Bringing up kids a family matter, not just

‘women’s work’


It was interesting to note recently so much talk about mothers who stay at

home when their children are young. It is a complex issue that has various

factors: age at first motherhood, family situation and, naturally, finances.

But perhaps the most important thing various commentators often forget is

the importance of the whole family, especially as children get older.

Those, including government, who are most keen to push women back into

the workforce using huge subsidies to outsource the care of their children

forget that infants grow up. We all spend far too much time thinking about

the balancing act between home and work in relation to mothers and

children’s infancy, and ignoring what comes after, when fathers really come

into their own.

So this is not just women’s business.

It is probably some sort of heresy to say this in the week of that secular feast,

“International Women’s Day”, but an intact family – mother and father, who

can co-operate and see as one on their children’s upbringing – is perhaps the

most important element to successfully managing the dance between home,

work, and everything else. If you don’t believe me ask any single mother.

As someone who caused a huge furore from feminists as a stay-athome

mother when I first started writing for this publication 25 years ago, I am not

afraid of ideological heresy. There was always a lot of plain ignorance born of

a high-handed elitism from feminists about the reality of Australian

families’ lives.

How often did you read some know-all feminist talking about the despised

“male breadwinner model” of family economics or, worse, that symbol of

domestic oppression the “ ’50s mother”. Some of us had mothers in the ’50s

who by the ’70s thought the new feminists had no idea that work was

basically to keep the family show on the road. How well I remember my

mum, exhausted from working long hours through sheer necessity, yelling

“wake up” at the television as yet another Friedman or Greer spouted the

same “work will make you free” mantra. She knew that aside from money,

work was hardly nirvana.

Things have changed, although not very much. In most households both

parents are working and, for the mother, some of the time is the norm. But

the principal earner is still usually the man. The surveys and statistics all

showed, and still show, that most mothers want to stay home when their

children are infants, and then ease themselves via part-time work into the

so-called “productive” work force. The government has yet to realise that

doing the hard yakka at home being a full-time mother is in fact


From the beginning of the 2000s the institutional feminists have decried the

fact that on OECD statistics Australia had, and still has, relatively low

numbers of mothers in the full-time work force. Why? The Howard

government knew why, so it provided much more equitable family income

subsidies, which gave families a choice, for the mother to work later when

children were a bit older. Generally, they chose to work part -time. They still

  1. Most women don’t try to work full-time until their children are at school.

This is good not just for women, but for the family as a whole. It is less

stressful for the children and both parents. However, those fixated on the

family as a woman’s issue, rather than on the family as a whole, didn’t want

to acknowledge how fortunate Australian families were in the Howard era, or

that more could be done in the tax system for families as a whole.

The feminists were – and most still are – totally opposed to tax justice for the

single-income family, and anything else that would prevent women from

working more.

Consequently, they fought vigorously against subsidies such as family tax

benefit B, which went solely to women at home and particularly helped

mothers of large families on low primary incomes.

Interestingly, a lot of these measures also helped raise the birthrate to

almost two, the only time it hit replacement since its precipitous fall in the

late ’90s and early 2000s. However, instead of saying “lucky us”, and

sticking to those policies, the current government, in cahoots with left-wing

feminists, has introduced an irrational merry-go-round of subsidies, handed

out more money for childcare, and raised the cut-off for couples earning up

to half a million dollars.

This merry-go-round is designed to lure more mothers into work and, by

subsidising an industry, to institutionalise childcare for all. It is a great lure,

combined with a whole lot of propaganda about how “educational” childcare

is when in fact it is childminding and has no value until a child is about two,

when they realise they are separate from mum and can interact with other

children. At three, children can go to preschool, which is early childhood

education and taught by proper teachers – unlike childcare workers who, in

line with the propaganda, now call themselves “educators”.

However, I know how things have changed – and have not changed – over

the years. My daughters are the third generation of working mothers, all

trying to pay off huge mortgages. As a child of a full-time working mother

who went to university in 1947, I am well aware my mum had it tough. Lady

poverty was always at our door and mum worked for two-thirds of her

married life, with eight children – and no maternity leave. As the eldest, my

education at the domestic coalface came very early. However, after marriage

and a couple of children, I continued to work mostly part-time with varying

amounts of maternity leave until I had seven children; I began this gig when I

had the ninth. I am now a grandmother of seven ranging in age from 20 to

two. Their parents are all working in various ways.

This generation can do things differently from me but whatever they do, the

most important thing for all of them, as it was for me, and for my mother

before me, is to keep the whole family afloat. Childcare and the role of

mothers – and fathers – is not a “woman’s issue”, it is a whole family issue.