Childcare & the Stay-At-Home Mother

Fairly recently, the lovely El Kitten and I went for cocktails and, not having seen each other for a couple of months, a lot of chatting. At the time, I was midway through posting my marriage rants and, El being married to the wonderful Mike Infinitum, we conversationally veered in that direction. We don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the subject of marriage, although I have to admit that El’s wedding was a small, intimate, rockabilly affair with the most amazing red 1950s swing dress, and balloons and table spreads by yours truly*. Her relationship with her husband is as fabulous as it was on their wedding day and that’s plain for all to see… so why, I repeat why, does everyone now feel the need to pressurise them for children? Can society not leave them be to enjoy each other and do as they please? If they don’t want kids, they don’t want them. If they do decide that they want kids, what the hell has that to do with anyone else?!

Although I myself am not averse to the idea of sproggers – somewhere in a future so distant I still refer to it as “when I grow up**” – what happens if you are married and are destined to be child free? Obviously, not having succumbed to the marriage palaver myself, questions about when I’m going to have kids are few and far between, so it wasn’t something that had occurred to me until rabbiting away with the kitten over a well made Kajuma***. That society puts people under pressure in any regard is unpleasant enough, and I can’t say that the children thing has ever really bothered me, but on the back of the conversation I had with El, in which she was incensed about the brazen lack of privacy of people, she sent me the following article…

http://m.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/

I love it. I love it so much, I tweeted it. Of course, I upset some people. So what else is new? Twitter is a fantastic place to find events, share the love, promote your work and begin debates, but it is not a good forum for holding said debates. 140 characters a well thought out interjection does not make. The thing that enraged one particular lady was the suggestion that a stay at home mum was wrong to not work… a statement I never made and don’t necessarily agree with.

I admit that I am slightly biased in this regard, though. It was drummed into me from an early age that I would get a job and from that moment on would never be out of work, whether I stayed in that same job or found another. Ma Mum worked full time as I was growing up and because of this I feel that I developed a fierce independence and that I appreciate her presence so much more as an adult. So, though I try to fight it, my initial reaction on learning that someone doesn’t work (whether with or without sproggers) is always to pull a scornful face, which is unfortunate and makes me look like a bit of a judgemental twat. I realise that this is my own programming and that it’s not necessarily the correct response, but I do my best to overcome it. Anyway, my parents worked hard and, later on, my mother single-handedly sent me to university, a working-class, single parent. The thing is that, although ma Mum may have wanted to stay at home with me when I was a kid, we just couldn’t afford for her to be out of work. So, immediately, there is the question of cash, which was the other enraged tweeter’s bugbear. If ma Mum hadn’t worked full time for so long, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to move out when my parents split up because she would have lost her independence entirely by being out of work; and I’m sure it goes without saying that ma Mum is as independent, if not more so, than I am. She also wouldn’t have been able to help me through university, though I worked full time in a shop and temped in offices during the Uni holidays for the most part. The thing with becoming dependent upon someone else is that, should it end (and I know nobody wants to think about the end when they’re happy and settled, but it would be naïve not to consider the possibility), you have no way of getting out.

I once lived with a partner myself and, although there was no chance of me becoming a housewife, I had a hard time affording the move to leave anyway. Moving into rented accommodation requires a stupidly expensive admin’ fee, a month and a half’s rent as bond and a month’s rent in advance. You’re talking a sum of at least £1,000 before you’ve ever even really begun (and I’m talking about the cost up north). It kept me trapped in an unhappy relationship for a lot longer than I wanted to be. So much so that the thought of not having had the small amount of money I did have makes me quite panicky to this day. My credit card got a serious bashing that year.

There’s no getting away from the impact that staying at home will have on your finances, your employability and your self-sufficiency. However you look at it, caring for your children and cleaning your house is not a job in the strictest sense of the word. I’m not suggesting that either of these things is easy or pleasurable, but they are chores that anyone with children has to partake of when they’re not working, even if the only time they’re not working is in the evenings. In fact, cleaning your own home is something everyone who can’t afford to hire a cleaner has to do, children or no, although I can see that having children would make the job infinitely more tedious. The stay-at-home Mum simply has more time to do these tasks. I cannot imagine a world where I would have  to ask someone for money when I wanted to buy something, whether a necessity or a treat; to lose my independence, my contribution to the household would make me feel castrated and vulnerable. You are incredibly lucky if your household income is such that you are comfortably able to stop work, but if something should happen way down the line, how would you, personally, be able to cope with the blow without some of your own monetary security behind you? The financial argument is not the only one I wish to make on this subject, but money does, unfortunately, play a vital part in our lives and it affects many things. Money is power and freedom, whether we like it or not.

