It’s a day filled with good intentions; to celebrate mothers, to acknowledge them for their care and the work they do with a hand-made card and breakfast in bed.
But new data from the National Community Attitudes Survey shows that 20% of Australians believe women prefer a man to be “in charge in a relationship.” This troubling attitude demonstrates we have a way to go in transforming how relationships and households run. The idea that men are in charge while women care for children keeps us all trapped.
No amount of breakfasts in bed will make this attitude okay or get us any closer to building a more equitable society for women.
So what do mums really want for Mother’s Day? Here are five ‘gift ideas’ to consider this Sunday (and everyday):
- Divvy up chores and childcare equally
Start by having an honest conversation with your partner about how your household operates. Are things like meal prep, vacuuming and laundry shared responsibilities? Are some jobs like packing the lunches and changing nappies considered to be ‘mum’s’, and other’s ‘dad’s’? Are these jobs valued in the same way as paid labour (aka 'going to work')? Reminder: domestic tasks are genderless. Not all households have to operate the same way to be equal; it’s about keeping an open conversation and being respectful of your partner’s time and labour.
- Share the mental load
Often mums are assumed to be the ‘experts’ when it comes to things like remembering family birthdays, arranging play dates, booking doctor’s appointments, and managing extracurricular activities. But this isn’t expertise – it’s the default. Dads can - and want to - contribute to what it takes to run a family. Again – it starts with a conversation. Maybe dad takes on medical appointments while mum coaches footy. Whatever it looks like, mental load can and should be shared.
- Abolish the motherhood penalty
According to the Workplace Gender Equality agency, women being paid less (aka the gender pay gap) skyrockets after women have children*(see footnote for data source). Time out of the workforce limits earning capacity and career progression and diminishes women’s superannuation. The same is not true of men who have children. Mums are also more likely to work part-time than dads. So what’s the answer? Employers can play an important role here. Ensuring paid parental leave (including super), offering flexible working arrangements, and providing onsite childcare can all help ease the financial penalty of having children. The idea is simple enough: women shouldn’t be punished for becoming parents.
- Normalise dads as carers
It’s time to shift the assumption that mums take care of children and dads ‘go to work.’ According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, just one in 20 Australian fathers take primary parental leave – a low number by global standards* (see footnote for data source). The gender pay gap traps mums and dads into rigid stereotypical gender roles. Addressing this gap would encourage more dads to take on the role of primary carer. Whether that means extended parental leave, or just being the parent who finishes work at 3pm to pick the kids up – let’s let dads be dads and enjoy time with their children.
- Create more affordable childcare
We already know mums are being financially penalised for having children. Childcare fees in Australia are the second most expensive in the world. Australian families pay 26% of average earnings on early learning (compared to the OECD average of 14%)* (see footnote for data source). This forces more women to work part-time when they may not want to, because the cost of another day in care just doesn’t add up. Universally accessible and affordable childcare means more mum’s can take on the paid jobs they want to, benefiting not just their households but the entire economy.
Inequality cannot be magicked away with breakfast in bed on an arbitrary Sunday in May. This Mother's Day, consider how you can best support women to live a more equitable existence in the home, the workplace, and society.
(And hey, we’ll also take breakfast in bed. But if you get vegemite on the sheets, its dad’s turn to do the washing.)
*Workplace Gender Equality Agency - Removing the motherhood penalty
*Australian Institute of Family Studies - Fathers and parental leave