Sunday Thoughts

20 Aug 2006

There is a strong movement in Australia to make sure that every woman earns money whether she has children or not. Our government has passed legislation forcing single mothers to seek work once their child is of school age, they must have a part-time job by the time their child is 8 or face reduced benefits. This legislation assumes that all jobs will be compatible with school hours and school holidays or that mothers and children will be happy to use afterschool and holiday care.

The role of the parent, mother and father, it seems is just to provide money for their children, a roof over their heads and clothes for their backs but the rest of the child's needs can easily be provided by childcare workers and schools. For families with two parents in the home the financial and societal pressures for both parents to be providers is so strong that those who choose a different path are seen as wealthy and so not in need of extra income or the mother is seen as lazy or somehow lacking. It is permissible it seems for mothers who feel strongly about it to stay home while their children are babies and toddlers but as soon as the child takes it's first steps towards independence it is time for mum to go back to the work place.

Are the legislators mad? Has society moved so far down its materialistic track that we so devalue the role of the parent, especially the mother. How can young women have any confidence in their ability to raise a family and run a home if society and government are telling them to leave it to the professionals.

While nobody wants to see generations of people living off government payments, if these parents are not allowed to properly parent their children then the civilizing effect of a good home is lost to generations. People should be encouraged to help themselves to help their families but not by making latchkey children. It is a difficult situation - the breakdown of the family unit has been happening over many decades. The fact that so many breakup and then go on to form new families which often also breakup shows that people desparately want family and will fight against the odds to get one. Maintaining that family seems to be a different matter.

You know that saying " If mumma's not happy nobody is happy"? Many women I know interpret that to mean they must persue their own happiness at all costs; if only they can find what makes them truly happy everyone they know will be happy too. How selfish, how immature. Surely it means that we should seek contentment, to be happy with our lot and try to see beauty and goodness in what surrounds us, in what we already have. There is a song my sons have - "There's always someone cooler than you". No matter what you have , how many things you buy, someone else will always have more things, better things,smarter children, more handsome husband , bigger house. While it is good to have dreams if you are only ever living your life in the future you miss the life you are having. That's another song isn't it - John Lennon - Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans.

I could never agree to legislation that says women can't work if they have children but there should be a choice, for parents and for children. If you had been at school all day wouldn't you rather come home, get out of your uniform, have afternoon tea and just hang around for a while without being surrounded by a whole bunch of other kids in after school care who are ratty from a busy day at school. These children are being denied their right to a home, a sanctuary, a place of safety and comfort where they can quietly or noisely live their lives and dream their dreams.

When I worked in a Paediatric Rehabilitation centre the emphasis was strongly on de-institutionalisation - getting the children out of children's homes and into their family homes. What amazed me was that the able-bodied children were being forced in the other direction - out of their homes as soon as possible into childcare and early entry school combined with after school care. For a lot of children even if their mother was at home life was a constant barrage of children's groups and classes with very little down time. I saw children whose physical development was delayed because they were constantly in a car seat while mum drove older brothers and sisters to classes and activities all over town. These little ones were rarely placed on the floor to discover their bodies and their little world. This constant early stimulation of the mind with ever changing scenery but not the body because they are clamped in a carseat surely leads to children and young adults who require constant outside stimulation and changing activities, maybe even ADD.

I could go on and on, I already have I suppose. There are parents who are willing to fight for the right to raise their own children but it is a fight we shouldn't have to have. Australia's birthrate is rising. Parents are being offered a baby bonus of several thousand dollars to have more children. But it seems they are just supposed to produce the children then hand them over to the professionals as the mothers are required to get back to their jobs to keep the economy going.

On our recent census was the question "How many hours do you spend caring for your children?" and "How many hours do you spend working around your house?" My auntie in her late seventies ticked the maximum option for both questions. You never stop being a mother and a home always needs a homemaker. Once you have a child that child is your responsibility and you must accept that and do the best you can.