To subsidise my freelance art business, I have an admin’ job, which until recently was based in the pensions industry. I didn’t much care for it – the position required a high level of numerical accuracy, which for someone who suffers from dyscalculia is rather difficult to achieve. Putting maths aside^, one of the most distasteful elements of the job was processing divorce cases, especially ones where an ex-spouse would end up with half of their ex’s pension. This used to do a proper rage on me. In one particular incident, a well paid man had built up a fantastic nest egg of a final salary pension… after his divorce, he was entitled to only 20% of it while his wife walked away with a whopping 80%. Now, I don’t know what happened in that relationship – the man may have sexually abused his ex-wife and beaten her to a pulp every night, in which case, the bastard should definitely pay… but not with his pension. Your pension should be sacred – it’s possibly the only sensible thing some of us do, not that my pension will be anything to write home about. Your pension is your reward for giving up some of your hard-earned cash in the hope that you will live long enough to see it pay out in the future – it is yours because you earned it yourself and if, when it pays out, you wish to share it with someone, then so be it, but you shouldn’t have to share it before it pays out or give some away under duress. To build up a huge pension is really really tough and comes from years of hard graft, and even then what most people end up with is pitiable. So this couple both decided that one of them would work and the other stay at home and they both knew that there was some risk, however small and unlikely it seemed at the time, that they wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives together. I’m telling you what, though, this man didn’t know that his ex-wife would be able to get her hands on his pension. It was all news to him. Gutted doesn’t quite describe how he was when we broke the news, a faceless administrator on the other end of a telephone call.

Being at home all day is a luxury most people can’t afford; it may not be a constant holiday, but you have a hell of a lot more freedom. You don’t qualify for a pension of any description if you’ve never worked, but then, and this is a biggy: you’ve never had to work! The people you’re looking after are the people you chose to give birth to and be responsible for, and the house you’re cleaning is your own, so you can hardly expect to be paid for it – a lot of people clean their houses and work full time. Of course, I am simply talking about people who can work but choose not to, not people who cannot get a job because of ill health or sheer bad luck. Being out of work is stressful if it isn’t a choice.

A friend of mine recently became a stay at home dad. This friend is a v.unusual creature in that he has no qualms about what people think of him – he has no stupidly macho ideals. He loves and wants to take care of his son and, because of the rising cost of childcare, it made sense for him to give up his job and become a full time parent. It is not more ok for a father to do this than it is for a mother to do this, and it is in no way wrong that my male mate wants to do this, but what is disconcerting is the fact that he is as vastly outnumbered in his new role as women are in positions of power. There are still a large number of women who acknowledge childbirth as the end of their autonomy and their careers and yet don’t see a problem with that. It’s almost as if they’ve been waiting for it to happen and so didn’t think to seriously build a life of their own. As it happens, this friend of mine (I shall forthwith call him Grouse Hunter [GH] for comedic value that none but the friend in question will understand) happens to be married to a woman with a great career. As the cost of the childcare was about what he took home, it made sense for GH to stop working; GH’s son has someone with a vested interest in his overall wellbeing to look after him and the income didn’t change too drastically. This is a rare case scenario. Most men earn more than their spouses and whether that’s to do with unequal pay in the workplace, or whether men are more driven to build a career it is still a feminist issue. Inbuilt attitudes are every bit as powerful as physical actualities and they are something we can change if we work together to instil better principles in the children of today. Before they grow into people who think that men make money and women clean and care for babies.

Most men have the inbuilt attitude (yes still!) that if someone is to give up their career for a life of childcare and housework, it should not be them. In fact, most men won’t even question it. For a start, that’s a bit “gay” isn’t it? Housework and babies are women’s issues, and all that. Regardless of what your average man would say to a woman, there is still a residue of sexism coating their thought processes. A lot of men (please note that I’m not saying “all men”) would be unhappy to earn less than their spouse, let alone allow them complete control of the household finances, as if the v.fact would make their balls shrink. We can’t blame these men entirely for this – it’s the way they’ve been brought up to believe the world works. Admittedly, those who have managed to ignore every feminist rant going must either be v.ignorant or frightfully obtuse, but then a lot of people don’t think too deeply about certain things because they’re still under the illusion that it’s “just the way things are” and it’s never occurred to them that it could be, or should be, any other way.

