Thursday, January 10, 2013

HOUSEWIVES AND HOARY CHESTNUTS


Good old Shane Lynch has stirred up that old hornet’s nest again...
Who’s he, do I hear you ask?
Remember your man who used to be in Boyzone and then became a racing driver??
What hornet’s nest?
Oh that old hoary chestnut about whether a parent should stay at home to mind their children or go out to paid work and avail of some form of childcare.
What’s a hoary chestnut?  Noooo... enough now.

Anyway Shane apparently said that he would like a woman to stay at home and mind the children.  “I like a traditional house, where a woman stays at home to raise the children and the man goes to work” he said.

Oh Shane what are you like?  Traditional house, woman at home with kids, man out working? Oh... except I can understand where you are coming from.

Let me first of all say that I am not laying down any rules about how we as women (and men) should organise our lives and nor am I making any judgements about parents who work and avail of childcare.

As many of you know, I worked from age 17 until 39 and have gone back to part time work in the last 18months.  I have been a single parent, a working married parent with children in crèche and I have been a full time housewife and stay at home mother.  In my opinion, if it is financially possible and if one parent is happy to take on the role of full time parent it is the best option for children.  I am aware that I am privileged that I have been able to be at home for ten years while my husband earned the money to keep us all afloat.  

A few months ago I interviewed David Coleman, who is a child psychologist, broadcaster and author.  I asked him this question, “in a perfect world where all choices were available to parents which is the best childcare option for children?”  I fully expected to get a fudgy, PC answer.  But no, he stated with great clarity that where it is financially possible and where one parent is happy to take on the role of full time parent in the home, this is by far the best option for children.

This morning I took part in the Midday programme on TV3 where this issue was discussed.  Shane Lynch’s comments were then being commented upon on the Twitter machine.  I expressed my opinion and there was a small, reasoned and respectful debate (social media is capable of such a thing – although you might not be aware of that from listening to our politicians and reading some of our newspapers).

One comment however struck me as particularly interesting.  The gist of the tweet was that nowadays we need fluidity and a willingness to transcend traditional gender behaviour models.  Mmmmm.. this is part of the problem in my opinion.

I know many, many women (and some men) who are full time stay at home with kids parents (we don’t even have a proper term for the role).  They have given up careers to care for their kids themselves.  They enjoy their new role and take it just as seriously as they did their ‘paid jobs’.

But as a society I don’t believe we put any value on these parents.  This is part of the reason I got so exercised by the cut in child benefit which I wrote about here.

In our rush for equality we have raced ahead demanding, quite rightly, to be paid the same as men and be given the same opportunities but we have forgotten the sisters for whom running a home and raising children is a job, a hugely important job.  In our rush to abandon ‘traditional gender behaviour models’ have we denigrated a role that many women and men believe is their most important one – that of homemaker?

Being at home with children is only possible when you have a partner who sees the role as equally important to his/hers which is to earn the money to keep the show on the road.  It’s truly a team game!

But how many of us ‘housewives/husbands’ have been asked when we are going back to work?  Or when asked ‘what do you do’ struggle and apologise for our ‘just being at home’?

Equality for women is all about choice.  And yet I know many women who feel they have let down the sisterhood by abandoning their education and career, albeit it temporarily, to care for their offspring.

So I think we have silenced this army of stay at home parents, who are mainly women.  They work away within their homes, volunteering in their communities and making endless cups of tea at school events.  These parents are working and are contributing to society.  I am not sure we value their contribution as much as we should.

So Shane – I know what you are getting at... but the bottom line is that it is up to each family to decide what best works for them... but I am grateful to you for highlighting a role which I think we have sidelined for too long!

5 comments:

  1. I think this is a great piece, Barbara. And funnily enough, although for years it was almost looked down upon to stay at home, I'm seeing more of a trend among my friends who have children, towards voluntarily staying at home to look after them, if finances allow. Incidentally, two of these are men.

    I don't think Shane Lynch said anything that was greatly offensive, in stating his preference. Each to their own.

    Obviously the prohibitive cost of childcare is a factor, but for some the decision has been motivated by wanting to spend as much time as is possible with their children as they grow. Others don't have the choice and need to work to pay the bills. Where there's a choice, I think it's nice to see that we are starting to come full circle to the point where it's now acceptable to either work or stay at home.

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  2. Thank you Barbara, I am that woman you described in your piece. I resigned from my working career to take on my new at home career ( I was lucky to be able to). I am now 12 years into life at home with 5 kids, a hardworking husband and a hairy lab ! Haven't had a holiday or night away for 5 years, spend my life in the car or head stuck in the laundry basket. But hand on heart I have Loved every minute of it and it's the best career move I ever made. Thanks

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  3. Pam Gaffney @gaffo63January 10, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Nice article Barbara and very true. Life was very different when we were all growing up. We just took it as read that Mums stayed at home and Dads went to work. Funnily enough, though we've no kids, hubby recently took early retirement. Now don't get me wrong, he's playing plenty of golf, but he's quite happy to do the cleaning, most of the cooking & the cat litter tray emptying!!!! So it works for us quite well.

    But from the other perspective, he is getting constantly asked when he's going to start looking for a new job which makes me laugh, cos I don't think he has any thoughts of doing any such thing. Having left a very stressful job, he's enjoying his peace and quiet.

    So it's time we all woke up and realised that the times, they are a changing!!!!

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  4. I was working away, thinking this was my path in life when finally at the age of forty one, I became pregnant. I never saw myself as a stay at home mum and I thought I would hate all that the role entails. However, when I had my son,at almost 42, all I wanted was to be at home with him. I was lucky enough to have the choice to be able to take a five year career break and now, in my fifth year, I find myself hoping and wishing I can still stay at home. Nothing feels as important to me as being there for my son. It's alright when you have the 'choice' though.

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  5. I have worked with children in creches & I firmly believe it is not a good environment for a baby or child to spend the majority of the day in one room. I now work as a nanny & I notice many people commenting how much more sociable creche children are which really irritates me as I find it an excuse to justify putting the child in that setting. Children need stimulation but I honestly believe in a creche setting there is too much! That might sound strange but a baby & child also need to learn to entertain themselves, being bored can be good & I find children these days always need attention. There is s lot of talk that child benefit in a few years will go straight into funding "free" childvare. What about mothers who want to stay at home & believe this is the best place to rear a child. Will they still receive this benefit? Never when childcare is discussed in the media, is the creche analysed. Childcare is not a science, you need people of course with basic theoretical knowledge but too much focus has been put on this over the past few years. I have worked with woman with degrees in childcare who don't have a clue as they just don't have a natural nack. It is very important if you choose to stay at home the state will not punish those when or if so called free childcare is available.

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