(Painting by Carl Larssen)

9 Responses to “Sunday Thoughts”

  1. Absolutely brilliant. When I was a teacher I knew young men who had been latchkey children since the age of seven (literally walked home, let themselves in, made a snack...)I worked with young men with behavioural difficulties - their parents were often just another person in the house.

    When I left work (when I was pregnant with my second child) people were amazed that I would do such a thing (all women). There main point was that we could never afford to live on one salary. However, when I discussed my future plans to the Deputy Head HE said that he completely understood, how his children were the most important thing in his life, how he cried when his first went to university, how much he loves and respects his wife for giving up her teaching career to take care of the children. They managed just fine on one salary.

    Yes, you can do it, but you won't necessarily be able to afford two holidays a year, a posh car, big house, fancy clothes, convenience food, satalite telly, a new kitchen every five years...but in reality are those things really worth your children's well being and your own peace of mind?

    Great post LJW. If you wan to stay at home live like they did 50 or 60 years ago!

  2. Amen Jenny wren. This shocks me that such legislation may come into place. This is a sad direction for our society to go in. Clarice-who is happy to be a mother 24/7

  3. I couldn't agree more, Jenny Wren. Not only is it not in the best interests of the children to have both parents forced back into the workforce, but it's not good for the reluctant parent/worker either. If they are unhappy/angry/guilty just think how this mood will also permeate the home when they are there, compounding the problems all round.

    I think there is a lot that can be done to alleviate some of these problems, though. A lot more jobs could be made available with flexible working hours, job sharing, more work-from-home employment, etc. Perhaps also a change of attitude in relation to money may help. For a few years parents may have to go without larger homes with all mod-cons, holidays away from home, movies and restaurants, etc. But the extra time and attention to family will pay off in so many ways for the rest of their children's lives.

    Having said that, I realise that the cost of housing has risen so much in recent years that sometimes two incomes will be necessary to purchase even a modest HOUSE. However, it's not money that will turn it into a HOME.

  4. Wonderful essay, Jenny Wren. I loved your point about trying to get institutionalized children "into" a home environment, while trying to "institutionalize" home children!!
    Home is no longer being regarded as a haven from the world, but just a place to change clothes and take off again INTO the world.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Oh Jenny! Where do I start?
    Thanks so much for this post...I am actually a bit teary reading it, so won't reply.
    I will read it again and again.
    The stigma attached to me when I stopped work 6 years ago, from a so called "perky" job in the federal government was huge...even from extended family...It's often been a struggle, but I cannot begin to explain the positiveness of that decision.
    I responded to your comment on my blog...but quickly I'm glad you got a chance to visit the Quilted Crow!

  6. Having re-read my comment I realise that it looked like I was only thinking of two parent families, and maybe I was. However, it's the single parent families who are the ones who can least to have the sole carer forced back into the workforce. They don't have a partner or other support in times of children's illnesses, etc. Life is stressful enough for them as it is without this added burden. I know that nothing is 'cut and dried' in this situation, but one solution 'doesn't fit all'.

  7. Wow... I had no idea that Australia was pushing this kind of legislation. I'm going to forward your blog to an Australian friend of mine. She lives near Killesby? I think. Anyway - very well said - even for those *not* in your country. (Love the painting, by the way.)

  8. Hello Jenny Wren,

    I can't believe I havent discovered your treasure of a blog until now. I just love it! So much so that I'm linking to it.

    What really moved me in this post was what you said about contentement. And I might quote it in my blog if you've no objection. Contentement is just a really challenging area for me, especially lately, but I so want to grow there.

    I also really loved your post on simplicity. It is so healing to see when it truly WORKS, when it is heartfelt and personalized, like it is for you and your family : )

    Blessings, Wendy

  9. Dear Jenny Wren,
    I would also like to add you to my favorite links list. I'm coming out of the closet... I've not been much of a commenter before but I'm beginning to "get" just how encouraging it is to a blogger when you know that you have blessed an other's life with your own blog. Thank you for sharing apart of your self.
    Warmly, A Hopeful Hollar


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I don't always have time to reply but I do read every message you leave.