sense of pressure equally enjoyable to that felt when being 10cm dilated during labour.

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It comes in the form of school newsletters, emails, WhatsApp group reminders and reams of paper worth of notes sent home – all with a strong undercurrent in the message … “you need to do more to help.”

Please don’t get me wrong, I understand it is important to create a supportive school community and to be involved in my children’s schooling. Yes I am being a little dramatic, however I do believe the expectations on parents now are simply too much. Actually mostly it is just the expectations on female parents.

When our kids are only going to school for a fleeting few hours through the middle of the day it is too much to then be constantly asking and expecting parents to leave work to be at school.

There is an unfaltering assumption across the entire modern day school system that one parent is at home and available full-time.

In fact the entire system is built on it. It is based on a falsehood that no longer exists.

Back when the school system was designed in its current non-work friendly form, it was true there was a full time stay at home parent in the vast majority of families.

However now nearly 70 per cent of Australian mothers with children at school or childcare go to paid work. This number has been steadily increasing for the past 30 years based on census data.

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Of course the majority of these women work part-time and at lower salaries than their male counterparts.

And the reason why is fairly obvious isn’t it?

Our schooling system is so rigid and so logistically difficult to align with the modern day workforce, that it’s very challenging to find a role as a woman that will work with it.  When women do find that role they often have to settle for less money or status, but do so because it means they will be able to make it work logistically with the kids and their education.  There is no other way for many people.

The truth is our school system is set up in a way which means one parent must be chained to it.

We are chained to school pick up and drop off times. Chained to the guilt of not participating in every parent event we’re expected to attend. Chained to the judgement of not being able to do tuck shop duty. Chained to the burden of not being able to spend school holidays with the kids so they have to go to expensive holiday care programs.

For so many of us the reality of the financial costs, coupled with the guilt of missing out and a genuine desire NOT to have to outsource all of the pick ups and drop offs for our kids means one parent has to take ‘the flexible job’.

Statistics prove in the great majority of family situations the person that takes the ‘flexible job’ is the female.

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The problem with the ‘flexible job’ is that it pays less, has less authority, and does zero towards improving female representation on executive boards, in politics or in leadership roles. In fact over time as the woman does the “flexible” job, statistics prove the pay gap between her and her male counterpart starts to grow, and grow… and it almost never recovers.

The impact this is having on the progression of women in Australia is enormous. And yet no one is doing anything to try and improve it. Nothing is being done to try to align school hours with working hours in Australia – not even in a small way.

In China the average school day is 7.30 am to 5pm. In France it is 8 am to 4pm.  These hours are more aligned with a working day for a parent. It is still not perfect but it helps.

china kids

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In Australia children spend 200 days of the year in school on average.  This ranks us behind many other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Scotland, The Netherlands and Thailand, where children do not have as many school holidays.

When it comes to lack of female participation in senior levels of the workforce we are quick to blame employers, or breastfeeding, or childcare.

But can you think of any one you know that genuinely works from 9.15 am to 2.40pm, five days a week and then gets 12 weeks off a year? This is what you need to be able to do to take your children to and from school every day and have a job.  It is an impossible situation and completely unrealistic for most people – especially for most women.

Our entire modern-day school system is designed in a way that sets women up to to fail.

It’s time we did something about it.

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