Most women are given toy dollies as children. Most men aren’t. Women have babies and look after those babies – it’s their raison d’etre, is it not? At least, that’s what we’re brought up to believe. The fact that most stay-at-home parents are mothers means that little boys and little girls learn early on in life that women look after children and men have careers and win the bread. Most nursery nurses are women, so this has the same effect. It’s something that is as ingrained in society as the fairytale wedding. True, if a woman is breastfeeding, she could do with having the babbit in front of her, but then if that is the only reason that so many women are child-looker-after-ers, what are breast pumps for? And breastfeeding doesn’t last forever. If a couple decides to have a baby, both people in that couple should be equally responsible for its upkeep; it shouldn’t be a case of mother looks after the kids because she was the one who gave birth , father brings home the cash and plays with the kids occasionally because fathers are breadwinners.

A savvy employer will look after his staff in order to get the best work out of them and inspire some respect. Mothers get maternity leave to recuperate after pushing something the size of a melon out of something the size of a pencil lead, and these days fathers are granted two weeks paternity leave, which is a start in the bid to encourage men to get more involved with their offspring. But I have overheard my employer say before: “I’m not hiring any more women of child-bearing age – they just get pregnant, get their maternity pay and then leave!” Which both incensed and intrigued me: I am of child-bearing age and even if I were to have a child in the near future^^, I certainly wouldn’t leave because of it. The implication of what my boss had said being that all women will either become full time mothers or drop their hours down to work part time if they have a child… or that all women of child-bearing age clearly want children. But then, given how many women have left the office or dropped their hours down for just such reason, part of me doesn’t blame him. If I was an employer, knowing as I do that society insists on women of a certain age becoming broody and having the urge to give up their own income, I probably would hire more men. More men work full time than women. Men generally earn more than women. Men tend to be the people at the top of the business food-chain, as they are in government. Men are the majority that run the world, and why wouldn’t they be when we women don’t do anything to oppose them? When we happily sit back and allow them to run the show whilst we nurture the next generation of misdirected people? If we want things to ever improve, we need to get some women into positions of power and to change the way people perceive the sexes. We need to get an equal amount of stay-at-home Dads as stay-at-home Mums, if there is to be a parent to stay at home at all. If my employer considers women in their 20s and 30s as a flight risk, then others must consider them so; but if more Dads stayed at home, the position would become equally as risky to hire men, or less risky to hire women; whichever way you look at it, it’s an improvement.

If you don’t believe that men prevail in positions of power, try this: Inga Muscio, in her wonderful book, Cunt, suggested that you walk around your flat/house/caravan/wigwam and pop a gold sticker on everything you own that was invented or created by a woman. Then go out and invest in some things that were invented/created by a woman. When your place of residence has as many gold stickers as not, then we’ve cracked it.

I realise that decent childcare plays a large part of the decision for one parent to stay at home – I was v.lucky in that my Grandmother was willing (for a cost) to take care of me in the school holidays and after school until my mother could collect me. As that was several moons ago, the cost of having your child kept alive whilst you are at work has exploded to ridiculous heights and there should definitely be an overhaul of childcare costs in some way – especially when it’s a necessity that children are looked after and looked after well. Clichéd as it sounds, children are the future and should be taught well and brought up healthily, because when Alzheimer’s beckons us, we want some bright young thing to have made a significant scientific breakthrough in the quest for a cure, even if the end product is nowhere in sight. We want to cark it knowing that the world is in safe hands. And it all starts with those noisy, runny little fuckers that charge about in nappies and put sticky hand prints on everything. Unfortunately, I have no idea what would have to happen in the world for there to be affordable and yet excellent childcare… mainly because I don’t have children and haven’t become involved in the nursery game yet. But if one of the reasons women become stay-at-home mothers is down to childcare costs and poor childcare, when in actual fact they want to work, then I think something needs to be done about it.

But childcare is something of a tangent. The fact remains that far more women choose the stay at home option over men, leaving more men in full time jobs and high positions. And the crux of the matter is that while this is the case, feminism still has cause to burn.

As an aside, I’d be willing to bet that GH’s son will be as well-balanced, successful and beautiful as his parents, with GH and Wife of GH to guide him through the misogynistic pitfalls every step of the way. See, “AC/DC kid” – not even a year old and people are writing about you!

FOOTNOTES:

* We ran out of helium mid-balloon blowing and there was a mad rush before the ceremony as we sent out to Clintons.

** I recently met a great lady who, despite being a successful civil engineer, still refers to the future in the same way. I’m taking this as a sign that I am not alone.

*** A Kajuma is a cocktail served at Browns in Leeds. I fell in love with this little, deep-red drink. So I
googled it and came up with kajuma.wordpress.com… spooky stuff.

^ And aside I’d be happy to leave it for the duration of my life

^^ Don’t panic – I’m being hypothetical!

RECOMMENDED WATCHING:

Mona Lisa Smile

An Education

The Stepford Wives (of course) (the proper one, not that shite with Nicole Kidman)

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