Mother of all debates

An early photograph of an Ifugao mother and he...

An early photograph of an Ifugao mother and her son. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a question. Why is there so much crap published in Western world about bloody motherhood? It seems politicians, media commentators, feminists, maternal lobby groups and people in general feel compelled to continually debate the role of women as mothers in the home vs women as mothers in the workplace – with plenty of hand wringing about what is the right balance.

Yes, getting the balance right is difficult. There is no one size fits all answer. People make choices on staying at home or working or both depending on their personal circumstances and preferences. Working might be a matter of have to. Same with staying home. The truth is how women chose to live their lives as mothers and/or employees is really nobody’s damned business but their own! And yet, the cycle of public debate about what women choose to ‘do with their lives’ after children continues unabated.

I conducted a very simple survey to find out just how overused the term ‘motherhood’ is. Put ‘Motherhood’ into Mrs Google and she yields a whopping 33,500,000 hits. How many do you reckon you get when you do the same for ‘Fatherhood’? Go on, have a guess. I’ll give you a hint. It’s a LOT less. 24 million hits less, to be exact.

This obsession with motherhood is partly driven by women’s ongoing battle to assert their inherent human value as mothers and their right to work if they choose. But what about the significantly lower numbers for fatherhood? Do they mean men are less concerned about their role as a father, or do they indicate that we as a society think fatherhood is less important than motherhood?

Some of the answer to these questions lie in the first 10 hits in the fatherhood search, which yields links to foundations, research and support networks for fathers – probably because fatherhood is serious business not to be argued about or taken lightly. Motherhood, on the other hand, yields links to maternity online shopping, a movie, a musical, a book, and a tribute site so you can construct your very own sentimental tribute to your mother. Support groups are there too, but further down the list. It seems that ‘Motherhood’ is an open slather subject for public and commercial interest. Sadly, ‘Motherhood’ has become a term loaded with sales pitches, sentimentality, expectation, judgement, criticism and, worst of all, ill-informed and (dare I say it) irrelevant public comment.

In the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of bullshit (sorry about the French but there really is no other word for it) written in the media about ‘mummy wars’. Apparently women are pitting themselves against each other in a desperate attempt to justify the choices they’ve made about staying at home (SAHM) or working once they have children. Women are propagating their own myths about the value of a woman who stays at home (assumed to be low) compared to one who chooses to work (cue guilt ridden sacrifice for the betterment of society). And they are at each other’s throats in an effort to prove their personal choice is the best one.

Really? Come on ladies, we are so much better than that!

If fatherhood copped the same kind of public debate, what do you reckon it would sound like? I’ll hazard a guess for you. It would be full of blokes blowing their own trumpets, telling the world how great they are at managing the demands of their inflexible bosses while squeezing in quality time with their kids and still managing to run a household like clockwork – all at the same time, clever dicks that they are! The only complaint would be they don’t get paid enough for home duties – because there would have to be some kind of remuneration for all that WORK at home wouldn’t there? I guarantee there wouldn’t be a bloody hint of guilt or judgement. There’d just be a lot of self-congratulatory back slapping and nominations for Father of the Year.

Today I spoke with a friend who has three kids, the youngest about to turn 2, and she is being pressured by her workplace (and her husband) to return to work. This is in spite of the fact that what she will earn in 2 days of admin work will be swallowed up by train fares and childcare fees. This is also in spite of the fact that she has only 2 days in the week when her children don’t have after school commitments, and only one of those days suits her employer.  And because her husband is contracted to a fairly high-powered job, she is the one expected to organise kids, drop them off to childcare and before school care, get herself to work (an hour away) on time, then pick everyone up again at the end of the day and go home to organise dinner. And she only gets paid, and then not very much, for the stuff she does while she’s sitting at a desk. (I have to note here that our Mr. Abbot thinks women should be supported to do this because we should be considered ‘economic assets’ as well as ‘social asset’s’. Thanks for your reductionist views, Sir, I feel so much more empowered and valued now.)

The truth is we women are doing the best we can with what we’ve got. We work because we choose to or because we have to. For many of us our work choices are limited not only by our family circumstances but by the blinkered way employers think. Part time job opportunities that take our skills seriously and pay us well for our time are as rare as a bloke who cleans the shower recess. Believe me, I’ve been looking for an alternative part time job that will use my impressive list of skills for over 12 months without luck and I’m not alone. Employers just don’t want to know about part time workers, no matter how skilled they are and how much they have to offer. They are simply not interested in using a little flexibility to employ ‘mothers’, given their priorities lay elsewhere (with their kids) and obviously not with their job.

