Equality? 'you have to give more respect to whoever's job is more permanent'

 

THE DAY a child is sick can be a real test of equality for dual-career couples. Who reaches for the phone to make their excuses for not going into work?

For Fiona Mansergh and Mike Wride it is a pragmatic choice about who stays home with either Thomas (5) or Charlotte (4) in the case of illness. It comes down to who has the most pressing need to be physically present that day in their respective jobs as research fellow in genetics and zoology lecturer, both at Trinity College Dublin.

Asked to assess their lives for equality between each other in the four domains of Equally Shared Parenting (ESP), Fiona reckons they invest equal amounts of effort in all of them, but that within some areas they take an opposite strategy to Amy and Marc Vachon, in that they “divide and specialise”.

She is up at 6am weekdays to do chores, prepare packed lunches and the children’s bags before leaving their south Dublin home for the 7.30am Dart into the city. He gets the children up and ready for school and creche, drops them off and is in work by 9.30am. Fiona leaves work by 5pm to collect the children from the creche and cook supper, while Mike will not be home until about 7.30-8pm, when he puts the children to bed.

However, when it comes to breadwinning, Fiona says, “On paper I have to give his job more respect”, as he is a member of the college staff, while she is on a short-term contract earning about two-thirds of his income in gross terms. “With a large mortgage you have to give more respect to whoever it is whose job is likely to be more permanent,” she explains. “He would be more likely than me to need to do things at the weekend and he would do far more travelling.”

She has to manage at home alone for about three or four weeks every year, “so obviously that is not job-sharing!”. For his part, Mike says that since having children he tries to minimise the number and duration of trips.

Generally she looks after the supermarket shopping and most of the household paperwork. Mike takes Thomas to football and might bring both the children to the park while Fiona catches up with chores at the weekend. She does not like gardening but he does.

There is little time for leisure. For Fiona, singing in a Killiney church choir on Sunday mornings is her thing, while Mike says he needs his downtime to relax and think, so he will grab a walk or a run when he can.

Undoubtedly the demands of “breadwinning” are the biggest obstacle to ESP. Fiona believes people get “trapped in gender inequality” as financial constraints force couples to go with the career of whoever has the bigger pay cheque – if, for instance, one moves for a position, as Mike did to Trinity from Cardiff University in 2007 where they both worked, then the other has to try to secure a job in the locality.

DAVID AND Ellen Caren radically reshaped their breadwinning after the birth of their first child, Robin, three years ago. They both gave up their well-paid jobs and started an internet business, Rebel Interactive Ltd, together at home in Innishannon, Co Cork. He works on design and development; she looks after publicity and marketing.

While it has meant a huge drop in income, they sound as if they have earned their ESP stripes. They play equal parts in the business, the running of the household and caring for Robin, two-year-old Astrid and Dalton (nine months). They believe such a financial sacrifice is worth it if it means you can spend more time with your family.

“We share everything, I think it’s the only fair way,” says David. “I don’t shy away from changing nappies and feeding Dalton, or taking the kids out for walks. I love to iron. It goes back to my scout days when we had to do our uniforms.” Ellen prefers to do the hoovering. He makes breakfast and “a great lunch”; she looks after dinner.

On Sunday nights, they plan the menu for the week, “more for the finances than for anything else”. He hates supermarket shopping, so will mind the children while she does it.

They swear by routine and “religiously” have the three children in bed by 7.30pm every evening. Being so regimented has its drawbacks, he says, “but it is working and keeps us both sane”.

David has been the public face of the first website they created, www.dad.ie, for dads and dads-to-be. So Ellen has spent more time with the children over the past couple of years. However, they will soon be launching another website geared more to the female market, so Ellen will be to the fore for that.

She knows their arrangement would not appeal to everybody. “Some people could not live and work with the same person. We don’t have any conflict like that. We get on really well and I think that is the basis for it. It works well for us.”