I would like to respond Esther Townsend’s article “The things we do for love” (Women’s Fightback, January/February 2014).
On becoming a mother at the age of 21 I believed feminism was something that fought for me to have choice, the choice to work like my elder sister, or stay home, like my mum. But I found that SAHMs (stay-at-home mothers) are seen as out-dated and that my rights as a mother revolved solely around my right to return to the workplace; my right to stay home is poorly accounted for and the decision to do so is often viewed negatively. Esther’s article reflects this.
Esther indicates the route forward to support mothers should be to fight for free, flexible, quality childcare, and flexible working hours for parents.
There’s no doubt the system of childcare and maternity leave in this country is inadequate. Statutory maternity pay often goes nowhere near covering the loss of a wage. Childcare for under-fives can cost nearly as much as you earn, making the return to work untenable for some women.
High cost of childcare is caused in the main by the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage, tighter regulations demanding more paperwork, staff training, and tighter OFSTED rules.
These new demands have caused child-minders to leave the profession, forcing children into expensive institutional childcare that is traditionally inflexible.
However, as we discuss childcare's inadequacies, and difficulties mothers face returning to the workplace; we forget to ask if mothers actually want to return so quickly. Are they doing what’s right for them and their child? Or is it financial strain, fear of losing an old position, or social pressures suggesting staying home is outdated when feminism has ensures we can “have it all”?
Socialists, and feminists, do well to fight for our workplace rights and as a woman I am ever grateful that this battle is fought so strongly. However, this fight for a mother's right in the workplace, has diluted the right to be at home into insignificance.
Language used to describe the existence of a SAHM at times makes me shudder. Words like “drudgery”, “burden”, and even “domestic” leave me cold. The assumption that our existence is a negative and somehow worthless waste of life is a direct contributor to any oppression a SAHM may encounter. It paints a stereotypical image that people can use against us in the worst possible ways.
On a personal level my own decision to stay home felt empowered. It was far from staying home to serve a man and bare the burden of household drudgery. I was fighting against the state’s insistence my children should spend their early years in institutionalised childcare. In a climate where I was expected to work because now I absolutely could, my decision to not conform felt anarchistic.
Having a baby takes a huge toll on women’s life, and I would argue adequate time for recovery, adjustment and bonding is vital for every woman after every birth.
If we made financial investment in mothers enabling them to stay home if they wish (let’s say up to two years to align with WHO breastfeeding guidance) it could have many benefits. A period at home could raise breastfeeding rates with benefits for both mother and child. Decreased financial pressure could lower incidents of PND. Making mothers financially independent could offer a way out of abusive relationships.
And, it could drive down costs of childcare. Under twos need a more time-consuming programme of care, creating higher overheads for providers, so less demand could lower overall costs. There is evidence to suggest that home-based care with a parent or a child-minder provides well for the many developmental and emotional needs of children under the age of two.
If we can find ways to subsidise childcare, we can find ways forward to subsidise care which the parent provides.
The fight for mother’s rights does need to change tack. Our rights to breastfeed uninhibited, decent recovery and adjustment time after birth, community, basic income, educate our own children how we see fit and not as the state dictates and our right to be viewed in a positive manner as contributors to society are as important as free, flexible childcare tailored to parental need.
The provision of adequate recovery time is the only way to fully support women in their choices through the journey of motherhood. So maybe, in the run up to 2015, the real battle is gaining recognition of the worth of the parent at home, as well as smoothing the transition back to the work place when those parents are ready.
SAHMs don’t need those who fight with us to look upon us as oppressed women in need of liberation. We need those who fight with mothers to see us as liberated women; in need of a union.