“How do you do it?” etc

Child poverty is perennially in the news now. There’s a sharp division between those who argue for higher “sole parent support” and “jobseeker support” payments  (together with reform to working for families), and those who argue that getting parents into fulltime work is the answer.

A commentator from the right pointed out recently that if both parents are working fulltime, i.e. a combined 75 – 80 hours a week, even on minimum wage the annual income will put them above the threshold used to define poverty. This is kinda true, 77 hours at minimum wage equates to a combined household income of $61,000 before tax and transfers – low enough that there will be working for families tax credits and a childcare subsidy on top of that and maybe even the accommodation supplement, high enough that it’s above the threshold most often used to define poverty (60% of the median income, after housing costs).

Except – that’s a lot of hours. That’s enough hours that parenting will become a difficult juggle. I know because it’s what we worked up until a few weeks ago. In our case it wasn’t two full time jobs, it was a 0.7 FTE public sector for me and a corporate law job for him (he does about 50 hours a week and I did about 27).  Of course, I did way more unpaid labour:

  • Dishes!
  • Laundry!
  • Cooking the meals!
  • Cleaning the house generally!
  • Childcare!
  • Supermarket shopping!
  • Other shopping for other stuff!
  • All the think-time work like “hey we moved house, I should enrol the little dude with the doctor near the new house”
  • Making sure the little dude has everything he needs in his creche bag each day.
  • Liaising with everyone who provides us with services, like organising for an internet upgrade at the new house because it’s been cutting out several times a day since we moved in.
  • Organising all our weekend socialising and activities.
  • All the banking and bills and finance stuff etc.
  • I’m sure there is more household stuff that I do but can’t presently remember.

There is a finite amount of time in the day; and when you have a toddler, there’s a lot of stuff that has to be done at home. Working that number of hours was a fine balancing act made possible only because our salaries were high enough to use money to buy time.

Here’s how we managed it all:

In the mornings, Mr Daddy took the little dude to creche while I did housework for an hour before getting the bus to work. I got to work at 9.30am, leaving at 3.30pm. Sometimes we’d run errands after creche, i.e. supermarket etc, or sometimes I’d run errands without him and pick him up a bit later. It was always well after 4pm by the time we got home. We’d hang out and I’d prep his dinner and feed him. He’d take a long time to eat and make much mess.

Mr Daddy would come home between 6.30pm and 6.45pm and we’d almost immediately put the little dude in the bath. Bath is always dad time because otherwise they barely see each other on weeknights. After the bath, it’s stories on the couch, then bed for the little dude. By now it’d be 7.45pm and we haven’t eaten our dinner and Mr Daddy might have 1 – 2 hours of work to do from home (on average, occasionally it’s none but sometimes it might be 4).

We’d finish dinner – it’s probably past 8.30pm by this time – and then there would be clean up to do and other misc chores. Sometimes we get a chance to watch something together on Netflix, sometimes he gets a chance to play computer games while I blog, but usually not really much time. It was usually him logged on remotely, me doing household work, then both of us putting feet up and zoning out for about 20 minutes before dragging ourselves to bed. As in, by the time we got to relax together it’d basically be bedtime anyway.

We would get My Food Bag and buy all our workday lunches out to save time. We opted for a creche that provides a cooked meal for the little dude so we don’t have to worry about a packed lunch for him, and we have a cleaner who does three hours housework a week. It was fine because we had spare money so could use it to do stuff that made life nicer and easier. If we were working those hours and didn’t have enough money to pay someone else to clean our house or deliver bags of pre-arranged meals every Sunday, we’d have been run ragged.

Those things all cost a lot. On a low salary, long hours of paid work would be an enormous strain on everything else.

Plus we had/have heaps of other advantages – my parents take the little dude on the weekends sometimes, my work is flexible enough that I could turn up and leave at slightly different times each day it didn’t matter, our paid work is interesting and enjoyable and not physically arduous, we both have great job security, we both have managers who like children and want to make things work for us, we both have a good professional reputation with our employers so can afford to push the envelope a bit in terms of what conditions we ask for, the little dude’s creche is great so we feel good leaving him there all day, he’s a fairly easy going kid and doesn’t have any complex needs beyond being a very small human, we have a dishwasher and tumble dryer, we live a short distance from work and creche is on the way, we live on good public transport routes, etc.

So many things need to be lined up nicely to make two jobs work for parents.

And I just don’t get it, I don’t get how more paid work is touted as the answer for child poverty when more work means less family time, and children need that time. I especially don’t get how wealthy men without children feel entitled to opine on the matter. You don’t even have a clue. STFU.