A Mother’s Work
This is naturally worded towards the female gender, by virtue of tradition. However, if you are a man with whom any of this resonates, I hope you will consider yourself automatically included where relevant.
A great irony has occurred over the last few decades. Time was that the working mother was frowned upon and her ‘latch-key’ children pitied. Today, societal expectations and governmental policies have instilled a sense of guilt in the woman if she doesn’t want to work while her children are actually children. She is found wanting, accused of not pulling her weight; not showing a good work ethic to her offspring; not contributing to the justification of her monetary worth. Why? Because she makes her children her primary purpose: her occupation – her career? This development is just as insidious and detrimental to the well-being of children, mothers and Community as the spiteful, reverse demonisation of those who worked in the Seventies and Eighties. But for the working mother and particularly the lone parent, her guilt is in the eternal catch-22: that of either spreading herself too thinly, thus feeling inadequate in both spheres of life, or, just as likely, pretty much neglecting one sphere in favour of the pressure from the other.
The accelerating pressures of our lives can have done little to assuage this guilt and yet it has been pushed to one side by the theorists, the Media and consecutive governments who have fallen over themselves to endorse the mythical status of the perfectly accomplished woman: the woman who can do everything and be everything, brilliantly. Really? Isn’t that just crazy talk? I mean: yes, of course women “can have it all” – but surely not all at once? Not successfully?
I’d rather we didn’t insist on mothers being stay-at-home types or force them out to work. One size doesn’t fit all and why would we want it to? That just leads to unhappy, less effective people. And yet this is exactly what our government is achieving. And yet again, it’s the poorest and the least powerful who find themselves without a choice. Yet again the Conservatives, the so-called party of family and strong moral compass, are destroying the very fabric upon which such values are built.
The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race and your children are your personal legacy. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital? Now, I don’t think it’s wrong to work just because you have children: this isn’t about denigrating working mothers; but neither is it inaccurate to see your parenting as highly valuable work. Wanting to be the default carer and guide for your own children is most certainly notsomething to be ashamed of. After all, they’re not called dependants for nothing. If it doesn’t matter who raises them; if it isn’t healthier to have diversity; if the mother doesn’t know her child best, we might as well just grow them in anonymous incubators, stamp them with a code and send them off to processing plants.
As I’ve written, previously:
Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…
[‘Welfare Reform Scapegoats’ http://julijuxtaposed.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/welfare-reform-needs-scapegoats/ ]
I wonder… Wouldn’t that pittance of a wage be better offered directly to the primary care-giver as a modest stipend for not needing all this bitty but generic and expensive childcare? It would give lone parents and low-waged couples, a viable option. It would say that we value not just the child, but the parent too. And the childcare business that survived would probably be of a better, more personal quality. It’s short-sighted to view this as something for nothing. It is not. Society complains constantly about its breakdown; about the poverty that initiates and exacerbates its ills, only to resist the most obvious solution and go for yet another false economy. It’s hang-wringing followed by pettiness, followed by some complicated new policy which is ineffective and always costs more than its budget, followed by more hand-wringing. Well, perhaps some things are worth throwing money at because, at the very least, the alternatives are unthinkable. If it could just be accepted that the Hearth Stone is as essential to Humanity as good planetary stewardship is to Earth’s ecosystem – that would at least be a good start.
A great piece, but based on the rare commodity of sense – we’ve little chance of the Powers that Be taking note
This is true, I agree. However, ‘perched in London’ (@cityeyrie) did post this as a comment on this post at my own site with an interesting link:
European Citizens’ Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income
“Lovely post, well-written. Exactly why I was part of the Wages for Housework Campaign in the 80s and am advocating that all be paid an unconditional basic (or citizen’s) income now. If we have enough to pay for wars and to keep bankers in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed, we have enough to run public services properly, and make sure everyone is decently housed and not starving. We probably don’t have enough for both.
At the moment the government is taking conditionality to its sadistic conclusion, but let’s not forget that the system as it was before was already complicated and demeaning enough, and that the only benefit which worked really well, with vanishingly low levels of fraud/mistakes, was child benefit. It’s been striking how the government’s pearing of this (which will no doubt go down the income scale as time goes on) has gone through with hardly a peep from feminists.
Basic income isn’t a panacea, but it would be a start. There’s a Citizen’s Initiative to get the EC to consider it here: http://basicincome2013.eu/ Do sign, and let’s stand up for everyone’s right to get a life, not just a job.”
I agree fully.
When my Wife and I had children, it was a simple decision to want to care for them ourselves. Without judging others, for us, like you have stated, what is the point in two people working full time, when after childcare costs you are no better off, and a stranger has brought up your child?
I was angered when the recent child care announcements were made. The Government doesn’t value stay at home parents, when the evidence is that they are very good for children. Parents who look after disabled children get carers allowance. This could and should apply to stay at home parents. It is a pitiful £58 per week, but the principle could apply to all stay at home parents.
Our ideal would be to have flexible employment practices that would allow us to work three days each and alternate the care. Sadly, there is no possibility of that.
I suspect that paying a wage or carer’s allowance to every family with children would also pay for itself in the long-term. Society and work should be organised to include children’s needs .. not the other way around as it is at present. Great post Juli 🙂
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This is such an accurate assessment of the parenting code. I had often wondered how it came about in the first place. My reasons for entering the work force were econnomical. Raising four children on a salary designed for a nuclear family of two adults and two children was a matter of financial acrobatics. Hacking only minor qualifications did not help me to find well paid work but my pay paid for the food for us all and that was some relief. Thaankyou Ian for blogging this material. Eleanor