Island Life by David Slack


More time with the family

Could Katherine Rich be the first politician in a generation to actually mean it when she says she’s quitting politics to spend more time with her family? As soon as I say that, I realise I’m forgetting Paul Swain, whose intention also sounded sincere, and of course there may be inside knowledge I’m not privy to. Perhaps she was hoping to be a part of a Velvet Revolution and she has dejectedly concluded that it’s not worth hanging around for something as slight as a Beige Makeover.

If she does mean it, though, I can entirely understand. We see many friends with young children who have found that a pair of high-pressure careers is one too many to sustain.

Sometimes the father has made the change, more often it has been the mother. In some instances, ours included, the father has made the larger initial adjustment, but in the end the mother has been the one who has made the greater and more enduring change, and has been left feeling uneasy about the consequences.

The conversations we have had about this – both among the two of us and with friends - have been many, long, and generally lacking any clearer conclusion than: this is lopsided and disheartening. Biology might not be entirely destiny, but it for certain is no level playing field.

Looking at the way parliament works, I don’t see any obvious way to change that peculiar and somewhat unreal existence to make it better for young parents. Male or female, you give over a ridiculous amount of your time to the life.

Out here in the real world, though, we must surely be able to do better. Just for starters, there is the tyranny of simple arithmetic. There are thirteen-odd weeks of school holidays a year, and, typically four weeks of annual leave. For most families, sheer economic pressure mandates that both partners work.

This is not having it all; it’s having it all up against you. For all the prevalence of the computer, and the potential for job-sharing and portability it carries, our enterprises don't seem inclined to rearrange themselves sufficiently to accommodate a parent who hopes to maintain her career past the first epidural.

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