Lies, Damn Lies and Childcare

I have a little something for you. I think you might agree that it is quite revealing.

A survey has found that a significant number of mothers want to care for their children themselves; yet the headline message of the survey fails even to mention it – emphasising, instead, childcare and maternal employment. It does rather reinforce, in case we were in any doubt, the message that a mother’s place is in a job.

The Figures

Here’s the figures, based on a survey of almost 6,200 parents:

  • Over a third (36%) of the mothers in employment (66% of the mothers of children under 15) would prefer to stay at home and look after their children if they could afford it.
  • Over half (54%) of the mothers in employment (66% of the mothers of children under 15) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children.
  • Around a half (47%) of those not in employment (34% of the mothers of children under 15) do not wish to gain employment.

That is quite staggering, is it not? If you combine those figures of 36% of 66% and 47% of the remaining 34% and you get: just under 40% of all mothers asked want to stay at home with their children. .

Surely, then, the headline figure might as well have been: Around 40% of mothers would prefer to stay home and look after their children if they could afford it.

If you then factor in the 54% of employed women who said they would work fewer hours and you have a large proportion of an entire generation of women who are desperately calling out for a solution to their financial worries which does not compel them away from their families or into long and longer hours away from their children.

These should be headline figures in a study which finds them, surely?

Er, no.

Welcome to Plan “Get More Mothers Into Work and Manipulate Data About Demand for Childcare”.

The Survey

So where has this come from?

I give you The Department for Education’s Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2014 to 2015, published earlier in March 2016.

It tells us everything we need to know about the agenda and priorities of our governments when it comes to mothers and children: childcare and employment. Not social justice, wealth distribution, basic incomes or valuing care. Rather, it’s about the bottom line and an increasing drive towards ‘full female employment’. Despite the wishes of a great many mothers, it turns out.

Take a look at the language used, too, for it betrays a wholesale devaluation of carework when performed by a parent: ‘workless’ or ‘working mothers’, the clear implication being that unwaged care is not work. Well, let’s say, loud and clear: “Hey: we work, we just don’t get paid, we face tax penalties as a family and are denied subsidies for the carework we do. There is a massive difference”.

So here’s a breakdown of the study:

6,198 parents in England with children under 15 had been interviewed for the study between October 2014 and July 2015. It focuses on the use of childcare and the motivations of parents, specifically women, to use it.

Unlike The Family Test – advice for government departments – this study actually names mothers and focuses on women’s decision to ‘go back to work’. The reason for the sudden departure from genderless language of parents and parenting? To push the ideology that all women need to get ‘back to work’ and, more, that most women want to. It just goes to show: gender neutral language goes out the window when the agenda is ‘set sights on mum and get her down the jobcentre’.

The way the study has been presented demonstrates that it is not a tool to find ways to reflect family preferences or choice. It is a document predicated on the ideological agenda to get ‘women into work’. It is a document to justify ever expanding commodification of childcare provision. As such, key – significant and important – findings are effectively suppressed.

Executive Summary

Just take a look at the Executive Summary at the beginning – which most people read and assume covers the salient points. Wrong. In this study, the ‘Executive Summary’ is a bastardised, photoshopped version of the actual findings of the study, calculated to mislead and intended to support an ideology of increased maternal employment and investment in childcare by anyone but mother.

In the section on childcare, two statistics jump out, namely,

  • Overall, 79% of all families in England with children aged 0 to 14 had used some form of childcare during their most recent term-time week
  • Of parents who have not used any childcare in the past year, the main reasons given related to choice, rather than to constraints. For example two in three of those parents (65%) said they would rather look after their children themselves, while the cost of childcare was cited by fewer parents (12%).

So far, so predictable.

But what interests me is the suppression of figures about maternal preferences.

Here’s a taster:

The Executive Summary’s section on Mothers, Work and Childcare on p 13 talks about:

  • The proportion of mothers in employment (66%).
  • How many of the ‘non-working’ mothers would prefer to go out to work if they had the childcare (53%). (Which, by implication, should mean that fully 47% of mothers who are caring for their children are happy to stay at home, thank you very much. But saying that would skew the focus, rather, wouldn’t it?).
  • Common reasons for women to go back to work, including combining work and childcare, job opportunity or ‘their financial situation’ (read: desperation in 28% for an income).
  • ‘Working mothers’ found childcare helped them to go out to work.

That’s all there is to see folks. Childcare, childcare, childcare. One really would be forgiven for thinking that’s all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less. Mothers want to work, childcare is the pill.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks, on page 26?

A bit more, actually.

Methodology

Like some of these glaring omissions from the section on Methodology. I will put the pertinent ones in bold.

