Mother’s Day is one of those days every year when we think of the role of the women who brought us into the world, and how much they have done and sacrificed for us and our welfare, from when we were a mere collection of cells, to now when we are studying for degrees (some would say our brain cells are perhaps not much more developed than when we were but a collection of cells in some respects). However much progress has been made (albeit painfully slowly) towards equal pay and representation for women in our society, women will always be pressurized to juggle their work and home lives to a greater extent than men.
What worries me is that this noble cause where women rightly have more of a choice in living their lives as they want to live them has created a culture and a mindset where those who choose – actively, rather than subjects of some false consciousness or religious pressure – to stay at home or only work part time to be with the kids as they come home from school, are targeted as a drain on society and the public purse. Housewives (sorry), homemakers, stay-at-home mums: whatever the word we use for them, their work is indeed that – work, which for example produces far more of a social good than the likes of bankers or estate agents or lawyers. Yet it is not categorised as such, and our society does not reward it, it penalizes it.
This is nothing to do with a woman being made to feel guilty for not pursuing her career – of course women should strive for the top echelons of the work pyramid, breaking the glass ceiling and entering the boardrooms; it is nothing to do with sexism – I firmly believe a ‘househusband’ can do the same job, and in our modern age with “all sorts of families” (Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993), including women with higher-paying jobs or same-sex parents, this is increasingly common. However there is a cultural bias against those women who choose to remain at home and work bloody hard to raise a family, often while holding down part-time or volunteering work, and this is reflected in our nation’s appallingly inadequate childcare arrangements.
In other countries – such as Germany with its stronger economy – there are subsidized childcare benefits, or help for mothers. Child tax credits and SureStart centres used to come close to this, but these are being slashed by the Coalition, which prefers to reward bankers, those earning above £150,000 a year, and potentially those who are married as opposed to all parents, co-habiting parents included. Mothers who decide to give up or put their careers on hold are penalised again later as they pick up their state pension, at a time when older people are living in fuel poverty, struggling to finish paying a mortgage and helping their children to get onto the housing ladder or with university tuition. They may even have to bring up another generation, as their children cannot afford childcare for their own sprogs so have to hand them over to the grandparents, who have no recognition or help from the state for helping bring up the politicians, doctors or teachers of tomorrow.
Nowadays, if you’re not contributing to economic growth or paying income tax, you effectively do not exist. If you are doing your best to balance all of your commitments and bring up well rounded children you are ignored. It is about time mums who choose to stay at home for all or part of the time are recognised and treated with the respect they deserve by our policymakers.