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.