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The Mummy Wars and Childcare

16 Nov

In an article in The Australian today, I learned something new thanks to a government minister.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin said the so-called “mummy wars” between working and stay-at-home mothers ended some time ago.

“The thing I feel strongly about is that our system of support – whether it’s financial support or service-based, childcare for example – it does have to recognise that families are different and that we need to respond to their individual circumstances as best as we can,” Ms Macklin told The Australian. “We want to do everything we possibly can to support children, especially when they are very small.”

Dear Minister Macklin, the mummy wars have not ceased in real life. You might believe that thanks to policy and a rosy view of feminism that all us women are in it together and looking for the best way to co-operate.

Please remove your rose-tinted spectacles. The next battle has just begun thanks to the data shown in the above article.

Almost half of all stay-at-home mothers are using formal or informal childcare by the time their youngest child is two, based on new figures that debunk the old distinctions between working and stay-at-home parents.

How does the crabbiness start? Let me count the ways. It’s the mums in paid work who wonder why SAHMs need a day off, and the stressed SAHMs who need their own time out, just one day, please, to get to the doctor/dentist/supermarket. It’s the mums who are on their own, who need childcare for a full five days a week but are livid to find that spare places are used for an SAHM who wants time to run her own errands. It’s the SAHM who wonders why the working mum is mean and won’t give her a break, and maybe that’s because the working mum doesn’t spend enough time with her children and perhaps the working mum should budget better so that she doesn’t have to go to work during the golden, formative years of her offspring’s childhood. It’s the working mum wondering why the SAHM doesn’t want her children to mix with others.

Oh boy. I’ve heard all this. It gets much nastier than this (I’ve used the sanitised versions), and it is frequently irrational and incorrect, ends up in reductio ad absurdum and worse.

I’ve noticed that the dads don’t get into this debate face to face. Fear? Complacency? I’ve seen dads write plenty on the net at a safe distance where their anonymous faces won’t end up scraped by fingernails of either side.

I kinda wish the rosy feminism expressed by some brave souls really existed. The one where we would all support each other’s choices, whether it be to stay at home while a child is little, or to return to the workforce. The one where we would help each other, where we wouldn’t snipe at or judge each other, and where maybe, just maybe, we could rejoice in the wonder of living in a country where choices such as these can be made.

In the meantime, I’m looking for a bike helmet and a chest protector for the next installment of the mummy wars. Whichever side I’m on, I’m sure to be in the wrong.

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