When we bought our house a few years ago I was finally able to begin indulging some of my creative fantasies about decorating and designing a space. I have accumulated some power tools and tried out various ideas, with rather mixed success it has to be said, but it’s been fun.
Before the baby was born I was getting pretty handy with my power tools, and made an elm shoe bench, compost benches in the garden, lots of shelving, and did a lot of tiling, grouting, drilling and fixing, and I made a poetry stair mural as well.
But now I have a baby, a post for which I am equally unqualified, and have had to learn quickly a whole bunch of new skills.
I have also realised that I need more help, for example to finish making the built in wardrobe that I designed and bought materials for but hadn’t actually made yet; and also with minding the baby, partly so i can actually get on with a few of the minor DIY tasks which still haunt me.
And while looking for this help I have discovered that men, who are the great majority of the people who offer help with making things about the house, or fixing the things I didn’t do very well, typically charge around £20 an hour. THis includes everything from odd job men to skilled tradesmen. Minding the baby on the other hand is offered almost exclusively by women, and they all seem to be charging around £10 an hour.
Now think about this for a minute. That is half what the men charge. Half. That is a big difference. Does a woman need half as much money to live on?
Ok you say, but the men’s work is skilled and involves using dangerous power tools. It’s technical. And they had to do an apprenticeship. Whereas the women just do something easy and natural, which Doesn’t take any skills or anything, and they like doing it.
Well then why are ALL the nannies advertising their CRB checks, first aid qualifications, degrees and masters qualifications in child psychology and education? and their good references? And not one man who has come round has offered for me to check he is qualified to use the dangerous tools, or is safe to have in the house round a baby, or knows first aid, or has good references? And I certainly haven’t met a tradesman who is telling me about his masters degree in the niceties of plumbing.
Now note that I am also in the position of being someone who does both baby care and building work, and therefore am able to compare the two from direct experience. The air of mystery around building skills has been punctured, and so has the myth of the naturalness of baby care.
They are very different kinds of activity and so it’s hard to compare them in a way; but emotionally, minding the baby is very hard (the highs are higher and the lows are lower), and also there are lots of detailed skills that are good to have. It’s a subtle and sensitive art, and comes naturally to some men and women, and less so to others, just as with carpentry skills. I have always been more inclined to carpentry than childcare although I do love spending time with kids. On balance I would say that they are equally likely to come naturally to a person, and to involve a need for subject-specific learning and skills; but there is one big difference that should make baby care more valuable: if you do it wrong that is really serious, whereas if you make a dodgy bench, well, you’ll probably get over it one day soon.
Now I am talking myself into paying double for childcare, which wasn’t the plan: so how about we compromise, and everyone gets £15 (even though a babies are more important than benches,and the women who look after them are apparently very highly qualified)
Until everyone agrees to that, it seems I’d be best off hiring the nanny and doing the DIY myself. And If my DIY skills are anything to go by I think the baby needs someone better qualified than me to keep an eye on things.