I’ve been a single parent for 8 years now. They’ve been some of the best years of my life – and also some of the worst. My son is so full of energy that he often literally bounces instead of walking. Meanwhile, I feel progressively older, slower and more tired as the years go by. Did he steal all that energy from me? I’m thrilled that he’s got so much… but can’t he return just a little? With just a spark of that exuberant energy glowing inside me it would be so much easier to get through the never-ending lists of work, study and chores that I need to do.
It may shock you, but I’ve only recently realised that I spend a significant amount of time each week doing unpaid work. As the only adult in this family, I am solely responsible for household chores, gardening, and child care, not to mention entertainment and education – while also being on call 24/7.
I’ve not got the time (or energy!) to record how long I spend on these activities each week. I’ve been trying to find some stats online, but haven’t found anything definitive enough to satisfy me yet. The closest I can get are some 2006 statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which indicate that the average of unpaid work then was 25.23 hours per week. These details are here.
I am confident that I actually spend longer then 5.6 hours each week cooking and cleaning up meals – I mean, there’s breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and dishes for these too. I’m also confident I spend longer than 4.13 hours on child care – my son has learning difficulties and we probably spend this long just on homework. But, 25 hours of unpaid work per week is an okay estimate to work with.
It explains why I’m so tired. As a single parent, I’m also responsible for earning enough money to meet our needs. I receive social security benefits, but these aren’t enough to live comfortably on. For most people, these payments are enough to cover rent and food, but little else. I’m lucky enough to have cheaper rent than most, but they still don’t pay all our living expenses.
Centrelink (Australian social services) require single parents with a child over 8 to work or study a minimum of 15 hours a week in exchange for these inadequate funds. If you’re not working or studying, they ensure you attend regular appointments with them and look for work by threatening to cut off your payments. They can even force you into unpaid work experience if you are not “meeting your obligations”. It’s stressful and sometimes demeaning.
I live in a regional area. I’m lucky to have 2 days of part time work that fit around the need for me to take my son to and fro from school, but I haven’t found more work than that. With limited child care, school holidays can be… troublesome for work. So I’m also studying part time, to build myself a better future. More on that another day.
So… each week I do:
- 25 hours of unpaid work
- 8 to 10 hours of paid work
- 16 to 20 hours of study
Yes, I’m busy for 49 to 55 hours every week, just to get all my study and chores done during the week and earn a small income to meet living costs. Essentially, I’m working 6 days a week to earn half the income I used to earn in 5 days a week. Even when I get uni holidays, I fill them with extra chores and work that need doing. It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s going to be like this week after week after week (etc) for the next 8 years or so. It’s pretty depressing when you look at it like that. But it does explain… no wonder I’m always tired!
I’d like to leave you with a quote from the inspiring Professor Marilyn Waring – feminist economist, Nobel Prize nominee, former politician (the youngest ever politician in NZ parliament), author and currently Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology:
“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing”Professor Marilyn Waring
Being permanently tired and constantly feeling unappreciated is turning me into an activist! Professor Waring also notes that in Australia, women undertake 72% of all unpaid work, with the bulk of this being childcare. And unpaid childcare is the single largest sector of Australia’s economy. Read the original article here. I also stumbled upon this 1995 documentary on this exact topic, which suggests that not a lot has changed in the last 25 years:
It’s obvious to me that we’re overdue for change! What do you think? Do you know how much time you spend on unpaid work each week?