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  • A Scientist Computed the Monthly Allowance Moms Need to Make Household Chores Easy

    Household chores shouldn't get in the way of a mom's career or passion.
    by Kitty Elicay .
A Scientist Computed the Monthly Allowance Moms Need to Make Household Chores Easy
  • We’ve said it time and time again — motherhood is a tough (but fulfilling!) job. Amid the pressure of raising our kids right, we still have other responsibilities to take care of like maintaining our relationship with our husbands, nurturing a career, and running the household. Oh, then we have to deal with parent-shaming as icing on the cake.

    Mothers do it all for love, of course, but it would be so good if we get additional support. When SmartParenting.com.ph published an essay by L. Sy, a housewife, where she recounts how her husband pays her a salary for doing household chores, many of our readers were able to relate to her sentiment. On our Facebook page, fellow moms tagged their husbands and (half-jokingly) said they deserved to be paid, too.

    One woman, a scientist in Germany, decided to takes matters into her own hands. After seeing committed researchers abandoning their scientific career because they were exhausted from doing household chores that had piled up while they were away at work, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a developmental biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, started her own foundation with the goal of freeing women scientists with children “from the burden of household tasks at a make-or-break point in their career,” according to Quartz At Work.com

    What other parents are reading

    Women scientists who fall under the qualifications (must be pursuing graduate or postdoctoral work at a German university or institution, or who received their doctorate in Germany and are continuing their research abroad) can apply for the program and receive a monthly stipend of €400 (around Php23,800) for one calendar year. They can use the money to help them do their domestic duties easier like purchasing time-saving appliances like dishwashers or electric dryers and housecleaning or paying for babysitting services. The foundation also holds an annual meeting for recipients, which they say is “a crucial source of networking and support,” according to Quartz At Work.

    So far, the program has achieved favorable results. In an interview with Quartz at Work, many of the recipients said that the stipend really made a difference in their careers. One of the moms interviewed also said that it gave her the confidence to “push back against evening meetings and other workplace norms that penalized scientists with families.” Other women also acknowledged that because of the program, they decided to continue their work as scientists.

    In a 2010 study, it was found that women scientists with partners at home spent twice as much time on household chores compared to their male partners. Women accomplished 54% of the core household tasks like doing the laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking, while men only took 28% of the load.

    Five years later, it seemed like the disparity between men and women was still great when it came to helping out at home. In 2015, researchers in Ohio in the United States studied male and female partners who were used to splitting the housework equally between them before having a baby. But once they had a child in the home, it was found that women spent 15 more hours a week doing chores than their partners, who only spent 10 hours on domestic duties. Men also cut back their housework by five hours a week while the women did not.

    What other parents are reading

    In the Philippines, many still view women as the one with the bigger responsibility when it comes to caring for the house, family, and children. We are seen as “managers of the home,” after all. As L.Sy writes in her essay, “We are still in charge of cooking, shopping, cleaning, and caring for others. If the yaya quits or the kid gets sick, it is almost always mom who takes a leave from work. Women are still the stars of laundry commercials!”

    L. Sy also mentions that she hopes for society to change its views on gender roles and responsibilities. While we still have a long way to go, we are not discounting the husbands who are truly making an effort in helping out their wives at home. The truth is it's not just about lending a hand. (As one dad has said, “My wife does not need help; she needs a partner. It is not a ‘help’ to do household chores.”) It's also about acknowledging the role of moms and what they do for their husbands and kids.

    We wish all moms would have a hero like Nüsslein-Volhard, who cheers her fellow women and provides the kind of support mothers can really use. 

    [h/t: Quartz at Work]

    What other parents are reading

    They were committed researchers. Their children were in full-time care during the workday. But in those later hours, when male peers and female colleagues without children were squeezing in extra reading or research, women with children were washing dishes and doing the laundry that piled up during the week. They were staying home from conferences because they had no overnight childcare. Exhausted and demoralized, some were abandoning their scientific goals in favor of careers that better accommodated the daily grind of family life.

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    In response, Nüsslein-Volhard (who does not have children herself) started a foundation with a very specific goal: to free women scientists with children from the burden of household tasks at a make-or-break point in their career.

    Recipients of a Nüsslein-Volhard stipend must be women pursuing graduate or postdoctoral work at a German university or institution, or who received their doctorate in Germany and are continuing their research abroad. For one calendar year, honorees receive €400 per month (about $470) for anything that alleviates their domestic load: housecleaning services, time-saving appliances like dishwashers or electric dryers, babysitters for nights and weekends when the daycare center is closed or unavailable. (Applicants are expected to have full-time childcare arrangements already.) There is also an annual meeting of program alumna, which many recipients say is a crucial source of networking and support.

    “It really made a difference for me, at a very important point in my career as a scientist,” said Nadine Neumayer, research group leader in the Galaxies and Cosmologies Department of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. Neumayer received the stipend in 2006, as a PhD student with a young baby.

    “There were basically no role models at my institute or that I personally knew of who went through a similar situation,” she told Quartz At Work. “I felt that many of my (mainly male senior) colleagues could not imagine raising a small baby and finishing a PhD thesis at the same time. However, I was committed to doing so, and the support by the CNV foundation showed me that other people believed in the possibility as well.”


    Agata Karska, now a professor of astrochemistry at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, used her 2012 award to outsource chores and childcare that she’d been doing at the expense of her professional ambitions. It also gave her the confidence to push back against evening meetings and other workplace norms that penalized scientists with families, she said. Others attributed the support from the foundation and its alumna to their decision to remain in science.

    “I didn’t know if I should stay in academia but meeting women who did (and did great!), contributed largely to my decision to go from Germany to the United States for a postdoc position,” said Simone Brixius-Anderko, a postdoctoral research fellow in medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan.

    Heike Heth, managing director of the Tübingen, Germany-based foundation that awards the stipends, said she’s unaware of any other organization that supports women scientists in this way.

    The time deficiency Nüsslein-Volhard identified among her PhDs is a pervasive and long-standing one that affects women’s success in academia and beyond. A 2010 study by scientists Londa Schiebinger and Shannon K. Gilmartin found that women scientists with partners at home spent twice as much time on household chores as partnered men scientists. Women scientists at elite research universities did an average of 54% of their household’s core tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking, while their male peers picked up only 28% of the burden in their homes.

    Most working parents are happy to let the small things slide. (The late astrophysicist Vera Rubin attributed her success as a scientist and mother of four to the fact that she made a deliberate choice never to care how clean her children kept their rooms.) But a housework-free home is simply not possible—at least not one in which it is safe to live. Someone has to do dishes and laundry, or you’ll run out of cutlery and underpants. Someone has to be with the kids while you’re pulling a late night at the lab.


    Those tasks can be contracted out, but that costs money that many early-career workers don’t have—a reality that Nüsslein-Volhard recognized, and increasingly others have too.

    In their 2010 study, Schiebinger and Gilmartin recommended that employers expand their benefits programs to cover household assistance. They envisioned a flexible benefits package that replaces the various subsidies many institutions offer on childcare, tuition, and other expenses with an annual stipend that could be used by employees for childcare, eldercare, domestic assistance, or “any aspect of private life that saves employee time and hence enhances productivity.”

    They recommend, in other words, that everyone get a version of the Nüsslein-Volhard stipend.

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