Wednesday, April 8, 2009

1980s - The Golden Era for Stay-at-Home-Mums?

I am feeling quite dinosaur-ish as I write this, but I remember when mothers  were under no pressure to return to the paid workforce. Yes, hard as may be to believe in this current climate, but those of us who raised Generation Y in the post-feminist era took for granted the right to step out of the income-generating role to focus on the people-generating one.

When I ran head-long into motherhood in 1984, aged 20 and ready to embrace my new career, I was officially unemployed:a product of the "recession we had to have". Motherhood became my Occupation and I proudly stated thus on every form I filled in. Having started this journey, any thoughts of "paid work" for a proper salary were shelved until some time in the future. Paying hobbies were acceptable and some women might take on part-time jobs as their children entered pre-school or school, but the focus was very much on "Mothering: a job worth doing".

Sometime after my third child was born in 1991, I must have taken my eye off the ball because the change happened without me noticing. All I know is, within a few short years, maternity leave became a description of a finite time away from the workforce, usually commencing six weeks before the baby's due date and ending weeks, months or years after the birth, depending on some sort of occupation lottery. What began as a trickle became a flood within the next ten years and suddenly all choice in the matter seemed removed from the individual and the transition was complete.

Mothers were filling the workforce in numbers too large to ignore. Corporate carerose up and consumed much of the community child care services unable to meet the demand for extended hours. With grandmothers likely themselves to be in paid work, family care became endangered.

Whoa! There a minute!! hey - who said this is what we want? What the hell is this, some sort of social experiment?

The glowing vision of a women in the prime of her fertility, nesting at home in the weeks before the big day has been replaced with a frantic pace of childbirth classes, baby showers, sandwiched in among the meetings, sales trips and other corporate  requirements that need completion before the worker takes her token maternity leave.

After the amazing experience of birthing your living child, surmounting the challenges and achieving moderately successful breastfeeding, a mother is finally at a point where she can begin to enjoy inter-acting with her child as he learns about life outside the womb.

Then the crunch hits. A date is looming. Mortgage payments rear their ugly heads. Play time is over and Mother needs to go back to the real world and earn her keep as she aids the struggling Australian economy by feeding the bulk of her pay into the childcare coffers.

Time to rejoin the real world, where people have real jobs and some of those jobs are caring for the children of caring mothers who have real jobs in the real world.

(Whisper to any of these mothers the question "would you rather be a stay-at-home-mum" and tears may fill their eyes: of course, but the mortgage, the lifestyle are beyond the means of a one income family)

Now we are seeing the detrimental impact of this experiment as it strikes directly at the health of mothers and babies by hostile support of breastfeeding-friendly workplaces and practices. We are seeing paid maternity leave slide off the agenda again, along with the hopes of our daughters and their babies yet to be.

Where will it all end?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, Yvette. I too was a sucker for the 'you can have it all' mentality of the Supermum when pregnant with my first baby. I thought that I would go back to work when she was 12 months (at the end of my 12 week paid and 9 month unpaid maternity leave).

After she was born and I was swept up my new life as the mum of a demanding, unsettled, clingy, enchanting baby girl. I fell in love with breastfeeding and I felt that going back to work, even part time, would cause her too much distress (and me, for that matter). I just didn't feel comfortable leaving her and, being a teacher, I was able to earn some money as a tutor which meant that I only needed to be away for a few hours at a time and my husband was able to look after our daughter.

I think it is essential for the physical and mental health of our mums and their children that the Government address the issue of paid maternity leave. With so many women going back to work and many having to go back before their babies are 6 months old, by giving them at least 6 months if not 12 months paid maternity leave we would greatly increase the breastfeeding rates in this country.

We also need to reassure those Mums who do decide to stay at home with their children that it most definately is a 'job worth doing'. Being a parent is the most valuable job we will ever do in our lifetime and I am sure that on our deathbed we will not be lamenting that we didn't work enough!

Kim Hol
Trainee Breastfeeding Counsellor (due to finish late April!!)
Wife to Danny (2000)
Mum to Keira (2005) and Jesse (2007)
Both still breastfeeding!!!!!