While traditional gender roles still prevail in many households, MEGAN TITLEY meets one couple who couldn’t be happier having dad stay at home with the children while mum goes out to work
How do you decide who takes the bins out, who unpacks the dishwasher, who cooks dinner? These are the gender wars that couples wage over dividing up the household chores.
Tradition has it that women manage the house and look after the children while men are the main breadwinners. But couples are also finding domestic bliss if she goes to work while he stays at home to take care of the children.
For Claire and Jeff Beranek, who live in Ashton in Preston with their children Bethany, nine, and Eli, seven, this is the solution that works best for them.
The set up is a luxury for Claire, 46, who works as a route asset manager looking after signalling equipment about 50 hours a week for National Rail.
It also suits Jeff, 45, to a tee. He does all the cooking, gardening, the school runs, he volunteers at their children’s school and, being on a zero hour contact with work, he can take bit bits and pieces of work that he wants to as and when.
Claire said: “Jeff does all the cooking and all the shopping - he manages everything in the house. I used to do all the cooking and then when he took over for a while I was doing all the planning and he’d still do all the cooking but he does everything now.
“It’s lovely, his food’s really nice, it’s a kind of luxury for me - I do enjoy cooking so on Sunday I’ll sometimes do the roast but I don’t miss it.
“He’s got his own way of doing things, he uses apps for recipes and he tries to get the kids involved choosing the meals.”
The couple, who met at Birmingham University, both worked full-time when they got married in 2007.
Claire had been sponsored by National Rail through her university degree in engineering so she was working for National Rail and Jeff was working for a company involved in Virtual Reality.
When Claire was pregnant with their daughter Bethany she took 14 months of maternity leave.
She said: “I loved being a full-time mum and I could have been a full-time mum forever but we decided that there weren’t really opportunities for me to go part-time.
“I considered it but people doing part-time very often end up doing full time in part-time hours and I didn’t particularly want that.
“So when we went back to work we agreed that Jeff would work three days a week and I would work full-time. That was mainly because I loved my job and he didn’t enjoy his work as much as I enjoyed mine. We were both paid about the same at the time.”
Their set up meant that Jeff worked three days a week and Claire worked five days a week so Bethany only went to nursery twice a week.
To introduce Jeff to the young mum lifestyle Claire took him around a number of the nearby baby groups.
“It was interesting. There were some baby groups that he felt very comfortable at and some where he felt like an outsider,” said Claire.
“It was to do with how friendly they were and the sort of topics that they talked about. It was easier for him where he knew mums that had become friends of the family.
“He also did some of the things that the sports centre lays on for children and went to the library. Things where there was a definite job to with the kids he could cope with whereas if it was just sitting round having coffee and chatting that wasn’t his thing so much.”
When Claire gave birth to their son Eli she took 14 months maternity leave again and shortly after she went back to work Jeff decided to stop working to look after their children full-time, although he does have a zero-hour contract which allows him to pick up the work he is interested in.
Claire said: “He just decided he really wasn’t enjoying his job and we were in a fortunate position that he could afford to stop working.
“He went on a zero hours contract so they now ring him up and if he fancies working and fancies what they are suggesting he’ll work for them. He ends up working on average about five hours a week but he calls himself a full-time dad.
“He goes into school and teaches maths lessons, takes adventure groups out, helps school fix their IT problems and then manages the house and the kids.
“He also looks after Frank, my father in law, who comes everyday for his for food.”
For Claire the arrangement means that she does not have as much to worry about.
She said: “I used to hate sitting down on a Sunday evening and organising our calendars - who’s picking up and who’s dropping off and dealing with the panic you get when you get a text saying the kids are ill and need picking up from school.
“When we were both working it was a lot of juggling and synchronisation of diaries and calendars. It was a nightmare when the kids got sick. Now it’s just easier to manage.”
Claire uses a flexible working arrangement with National Rail that allows her to leave the office in Manchester at 3.15pm to get back and pick up her children from school every so often.
“I usually leave Manchester at 3.15pm and get to Preston at 4pm and I work from the office there for an hour. It also means I can work on the train coming home so I can pick up the kids from after school club.
“When I get home I do things with the kids and get them to their evening clubs like putting them to bed and then I might do a few more hours in the evenings if I’ve got work that I need to do.”
While Claire who has a lot of friends who have similar set ups, she says that there is still a lot more to be done to get more women into engineering. She said: “National Rail is really supportive of female engineers but there’a lot to do for there to be a balance of women and men in the workplace.”
Claire says that she’s made use of the fact that she is a woman in a male-dominated environment and it has never held her back.
She said: “Men respond well to women, they like our style of communicating and they like our style of managing them. We’re different to men in how we do things and they like that. Of course there will always be people to try to get you wound up but I’ve never found its held me back.
“I’ve mostly had male managers and they’ve always been incredibly supportive and my work is trying to encourage more women to rise to the top.”
She says, on a practical level, if more of the men at National Rail were to make use of the flexible working arrangements that the company offers it would be helpful.
“Employees can get it written into their contract the hours that they want to be working. A lot of women work full-time but four days a week and some women start early and finish early.
“The most encouraging thing is when you see men making use of those arrangements as well.
“It becomes so much more acceptable when both the men and the women are making use of flexible arrangements.”