Monday, March 13, 2006

Working Mothers

There was an article in today's Sunday Star Times Sunday magazine that was interesting and not completely misogynist. I almost died of shock (for non-New Zealanders Sunday's speciality is that it no longer calls it's 'beauty' section 'beauty' or even 'health', but maintenance. I've no idea what you're supposed to be maintaining with blue eye-shadow).

The article was looking at rates of depression in parents, and particularly among mothers. What I really liked about the article is that it showed how depressing and isolating the work of child rearing can be in our society, and that saying that the work is hard wasn't an attempt to devalue it.

Too often feminists are blamed for devaluing the work of raising children. All they said was that society didn't value the work, and that the way child-rearing was done was extremely isolating and hard.

Unfortuantely it's as true now as it was then. I like a lot of Betty Freidan's analysis in The Feminine Mystique, but disagree with her conclusions. While increased access to childcare, and the opportunity to do paid employment has helped some children, it doesn't solve the problem. Those who stay out of the paid workforce are still isolated, and those who work outside the home are still doing all the unpaid work they would before, only with less time.

Earlier last century children were seen as a duty, now they're seen as a luxury, I think we could do better. I don't often imagine the world that I'm trying create, maybe I don't do it enough. But I do know how raising children would be resourced (and I'm not talking about money, because I think a first step to the world I'm talking about would be ending capitalism).

I believe that all the resources required to raise children should be provided collectively, not individually by the parents. Raising children should be recognised as important work, and whether it's done collectively or individually, it should be seen as a contribution to society as important as any other. At the same time anyone in a parental role should be able to do other work that they enjoy, or are good at, or see as important, and in then their children would be looked after collectively.

This is why I find arguments about staying at home vs. working very frustrating. Neither individual choice is going to make a slightest bit of difference, and it's stupid to fight over the limited resources available when what we actually need to do is smash the whole pie (or something).

Also posted on Alas.


  1. Anonymous2:09 pm

    Great post; selected for one of two featured posts in Monday's Best of Blogs at Candide's Notebooks

  2. I'd love to put you straight with a few well-placed points.

    But you'd bloody delete them if I did! So: grrrr.

  3. I don't know if there is one fits all sizes solution to the undervaluing of child care and care work in general- but two of the main things have to be a more even distribution of child care between men and women and also workplaces not built around a full time worker with no other responsibilities norm. I wonder sometimes if these things might be in the process of happening by means of individual incremental small victories gradually effecting a change in the culture.

    Also, I have to say it's fairly isolating being a working mother of a young child/ren too. You are cut out from the coffee group-mothers at home scene, you can't really socialise much with childless co-workers because you generally have to be home when not at work, and your peer group who you have most in common with- other working mothers are like you so frantically busy & under time pressure that all you can mostly do is nod and smile at each other in passing.

  4. I should delete a comment like that Rick - because it is rude and obnoxious.

    MTNW - I agree that there isn't a one size fits all solution, which is why I tried to express the principles which would enable those raising children to do it with the greatest flexibility, so they could meet many different needs.

    I think parenting in general is isolating, and it really shouldn't be.