Turning into my mother, fixing a toilet at 3am, and the perils of flexible work

I think I'm turning into my mother.

Now, I should clarify I like my mother. A lot. There are great many characteristics of hers that I should like to emulate. Her sleeping habits are not one of them.

When I was a teenager my mum could never seem to sleep an entire night. She would wake anywhere between 2am and 4am and look at the ceiling for hours. I couldn't understand it. She was tired... nay, she was exhausted. She worked for both love, caring for 4 children, and money, in a job she enjoyed. I considered her sleeping issues ridiculous. And perhaps evidence of a character flaw.

I've changed my mind.

Now, with irritating regularity, I wake up between 2am and 4am and look at the ceiling. Sometimes for hours.

The other night, one of the junior recipe testers woke up to go to the loo. That was enough to wake me up. And so the ceiling watching commenced. 

He put himself back to bed, with neither incident nor need for assistance, and I tried to go back to sleep. The toilet finished flushing and continued to fill itself. And fill. And fill. And gurgle. And fill some more. And sound like it was flushing again.

It was killing me. So, seeing as I was awake, I thought I'd get up and fix it. I jiggled the button. I flushed. I jiggled some more. I flushed some more. It was hopeless.

To save getting a set of screwdrivers out at 3am, I sought an alternate plan. I left the bathroom, firmly closing the door behind me. The door handle came off in my hand. I stood in the dark, clutching the handle for a few moments, considering my next course of action. I thought about getting the screwdrivers after all, but frankly, couldn't be bothered, and went back to bed.

I eventually dozed off right before a predawn wailing commenced in the hallway outside the bathroom. A desperate junior was standing at the bathroom door, his hand clamped in the, um... clamping position when desperation looms large.

"I'm busting!" he bellowed, "And I can't get into the bathroom." What followed might have come straight from a Goldilocks sequel: "Someone has broken the door handle right off!!!!"

I left him there, clamp in place, and ran for the screwdriver set.

In the last few weeks, researchers in the UK have released their findings that full-time working mothers experienced chronic stress levels 40% higher than women who had no children. Based on a study of over 6,000 women, flexible work arrangements did reduce stress, but only when mothers were working part-time or reduced hours.

Here in Australia, researchers from the University of Sydney agree. But it's not just the hours we putting in at work. It's the hours we're putting in at home. Household labour is not equally divided: women shoulder more. But this isn't about bashing the senior recipe testers we know and love: there are plenty of challenges for them participating in the way they might like.

As I hunted for screwdrivers, praying I could fix the doorknob before the impending flood, I wondered whether flexible work hours sometimes just mean we work all the hours? Like, day and night?

We keep talking about how we should bridge the gender divide when it comes to home and care work. Sometimes we berate our men to do more. But the gap remains.

Other times we implore our employers to provide our partners with better access to work flexibility (Crabb, 2015) so they can be more engaged with their children, with the local school, with the work of running a household. But it still hasn't happened, to the detriment of us all.

And so I have begun to wonder what would happen if employers were prepared to pitch in at home? Will we find employers brave enough to roll up their sleeves and take on some of the work at home?

Too many balls in the air? Let us take care of the meals. You gather the people, we'll bring the food. Delicious, healthy, family-style ready made meals delivered to your home.


Dinner on the Table is a Sydney caterer and social enterprise, gifting cooked meals to families living with disability. With every meal you buy and every event you invite us to cater, you are also helping vulnerable families by putting dinner on their tables.

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