IN my talks and workshops on how to manage your life, I normally include a photo collage made up of pictures of overwhelmed and multi-tasking women.
One of many the stock photos I use is that of a steering wheel covered with post-it notes: ‘Pick up dry cleaning, a shopping list, soccer at 3pm, hockey at 5...’
And although the collage never fails to resonate, the steering wheel image has, for the past few months at least, seemed slightly less applicable. We weren’t really driving anywhere, there was no soccer, no hockey, no anything.
That’s all changed now. And as I sat in the car park of my son’s soccer club last Tuesday evening, looking across my own steering wheel at the pitches in the distance, I had a mental image of those post-it notes slowly drifting down and placing themselves firmly back there, right before my nose. And I wasn’t sure how much I liked it.
Turns out I’m not alone.
It’s not, of course, a case of women having spent the past year putting themselves before anyone else. Or of ever having done so. Pre-Covid, women were already on average doing three times as much unpaid care work as men, and in a survey the National Women’s Council of Ireland did last year, 85% of women said their caring responsibilities had increased since the start of the pandemic.
And even with all the additional care work and all the stressors, there was something about that slower pace which helped, or at least provided some sort of control. It didn’t matter so much when things got done, as long as they got done. And it was easier, despite everything, to fit in something that was important to you, when nobody had to be anywhere from 3-5 every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.
And as afternoons and weekends are now disappearing in a flurry of dropping off and picking up, of waiting by the pitch side, of driving from one training session to the next and hoping there are no clashes, these suddenly jam-packed schedules are perhaps indicative of a bigger issue surrounding women’s time and own agenda. About what gets pushed aside when other needs arise.
Dads do, of course, take their kids to extracurricular activities also. Many are heavily invested in them. And there are at times so many things happening simultaneously that the responsibilities do need to be split in order for the logistics to even work.
The question is perhaps less about how each household makes this happen and more of a wider reflection about the ultimate order of priorities, and what really gives when these are being stacked up against each other. Because we do live in a world where, in general, what women do is seen as less important, more easily rescheduled, skipped, deprioritised.
And so, with the sporting schedule becoming, in the same way that home-schooling suddenly did, something we have to fit into our day, it is more often than not women who drop everything, mentally reshuffle the world as it used to be, and make this new thing happen, whatever it is.
The issue of who takes who to camogie is perhaps not the biggest one out there. But it’s part of this bigger picture, it does have an impact, and we need to have an open and honest conversation about it.
To properly assess the cost of the extra-curricular. To pause for a moment before we jump straight into our default ‘this is just the way it is’ mode of action. To look at everyone’s needs, including our own. What are the activities getting in the way of? Are they worth it? The answers will be different for everyone. But until we ask the questions we will never know.
Look at the big picture. What are the big priorities for the next 6-12 months, for individual family members and for the family as a whole? How do the activities fit into those?
The answer might be a resounding YES, in which case the argument for keeping them might be a stronger one. But if we’re sending them to off to activities they don’t particularly enjoy, maybe now is a good time to reconsider.
One thing we learned to appreciate during the pandemic was the unscheduled activities. Being out and about in local parks and on walkways, on scooters and bikes, grabbing coffees and hot chocolates on the way, showed us that not everything has to be an organised activity in order to be enjoyed.
Ingrid Seim is a psychological coach and the founder of Avenues Consultancy & Coaching. She works with women who want to set themselves ambitious professional goals without sacrificing their work-life balance, and with organisations eager to support and retain their female talent.