Mentioning Mothering. What a Minefield

Don’t forget about stay at home fathers‘.

That comment on a Facebook group throws up a clear example of the difficulties and barriers which face a mother who advocates greater support for maternal care, and a greater recognition of the needs of women who are mothers ‘doing the childcare’ of their kids.

Not quite ‘what about the menz’ but certainly a reminder that to talk about mothers, maternal care and mothering is a minefield. Someone’s going to feel left out (women who are not mothers; women who have chosen a different path in their life as a parent; men; fathers – including ‘stay at home dads’). Don’t get me started on a comment on said Facebook group that, should more women actually have the freedom to stay home with their children, and they exercise their right to do so, people who work in nurseries will be out of a job. Well forgive me for not taking up that banner, too, it’s just not on my agenda; but one suspects it is certainly on that of policymakers.

Here’s the dilemma. I stuck my little head above the parapet and pursued a political campaign about the raw deal experienced by mothers who wish to care for their children full-time but cannot do so because of financial penalties against her family, or the neglect of mothers who struggle by on a modest family income which is taxed disproportionately in a system which exploits loving, caring families. I nodded to the fact that, when talking about care of children, whether maternal or paternal, families are penalised by the State. I fully recognised that there is a small number of ‘stay at home dads’. I know one with triplets – not a big deal. No bigger than the many women doing the same thing.

But does this all mean that I am compelled to remove the word ‘maternal’ in my Blog or Facebook Page out of fear of ‘forgetting stay at home fathers’ and to embark on a genderneutral exercise which erases the word mother and any mention of maternal care (an exercise perfected by the State to the detriment of women).

No. Sorry, but I’m not gonna do it.

To censor myself, or adapt my Blog and FB Page to remove mention of the maternal, would amount to succumbing to the taboo of mentioning – let alone promoting – mothering and maternal care, and to the unease with which women often feel in proclaiming their rights or protecting the interests of themselves or their families.

I am a feminist (put those pitchforks away) and I am concerned with women’s issues. I intend my campaign in the future to focus on women, while recognising the right of fathers to be the primary carer if right for that family (and indeed the fact that the State should value that care as much as that performed by a mother or paid-for provider) as a side issue where appropriate.

My impression is that many women, raised in a ‘post-feminist’ age and experiencing greater economic freedom than our predecessors might well experience a shell-shock on becoming a mother and experience a fear that the moment we confront maternal desire we are back to the dark ages of inequality. To unabashedly say ‘I do not want a career or I do not want to be in employment while my children are dependent and I would rather be with my children’ is so utterly unfashionable and, in many quarters looked down upon that, actually, I see even greater need to focus on childcare by parent as a feminist issue. Politicians and ‘gatekeepers’ do not accept the validity, benefits or, at times, even existence of many women’s desire to care for their children themselves. So, yes, Mothers. Yes, our experiences and our fears. The challenges and the joys.

You have probably guessed that maternal care is my personal experience. My own mother cared for me and my siblings. Her mother before her. My sister cared for her children. My sister-in-law cares for her daughters. I know many women who provide maternal care. Many friends do so. Many online contacts do so. I attend breastfeeding support groups – guess who? Women. They have the equipment, see?

In my Blog and FB Page, I am interested in mothers’ experiences and accounts in matters ranging from pregnancy, birth, postnatal depression, post-partum recovery and breastfeeding. I am also interested in other women’s experiences as primary, full-time, carers of children. All that considered, is it any wonder I principally focus on mothers?

Now, should there be a stay at home father who is interested in setting up a similar campaign to debate the benefits/pitfalls/social issues around parents or fathers at home – and who wishes similarly to press the political class on the economic and social promotion of paid-for child care over loving parental care – I would happily work with him and would wish him well. I would hope that a father out there might take up the challenge. The organisation Mothers at Home Matter, despite appearances from the name, do also advocate for families with stay-at-home fathers, amongst other issues.

IF you know of a father at home who is prepared to join in, do pass on the details of the Politics of Mothering – this campaign cannot rely only on a single voice or the work of a few volunteer organisations. The greater number of people advocating political recognition of parental – whether it be maternal or paternal – care the better.

But, no. I am not going to go genderneutral in all this, as though men regularly lactate too, or grow a child from their blood and bones and birth the baby to considerable risk to himself. There is a role for fathers. They are indeed special. My children love theirs. I love mine. In some families, they might well do the mother-work. However, do forgive me if I concentrate my efforts on women in my little campaign and my insignificant protest.

You don’t mind, do you?


Feminism and the ‘Mother Problem’ – How Politicians Who Profess to Promote Women’s Rights Must Start Listening to Mummy

This is the concluding piece in my ‘Politics of Mothering’ trilogy featured on Huffington Post.

The year 2015 is going to be a cracker for feminism.