Frankly I’m sick to death of having my role as mother, the choices I make as a woman responsible for my life and family, constantly open to public comment. I do what I do because it’s best for me and my family – not because some journalist, academic, feminist, public policy maker or anyone else tells me it’s what I should do. None of my peers judge me for working. And I applaud those who opt to stay at home (which I personally believe is the harder option). ‘Mummy wars’ are an invention of patriarchal and patronising thinking, women’s insecurity about themselves and attention grabbing media beat up. Lay off, I say, and give some support to enable mums to do what they do best – caring for their families.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. moondayreiki
    May 02, 2012 @ 07:29:17

    Going back to your question why the women’s family/work juggle is so exploited by the media and unsupported by social policies is that they have always been used as secondary instruments to fit in with the economic needs of the time. Have you noticed the big fuss these days about public figures having babies? That was not anywhere such a big deal twenty-thirty years ago, when a growing economy badly needed women in the workforce, and second full-time incomes suddenly became an imperative – not an option. If you wanted a career, the choices since then have been to become a burned-out superwoman (juggling the spectrum of family/career) or to postpone or write off having children altogether.
    The debates surrounding personal choice for women to raise families either part-time or full-time are heavily manipulated by the economic prerogative of the times. Call me skeptical if you must, but the fact that the value of mothering suddenly arises again on the public agenda is because the generation of women who – quite understandably – chose career over children, leaving an economic hole with respect to support our aging population.

    Motherhood however, is an unquestionably and absolute value in itself. It needs to be valued as such – economically so. In my mid-fifties now, mother of two wonderful grown-up daughters, I am one of those rare creatures of my generation who chose to postpone career ambitions for the larger part of twenty years. It was a personal decision and I do not regret it in retrospect, but yes I did feel resentful at times about the negative impact on the heavily reduced value of my skills in the workforce. Skilfully, I circumvented it by starting my own business in my early forties which – thanks for a large part to a work-ethic gained from years of mothering – turned out quite successful. My advice to younger mothers: follow your heart on this one; do what feels right for you AND keep pushing for those important socio-economic changes that will support you in that choice. Value your own decision first, and then expect others to value it too.


    • Kate Rizzetti
      May 02, 2012 @ 21:47:06

      Hear hear! What saddens me is that women keep buying into this debate. The debate should be about work choices for women who want to work and care for their kids. The reality is if you want to work part time in an interesting/challenging job your options are really limited. Employers of all persuasions are blinkered and women are missing out on a balanced life because of it. Women with children who work part time are generally much more productive than their full time counter parts because they are used to working under pressure, juggling priorities and getting things done. I agree, we’ve got to stand by the value of our choices and not buy into the silly public debate about the value of motherhood.


  2. Angie
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 18:48:10

    hi Kate. god, it’s so depressing that this even had to be said! i really believed that by now women and men would be able to truly share child rearing. men are missing out emotionally, and women are still being punished financially. not sure about solutions, except to support each others’ choices, and try not to get so caught up in ‘after school activities’ that you have no money for anything else. if good quality childcare were available for those who need it, it would certainly help. when my children were young, they went to a parent run cooperative, that received government subsidies. it was great, and affordable.
    the people i know who work part time are very productive, and an asset to their employers.
    as more men try to reduce their working hours to spend time with their children, hopefully part time work will be more valued. as long as it’s seen as a ‘women’s option’ this is unlikely to be so.


    • Kate Rizzetti
      Apr 28, 2012 @ 16:39:41

      Thanks Angie – you are so right. The reason part time work is so undervalued is that it is predominantly women who take it up (the stats say this is changing slowly) AND the part time work that is available tends to be in either retail or hospitality or social services – ALL of which are grossly underpaid. Bring on part time work and child rearing for men I say – it will improve things for all of us! Especially kids. xx


  3. Colleen Power
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 11:33:27

    Another great piece Kate. Why don’t you send it to the Age as if they publish it (she bloody well should) then they may even pay you for it>
    Love Coll xx


    • Kate Rizzetti
      Apr 27, 2012 @ 13:14:48

      Already tried that Col. They said ‘great piece, thanks for letting us see it, no room at the inn, please call again’. It’s tough getting a gig in a newspaper. I’ve sent it to a few others and still waiting on replies. xx


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