Where the buck stops: Me

Thursday 27th of March 2014  |  Category: Opinion  |  Written by: Leoarna Mathias

Have you heard of Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats? From his own description, de Bono is a 'pioneer of writing software for the human brain'. A Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Oxford, de Bono has spent his life helping corporations big and small to use their greatest resource – the human mind – to its best advantage. His books have sold millions of copies and he lists Microsoft, Siemens and IBM amongst his clientele.

The six thinking hats are one of his most well-known concept creations. Like all great ideas, it is pretty simple to understand. It goes something like this: when faced with a problem to solve, put on your metaphoric white hat if you need to consider all the information that feeds into your problem. Swop the white hat for a red one when you need to state the emotions and feelings that are tied up with the issue. Your black hat will help you think critically about solutions, and your yellow one will help you consider the value or benefits of differing courses of action. The green hat comes next, and this helps you widen the realms of possible solutions, encouraging you to think productively and creatively about alternatives. And finally your blue hat will help you to define your strategy, focus in, and identify your end-goal.

Now, what has all this got to do with parenting, I hear you ask. Well, for reasons that are best left to the internal workings of my curious mind, the six hats came to me at 6.50am this morning. At that moment, our daughter came into our room tearful and complaining of severe ear ache. The tell-tale signs of an ear infection that might be headed for a perforated ear-drum (which she has had before) were there to see. My heart sank a little; I have two mornings a week in which to get my best paid work done (including the writing of this blog) and today is one of them. Ideally, she’d be at school and our son would be a pre-school. Some creative, six hat thinking was required if we were to all have our (disparate) needs met.

Wearing my white hat, I see that she needs care at home and a doctor’s appointment, he needs to be taken to pre-school, and I need to do my work. With my red hat on, I feel frustrated that today is the day she is poorly, pressured by the juggle of my existence, and a bit overwhelmed at having to solve the problem alone as the hubby cannot help. Exchanging red for black, I consider my options. Should I give up trying to work? Can she sit in the car while I get him into pre-school? Is it OK to plonk her in front of CBeebies for a couple of hours while I try and get things done? The yellow hat helps me hang on to what is important. She is my priority, and a flash of memory about how much I appreciated being well looked after when I was ill as a child passes through my mind. But as a freelancer, work is also important, so perhaps I can make them co-exist, just for today. With the green hat on my head, I get organising, listing out the order of the day, making packed lunches, phoning school and the doctor’s surgery. And with my blue hat on, I look to the end of the day, knowing that by then, with steady sailing, all our needs will have been met.

In the gaps between being mother, wife, writer, volunteer, family member and friend, I occasionally have conversations with other women whose lives are a lot like mine. They wear a lot of hats, and spend their days switching between them to keep the whole show of 'family life' rolling along. We tend to concur on what it is like to be a modern mum; we don’t mind the constant changes of headgear, but sometimes we wish we weren’t the person with whom the buck stops. Sometimes, we want to put an entirely different hat on altogether and switch off our thinking.

Just this weekend I read a great piece in The Guardian by Alex Bilmes, the editor of Esquire magazine. Alex was writing about the modern fatherhood, and whether men have, by now, caught up with women and genuinely created a 50:50 balance of shared responsibility for childcare and domestic management, alongside their working lives. He admits that most men, including himself, are nowhere near this, and that the great unspoken truth is that the guys do know just how cushy they have it. They know that they categorically aren’t the person with whom the buck stops. He writes:

‘The aspirational images of excellence that women are presented with – she's a CEO, she's sexy and she bakes! – are far less attainable than the aspirational image of excellence men are presented with – he's a CEO! Which means we're not, on the whole, as stressed about failing to measure up. Of course, this is all easy for me to say. Perhaps men like me don't want "it all", because we've long been able to have things as we want them. Having it all, for us, would mean no longer having just as little or as much as we want. Is it any wonder that even those of us who pay lip service to feminism still resist a full embrace of equality at home?’

A few months ago now my hubby sent me a text in the middle of the day. He’d been listening to a feature on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show about how women do pretty much everything around the home as well as working and the majority of childcare. Despite 40 years of feminism, the status quo hasn’t changed that much and in truth, the blokes ought to be worshipping the ground we ladies all walk on, because they’ve been getting away with it for so, so long. My hubby had realised how this imbalance was operating in our lives and wanted me to know that he could see it, appreciate it, and would do something about it, when work and time allowed. Without in any way doing him a disservice, I wouldn’t say that that much has changed since his text, but at least I know that he, like Alex, can acknowledge that I spend my days pulling coloured hats out of my heavy, snack-nappy-and-workfile-filled bag.

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