  • Partnered mothers (32%) were more likely than lone mothers (26%) to work full time.
  • While similar proportions of partnered mothers and lone mothers worked part time, lone mothers (41%) were more likely than partnered mothers (32%) to be ‘workless’. [My quotation marks].
  • Considering working patterns at the family level, the most common employment patterns for couple families were both parents in full-time employment (28%), and one partner in full-time employment and the other in part-time employment of 16 to 29 hours per week (28%).
  • A quarter of couple families (26%) consisted of one parent working full time and one non-working parent. [Wow, just look at that: 28% full time/28% full time and part-time/26% single income. Yet, the way it is set out – apart and distinct from ‘common’ – suggests that there is a significant difference; that single income families are somehow a tiny minority in comparison].
  • Employed mothers were also asked what other factors influenced their decision to work. Two in three (66%) said they needed the money, almost half (46%) said having their own money was important [this is unsurprising, considering that a mother who cares for her children becomes unwaged, and thus financially penalised for choosing carework over market work. 66% were financially compelled to go out to work – yet no attempts are being made to address ways to lessen the financial penalties against parents who want to care for their children] and one in four (24%) said that they needed to maintain pension contributions.
  • Of the non-financial reasons, enjoying work was the most frequently mentioned reason (64%), followed by a desire to get out of the house (26%), and feeling useless without a job (25%). [On this last point, it seems that the way in which society devalues what mothers do and the resulting feelings of low worth, is now used as a stick to beat us back into work outside the home].
  • Working mothers were asked for their views on different working arrangements. Over half (54%) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children, and over a third (36%) said that if they could afford to give up work altogether, they would prefer to stay at home and look after their children [These are significant figures. Yet they did not make it to the Executive summary].
  • Almost one in four (23%) said they would increase their working hours if they could arrange good childcare.
  • Around a third (34%) of mothers were not working at the time of the survey [Yes, they were working: they were just unwaged carers].

Quite astounding, eh?

Skewed Headline. Clear Priorities

A survey about childcare and mothers. A survey to help formulate policy on childcare. And the only findings put on the billboard in the Executive Summary are those which support the ideology of maternal employment and commodified childcare despite significant findings about the wishes of many mothers to leave employment or reduce their hours if they could afford to do it.

What is revealing is that, when we do finally reach significant figures which show that mothers in employment overwhelmingly would prefer to reduce their hours and significantly would want to give up work outside the home, they are tucked in, in the hope that nobody will notice. After all, it’s well boring having to read through pages and pages of statistics and s**t. It’s the fine print – nobody reads that, do they?

We have to ask, when, oh when, are such figures going to be acknowledged by the mainstream parties?

When are the actual wishes of mothers, overwhelmingly for greater financial support to care and freedom to make choices which honour their wishes, going to be addressed? In the spirit of democracy. When are the human beings at the heart of all this going to be the priority instead of human capital at the centre of capitalist neoliberalism?

Time for us mothers to speak out and demand to be heard. The powers that be know that a significant number of women would prefer to look after their children themselves or reduce their working hours if only finances would allow. We need to demand they start to reflect our wishes.

My book, Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, will be published in September by Womancraft Publishing.

 

Seeing Our Children, Seeing Ourselves

It was World Book Day.

Many of us would have dressed up our children and sent them to school in fun outfits. Maybe we took a picture and posted online or shared it with a relative. What pride, to see our children engaged with reading – with character and with stories.

But I came away from Book Day thinking about something else. It is something I have touched on briefly in my forthcoming book Liberating Motherhood. And it is the need of our children to be seen. By their family. To feel centre stage in their parent’s world.

My son’s school had a theme for book week: Where the Wild Things Are. I have enjoyed this book with my children, and it was a relief when the school invited all the children simply to dress ‘wild’ for the day – with their own interpretation.

So, this morning, during the Wild Rumpus Parade in the school playground, I, along with many other parents, stood and watched the children file in line to display their outfits and gather in a circle with roars and gnashing teeth. What a joy.

Throughout this 20 minute performance, my son frequently looked over to where I stood, and waved. And smiled. And gave a thumbs up with pride.

It reminded me that I am a mother, watching her child, giving him the gift of attention and spotlight. Just as my mother did for me when I was a child. The tables turn, don’t they?

And I reflect on all this: why is it that a child looks to his parents in such a situation? Why do they need to feel loved, admired, seen and known? It is the epitome of the dance between parent and child: the basic and real need of children for love and attention.

And it is in this context that I have since reflected on the words of Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are. And I wonder whether, perhaps, a five year old looks for his mother in a crowded audience just to know that he is seen by the person who, in his world, “loved him best of all”.

What a gift that is.

Happy Mother’s Day this weekend, everyone.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27331537@N06/13136450205″>Brighton-le-Sands Public School – a game in the grounds</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/”>(license)</a&gt;

The Need for a Maternal Feminism

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I was asked to contribute to Discover Society magazine’s March edition on Feminism, Then and Now. Here is an extract.

“Motherhood has been a minefield for feminism since the inception of the women’s movement. We have fought for reproductive freedom, we have pushed for economic equality, we have called for universal childcare and we have worked towards greater success in the ‘public sphere’.

However, we remain faced with one problem. There remain a sizeable proportion of mothers who actually want to care for their families. Not all mothers want to be liberated from mothering their children. Those who take time out of the workforce are penalised financially; and those who return to employment against their wishes face strain of a double shift.

We refuse to see that what mothers do in reproducing the human race and caring for vulnerable, dependent children is important and necessary work. Indeed, ‘dependence’ has become a dirty word, rather than acknowledged as an intrinsic part of the human condition. Having children is not a lifestyle choice akin to keeping lizards: it is socially imperative to produce and raise the next generation…

… when jobs are being lost to automation; when wealth is accumulating in the 1%; when the workplace increasingly encroaches on family life; and when women remain at higher risk of poverty because they have cared for their families, feminism has to start to ask itself: are we ever going to find creative ways to protect, support and empower women beyond simply pushing for paid employment? We must start to recover some of the intellectual and creative verve of the original women’s movement: we have to return to discussing redistribution of wealth and the fair organisation of labour. The fact is, many mothers remain trapped by the market either as workers or as unwaged carers. We need to find ways to value care, to support carers, and put money into the pockets of those who sustain and nourish the human race. Mothers.”

For the rest of the article, see HERE.

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(attribution for photograph) “photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/68783681@N08/8407914576 …”>We belong together, forever, and ever…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com “>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/ …”>(license)</a>”