I am an ideological heretic when it comes to work and motherhood

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.
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.

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-at-home 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 “productive”.

READ MORE: Increase in injured kids at childcare | Let’s cheer the choice of kids over career | Nothing ‘false’ about my choice to be a stay-at-home mum | ‘Indoctrination’: Childcare kids told Australia was stolen |

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 do. 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.

Angela Shanahan is a Canberra-based freelance journalist and mother of nine children. She has written regularly for The Australian for over 20 years, The Spectator (British and Australian editions) for over 10 year…