A renewed enthusiasm for women’s rights and even a campaign to remove VAT from sanitary products. An exciting time. But let’s take a moment to think about something which leaves many a feminist – and I count myself as one *punches air* – with a profound sense of unease.

Mater. The mother of dilemmas for women in politics and positions of influence.

I warn you now: in this, the concluding part of my Politics of Mothering trilogy, I will use the words ‘Patriarchy’ and ‘Capitalist’ – so sue me; but for the moment, how about a little ‘herstory’. Not so much Feminism 101 as a peek at the forgotten heritage of the original women’s movement of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. It was not just about economic freedom and the right to vote, to name two issues; it also sought recognition of and support for the work mothers do when they care for their children and families.

That is a right which, in the 21st Century, has yet to be won.

Maternal feminism, radical feminism and other variations are not new (and don’t even get me started on Beyonce’s brand), yet somehow, party political lines and a dominant, stunted, capitalist-liberal school of feminism have dictated that gender equality within the constraints of Patriarchy (read: you are entitled to compete as though a man, with no recognition of your needs or desires as a mother) is more worthy than respect for differences amongst and between individuals.

Successive politicians – including men in slogan T-Shirts (Nick Clegg I am looking at you) – have perpetuated this attitude, fostering a monopoly on the feminist ticket. The resulting roles for mothers? Workplace participant or pariah.

The consequence is that mothers’ rights as mothers have been lost. Understanding of women’s rights and feminism is increasingly restricted, even amongst politically minded women, as starting with De Beauvoir and ending with Friedan, riding the Second Wave. Nothing but the message of disaffected mothers and the drive for fulfilment outside the home is tolerated, out of fear of destabilising gains women have achieved in the workplace. Fear of biological essentialism, increased promotion of gender-neutrality, neo-liberalism and equality of opportunity have silenced the rights of mothers to claim and defend their right to care for their children.

I, and I am not alone, truly understand the fear that many women hold: dare to explore our rights as mothers, and it is back to kitchen sink for everyone with a vagina.

We get it.

But it has gone too far. Mothers who mother full-time, or who yearn to do so, are told: you are nothing unless you are engaged in paid employment; your status as mother is nothing; your rights as mother do not exist; and you are retrograde for even daring to want to provide maternal care.

And so it is that political discourse on families, children and employment has perfected the art of doublespeak. We are expected to say: ‘parents’. We are expected to downplay the precious status of mother. We are expected even to deny the fact that a mother’s care is superior to care from a stranger. The rights and developmental needs of children are a no-go zone. You may well have been reading my blog posts thinking that it has been many years since you have read the word ‘mother’ so many times in one go. I make no apology for that.

In this election year, the political agendas on families and gender equality are predicated on a simple fact: denial of any specific needs of specific groups. Mothers as an entity with diverse wants, needs and desires, are betrayed. Mothers as participants in paid labour are the only mothers respected.

Yes, yes, mothers ‘have always worked’. Of course we have. We still do – much of it still unpaid and unrecognised.

What such critics neglect to do is think beyond Industrialisation – not too far back in our evolutionary history. At no time before the creeping commercialisation and urbanisation of our society has a mother had to leave her family for significant periods of time, in the care of non-familial relations, in order to work. Production was the work performed within the family, the village. But the combination of compelled work outside the home and care of a mother’s children by strangers in the numbers we see today? It is a new thing. Many mothers feel justifiably unhappy leaving their children in the care of others and experience real pain in separation from them (a sentiment echoed often by the children), – something consistently downplayed by policies which promote separation as somehow beneficial or non-consequential.

And now, breathe.

Is it really so controversial to say all this? Is it really so outrageous, in 2015, for a woman to dare: (1) to speak in gender-specific terms; (2) to point to the fact that a specific branch of feminism has dominated debate so successfully since the 1960s that women are forgetting their own heritage of the inclusive and collaborative nature of the original women’s movement, and that feminism has many shades; (3) to recognise that there are many women who wish to relinquish paid employment – or at the very least reduce their hours – during the time of their lives in which they have family responsibilities; (4) to proclaim that there is human, intrinsic value in mothering work and in the raising and nurturing of a family and home life; and hold on to your hats, (5) to say that, consequently, mothering and family work should be supported and rewarded rather than penalised and discouraged.

If we dismiss the accounts of mothers who are living their lives quietly but nevertheless happily and ignore those who yearn to be at home instead of suffering an intolerable double shift of work and family life; and continue only to heed those women who are already on a platform to speak, and who have got there by explicitly and necessarily choosing not to raise their children at home, out of dissatisfaction with mothering, career ambition, or whatever (as is her right) we distort the picture and fail millions of women.

And that is pretty unfeminist, right, Sister?

