“It takes a village to raise a child.”
That’s what my father said to me 16 years ago when I tearfully told him that I needed to go back to work, that my husband would become the ‘primary carer’ and, in order from him to finish his studies, my 18 month old daughter would go to childcare 3 days a week. I felt like a failure because in my parenting dreams I would be the perfect stay at home mother. In my parenting dreams, I would bake, play games and go to Mothers’ Group and make heaps of friends.
Except, in my parenting reality, I don’t bake (I don’t have the patience), I don’t really understand the politics of toddler games (I don’t have the patience) and I didn’t really gel awfully well with any of the Uber Mommies in the Mothers’ Group (I REALLY don’t have the patience). I did; however, become a little bit addicted to Dr Phil, started to diagnose everyone and everything based upon the programmes that week and wanted to have in-depth conversations with my husband about said diagnoses.
Suffice is to say that when I was offered full-time work my husband was VERY supportive (some might say a little pushy) and was willing to do almost anything to make my transition to go back to the workplace as easy as possible. Something about getting his intelligent wife back seems to be a phrase that comes to mind. Anyhow, he did this because when it is all said and done, some of us are just not cut out for the stay-at-home goddess role, and that’s okay.
Or is it?
Today I was mortified to see on the news that the Coalition Party room in Australian Federal government had had a spirited debate about supporting women who wanted to stay home with their children (how about the blokes, people?) to provide “equality of opportunity” (but not if you’re a bloke). Apparently, then there was another male MP who was concerned that “women would be forced back to work” (unless you’re a bloke and then you’re forced to go back to work regardless), so they then coined the idea of “equality of opportunity by removing barriers” (unless you’re a bloke wanting to stay home with your baby). (S.Martin, 23/06/2021).
But, and here’s the kicker, another male MP called using childcare ‘outsourcing parenting’. I would certainly LOVE to know if this guy was man enough to stay home with his toddler like my husband did so that his wife could pursue her career and her sanity. I’m guessing not, so childcare in this instance would have been an absolute imperative should the mother had wanted to return to the workforce (you know, if she wasn’t ‘forced’ because women just aren’t meant for paid work… sigh). Besides which, childcare offers a great place for children to learn socialisation and how to play nice with other children; clearly an experience a lot of these MPs missed out upon.
Twitter has been in an uproar; obviously. And they are right. Generally, there are two parents involved in the making of a baby (I said generally, so don’t go all twitter mad if your case is otherwise), but whenever childcare is discussed, it is a ‘woman’s problem’.
But, that attitude in itself is counterintuitive when you consider that 58.4% of women have a tertiary degree compared to 41.6% of men (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017) and, as a by-product of that, should theoretically be earning more money (stop laughing, I said theoretically) then surely, it would be more logical to let go of the idea that childcare is a ‘woman’s issue’; that somehow, by using the qualifications we paid for and contributing to the GDP of this country that we are derelict in our duties as mothers because we are ‘outsourcing’ our parenting.
And this sort of archaic thinking goes the other way, too.
When my husband was being the primary carer for our daughter all those years ago, one of the group leaders asked him if he did anything other than study and look after our child. When he told her that he didn’t, she laughed and called him, “A kept man”.
WTH! No one would have said that to me, much like no one would have asked him ‘who’s looking after your kids’ if he’d gone to work.
At around the same time, when one of my girlfriends went back to work and her husband took on the role as a primary carer so she could use her recently earned accountancy degree. He was, by all accounts, an attentive and devoted parent to his child, but despite that, he was told that he couldn’t join the local ‘Mothers’ Group’ because it made the women feel uncomfortable (you know, because a father as a primary carer is unnatural). As the isolation was killing him, he sought out a non-discriminatory Parenting Group that he had to drive an hour to get to once a week, but at least he wasn’t alone anymore and no one was looking at him like he was some sort of financial parasite.
For both of these men, they had to endure this sort of discrimination constantly in one form or another for the duration of their time as a Stay-at-Home-Father which is not something women are unfamiliar with but is still something that needs addressing. Both of these men did this because they love the women and the children in their lives and both of these men utilised childcare so that they could still pursue a semblance of a work/study life beyond parenting like so many women seek to do.
The sad thing about all of this, is that some 16 or so years after these experiences, I was under the delusion that somehow society had moved on. That with marriage equality that we had finally let go of the shackles of ‘women = mother = stay at home; and man= father = go to work’.
Boy, was I wrong!
Childcare is not just a woman’s problem. Men also like the opportunity be look after their children as primary carers while they are still adorable, and many men need to use paid childcare so that they don’t lose traction in their careers entirely.
It really does take a village to raise a child and that is how it has been in many cultures for centuries in many different guises.
Come one, LNP, get with the programme.
Next thing you’ll be telling us is that it’s okay to shove your children out of photos when you are sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister because they are the product of your adulterous affair and you are literally trying to distance yourself.