Friday 2 February 2007

Z dislikes sweeping statements

I thought that Al1ce M1les’s article in the Times, a couple of days ago, had some interesting points but she lost me entirely when, three paragraphs from the end, she said "If you are in a couple, it may make sense for one of you to look after the children while the other does paid work. That is sort of a luxury but also sort of a hell; I wouldn’t advise any mother to give up work: before you know it you are trapped in unemployment and crawling the walls with boredom."

Am I being oversensitive in suggesting that she has, in public and in print, thoroughly insulted her own children? I don't know how many children she has, or what age they are, but I'd be a bit hurt to find that my mother had found motherhood a boring trap, rather than a joy, if not an unmitigated one.

Alice has the luxury of a job she, presumably enjoys, where she is paid to give her opinion (we give ours for free) and can make sweeping statements, with or without research to back them up. Many jobs are not so fulfilling. Good childcare is expensive, as this article in the same paper pointed out the other day and surely many parents find that most of their wages are being taken up by this cost and they still have to do all their cooking, shopping and housework, as well as cope when the children are unwell. And give time and love to their partner.

I'm not saying that a parent of young children should not go out to work. I'm not suggesting that looking after two or three pre-school children is easy - it can be hard work, it can be isolating unless you have friends in the same situation and, sometimes, being with a toddler or two all day can make you feel as if you are defined by mummyness or daddyness. However, Alice's sweeping statement surely is unfeeling and risks offending, not only those parents who think bringing up children is an important and fulfilling job in itself, but also those childcare workers who feel the same way.

Joe Khouri, of Tokyo, wrote this comment on Alice's article
"Yesterday The Times noted that childcare costs rose by several times the rate of inflation. The Times carries weekly, if not daily, stories that describe the gamut of underage drinking, drug-taking, criminality and sex that currently entertains many of Britain's youth.
Ms Miles' solution: Take the one parent a child has and put them to work.
Does she read as well as she writes? Instead of bunging a few quid at single parents, who are after all just "crawling the walls with boredom" for something useful to do, perhaps use this money to encourage parents to bring up children properly and develop their child's education beyond what the rapidly degrading school system provides. You know, some proper parenting skills. Maybe spend a bit on a decent, clean, affordable local sports complex. After-school groups, police on the streets. When a parent believes that their child is entertained, happy, healthy and safe, maybe THEN they might be comfortable getting a job. Isn't this obvious?"

The question of single parents is not one I'm looking at here, there are too many considerations and pitfalls. It's the value we no longer put on parenting. I'm not saying that a parent should or should not give up their job and stay home while the children are small. There are all sorts of things to take into account. I'm just saying that bringing up children well matters. It's fulfilling and important. Not all people, by any means, have an aptitude for it and presumably Alice is one of those, so has done the best she can by her children by working to provide care for them by someone who wants to give it. Others have trained hard to get a great job and want to have a fulfilling career as well as motherhood. Others again have to work whether they want to or not. I know many people who have used this career break as an opportunity to change paths altogether. I know some who have never gone back to full-time paid work, myself included. Some people, indeed, are 'trapped in unemployment' for various reasons - often the poverty trap, rather than the parenthood trap. But full-time mums are not all frustrated, unhappy housewives.

PS Take a look over the pond, hey. Gotta love 'em.


The Boy said...

I'd agree it needs a much larger horizon on this issue. From a pure societal cost, we need to look at if a child with a parent at home is more productive in life than one which is brought up in shared child care. Its not an easy question, nor an easy answer.

Nor do I think there is a blanket answer. Ms Mills sweeping generalities are a bit of a hard swallow. I agree with you that some full time mothers love it, mine did. My wife though, doesn't and enjoys her job.

The question is, how do we as a society develop as system that caters to both freedoms? Not easy.

Z said...

I think it would really help if people were not so aggressively defensive over their own choice - that if it works for them, it must be the best.

And also, that people who do not earn a wage are valued for what they do do. It can be hard to feel a sense of self-worth when you do not have a pay packet and are dismissed as 'justamum' or 'justahousewife'.
But equally, fulltime working parents need to be allowed flexibility and not to be considered shirkers if they want to leave on time to have some family life too.

Monozygote said...

I'm not sure childcare was ever really valued. Part of me feels that if people don't have an aptitude or desire for it, then what on earth are they doing having children? Why not leave it to people who are committed? Though I can see that might sound a bit extreme.

If some parents are frustrated and unhappy, then I would say that's as much to do with their role not being valued, as to do with its inherent stress/repetitiveness, or their aptitude for it.

The devaluing of parenting seems to be premissed on a denial of, or failure to grasp any basic psychology, and the long-reaching impact of parenting quality on the society of tomorrow.

And I don't think it does give a very nice message to the children to be viewed as a chore or a burden, or just plain boring. It's no wonder a lot of them are pissed off, and lack the skills to deal with that constructively. Well said, z

Z said...

A bit of a paradox there - sometimes, the people who most long for children can be taken aback by the drudgery and the sheer stress. And some are surprised by joy at the birth of their first baby.

But some people seem to take little pleasure in their children and that's sad. Tough enough, growing up.

Imperatrix said...

I think it would really help if people were not so aggressively defensive over their own choice

Amen. Oh, Amen! If you don't breastfeed, you're a failure, if you do breastfeed, you're a sap. If you work, you're a cold bitch, if you don't work, you're feeble-minded.

If there was only one right way to raise a child, then what a boring uncreative world we'd live in.

The most important thing is, to *want* the child.

y.Wendy.y said...

Never boring. Tiring, frustrating, ever boring.

Anonymous said...

I am happy that I styed at home with the children until they started school and then organised a job that I could do after delivering them to at school and before picking them up.

Z said...

That's the best, if you can do it isn't it, Pat. I used to enjoy standing at the school gates chatting with the other mums. I've never been up on the village chit-chat since.

When my children were young, most of the mums took time off work until they were at school or worked part-time. I was a very hands-on mum, myself.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't get in the below comment box. Had same problen over at Greavsie's.

Z said...

If ever you are too frustrated by Blogger, send me an email and i'll post your comment myself.

silly Blogger.

Z said...

I see what you mean. Greavsie is proving elusive, isn't he.

Probably the result of the couscous/Korma combo.

Anonymous said...

Gah! My comment vanished!

Lovely post. Intelligent, thought-provoking, sensible.

I also enjoyed the comment about "aggressive defensiveness". I'm going to remember that term

(Oh, and Z? I'm not American.)

Z said...

Thank you very much, Mary. No one reading your site would doubt the value of good parenting, both by the parents themselves and by professional carers.

I know you aren't American, but I rather assumed the programme was. Sorry! I'll change it.

Anonymous said...

Ah. I understand. You're quite right: the program is American! (Who else could say take that position with a straight face?) My confusion was caused because you linked to my blog (which is currently talking about an event in my city) rather than the post about that program.

(Do you know how to link to a specific post? I can tell you how, if you need/want.)

Z said...

Sorry again, Mary. I've changed it.