Follow me on Twitter: Politics & Mothering @VOlorenshaw

When Maternal Care is Taboo and Politicians Have No Clue

This piece is the second in my ‘Politics of Mothering’ trilogy featured on the Huffington Post.

They say that the personal is political. Well, so is the maternal.

Downing Street got a treat on Mothering Sunday. Mothers from up and down the country made their way to the Prime Minister’s residence to deliver a Mother’s Day card, a feat organised by Mothers at Home Matter to be a timely and polite reminder that parents at home do exist and that what they do is important. At the same time, millions celebrated Mother’s Day with traditional flowers and chocolates, a day of rest, and a few hugs and kisses.

Then, the hangover, and the realisation that a mother who mothers full-time is the persona non grata of the political agenda.

In the Pamphlet, The Politics of Mothering, I criticise politicians, economists and commentators in their eagerness to justify increasing separation of parents and children. I explore how a mother at home is reduced to skivvy by a blinkered economic lens and social ideology which encourages all mothers to engage in paid employment without any consideration of the desire of many to remain home with their family or the value of her doing so.

The benefits to her children and society by a mother caring for her family at home are denied, the mother derided. And some of this is even done in the name of women’s rights. Say what?

So, how about the money? The State applies a household ‘family unit’ approach for the grant of benefits to families yet applies an ‘individual’ system for the removal of tax from the family purse. Just think about this double standard for a moment. When it suits the Government, it uses a global assessment of the household income but ducks the same approach for tax, thereby rendering a parent who chooses to care for the children economically invisible and worthless, and maximises tax revenue at the expense of a significant number of families on very modest incomes indeed. Surely it should work both ways.

The fact that it doesn’t tells you everything you need to know: the values behind a political and economic system which cares nothing for family life.

The reality is that, in 2015, we live in an age of consensus politics in one area: prioritising and subsidising more paid-for childcare. There is no policy of the money following the child, as advocated by Mothers at Home Matter amongst others. No mainstream political party seeks to recognise or place value on the prospect of a parent at home, doing the work of childcare and supporting the family. We may only speak of childcare being productive and valuable if it is performed by strangers, for a fee, and under the guise of ‘Early Years Education’. There is no room for recognition of the productive and valuable work performed by loving mothers up and down the country and throughout time.

This consensus political blockade is hardly democratic, is it?

Mothers at home are expected to keep quiet in the face of the increasingly vocal advocates for non-maternal care. But in keeping quiet and carrying on, the debate is being skewed. The voices with the biggest bank balance are being heard; those with vested interests in perpetuating institutionalised care have cosy access to the political ear; and those who wish to be at home and in the community caring for their children instead of in employment are ignored at best and denigrated at worst.

In this year’s political manifestos, the many women at home who do an amazing and worthwhile job will be confined to a footnote as an anachronism – if that.

The reason our voices are not respected? The mainstream agenda has no place for anyone who dares to forego participation in the workforce, during an important time in the family life cycle. In the current climate, women do not feel able to say something so unfashionable and so ‘retrograde’ as: I wish to devote time to raising my family; or something so radical and fundamentally important as I demand the right to support, recognition, value and equality of treatment in doing so.

To put it mildly, the entire terms of reference, the agenda and terms of modern politics and economics, are being set by elite educated white men and professional liberal feminist women so that families who make, or who yearn to make, the decision that a parent stay at home to raise and support the family are entirely neglected by accident or design, depending on the policymaker’s whim.

The political jargon of ‘hardworking families’ and ‘families who do the right thing’ is, in this context, a singular insult.

So, party activists (just for fun), tell a mother of two, providing full-time care for her family, that she does not work hard. Tell her that the fact her family is a caring, loving and nurturing one does not count. Tell her on the doorstep while you canvas for votes.

I dare you.

Follow me on Twitter: Mother Political @VOlorenshaw

Here’s To Mothers – The Minions of the World

This is a piece which I posted on Huffington Post in the week before Mother’s Day 2015. The first in my ‘Politics of Mothering’ trilogy.

Alright, so I’m not talking yellow little things of Despicable Somebody fame. I’m talking about that Old Bag, that waste of space over there. You know her name. Mum, isn’t it? It’s like that joke, everyone’s got one. It’s International Women’s Week and fast approaching is Mother’s Day – Hurrah, a day to buy a card and some flowers from the garage for the woman who only grew you from her blood and bones, birthed you at considerable risk to herself, nursed you and wiped your sorry bottom.

Granted, I am being a little harsh, and with good reason. Amongst all the hypocrisy and talk of valuing our mothers on an allotted day of the year, is the fact that mothers – the name, the occupation – are fast disappearing. In its ‘Family Test’, the Government considers ‘mother’ such a dirty word you will not find it mentioned once. ONCE! Not even in the context of pregnancy and birth. That’s one gender-neutral number done over on Mummy, right there.

Not exactly She-who-must-not-be-named, more an Inconvenient Truth: all children need mothering – the question is who’s going to do it. Given the fact that the right and conditions of women to raise their children at home are being chipped away in the name of full employment and equality of opportunity at work, the answer is becoming: the State.

The reality in the 21st Century is that policymakers want to do away with mother. The only care which is valued is that which is paid for. The only mothers who count are those who have usable PAYE Codes – families where one parent stays at home to care for the children are taxed to the hilt, to the tune of thousands more than dual income counterparts, as though the loss of income wasn’t quite enough damage to the household purse.

I should know. Hands up – you’ve got me. I do nothing more than sitting on my backside doing nothing. That’s if you ignore the fact that I am raising two young children, at home, with the eye-bags, fine lines and stash of wet wipe to show for it.

What has bitten me is the fact that, in this Election Year, the Labour Party is clueless as to why millions of women have removed themselves from the democratic process. The Conservative Party believes that a married person’s tax allowance for those in the basic tax bracket will appease growing discontent that no value is placed on families (someone tell them, please, that children can be raised in loving unmarried families, single parent families, single-sex partnerships and others – this is not, and has never been, about the institution of marriage) and pursues a reorganisation of the welfare state which is shafting women and children. The Liberal Democrats believe that parents who do not place their children into institutionalised childcare are disadvantaging their progeny (I kid you not) and brand women who stay at home ‘Edwardian’ but men who do the same progressive.

So, where does that leave a mother who wishes to stay at home and raise her family? Between a party who loathes them, a party who patronises them and a party who ignores them. Each of them is committed to increasing spending on formal childcare, neglecting mothers’ rights to care for their children. Each of them will maintain a discriminatory tax system: when the State giveth, you’re a unit (minimise exposure); when it taketh away you’re on your own (big up those receipts) – what a way to exploit loving, caring families.

Has it occurred to them that mothers might (just might) be deserting the democratic process because their interests are not represented, are dismissed, are belittled, and are denigrated? That a woman is told, by men and women in a distinct occupational and political elite, that they may not wish to confine themselves to such a regressive, boring, mind-numbing, wasteful and belittling task of raising a family full-time. It is impressed on a mother that the only care that matters (and even then not much) is that which is paid: childcare in nurseries and the rest – but care by a loving mother and all the unpaid work which goes to raising a family full-time? Not on yer nelly.

Having children and seeking to care for them yourself is deemed by the mainstream political parties as a ‘lifestyle choice’ – either a privilege for the wealthy or a frolic for the ‘feckless’. Such parents are deemed lazy, dull and unproductive, rather than performing a public service, undertaken at considerable financial cost. It is not seen as something valuable to a child’s wellbeing or as raising productive, well-adjusted and caring people of the next generation. Quite simply, mothering is ignored by policy, deemed worthless and mothers are duly taken for granted. Write that on a mug this Sunday.

Looking at the treatment of mothers politically, socially and economically, it seems that sadly, family life – the good stuff and a calm, nurturing (and nurtured) loving home – has no place in 21st Century UK Plc. Well, that’s got to change.

So, this Mother’s Day, listen up, Mummy’s got something to say.

Follow me on Twitter: Mother Political @VOlorenshaw

The Politics of Mothering – A Political Pamphlet in Election Year 2015

That’s it. It’s official. Mothers at home are the persona non grata of the political agenda.

After deciding that I was sick of shouting at the telly, I sat down and read, researched, thought and then wrote a political pamphlet to draw attention to something which was happening politically, economically and socially to mothers who care for their families full-time and mothers who yearn to do so.

Please do share it widely if it speaks to you and send it to your MP and local candidates.

I have published it on Amazon – downloadable to any device.

Alternatively, you can download a PDF for free from

Here is the blurb:

What is happening in the 21st Century to mothers, politically, socially and economically, is a real issue.

We are witnessing a silencing of, and disregard bordering on contempt for, mothers who wish to provide loving maternal care to their children at home. There is a discriminatory social agenda to impose significant financial penalties against a parent who provides care, when compared with the granting of incentives to parents who place their children into paid-for childcare whilst they engage in paid employment.

In this, 2015 General Election year, mothers who mother full time, or who yearn to do so, are faced with a consensus politics which denies them a platform, rights, respect and support.

This has to change. Vanessa Olorenshaw, a mother of two, has written a call to action, a Pamphlet for a highly charged political year.

If it is true that there have been waves of feminism, then mothers’ rights are the flotsam on the ocean surface left behind by the Second Wave – this Pamphlet seeks to form a lifeboat to bring them back to shore: Mothers, fathers, wider relatives, politicians, and commentators who might see value in a mother, or a parent at the very least, having the freedom to care for their children at home, get on board.

Everyone else, listen up: Mummy’s got something to say.

Follow me on Twitter: Mother Political @VOlorenshaw