Sunday Rant – Private Mothering

I’ve been sitting on this one for almost a week while away on holidays – you’d think I’d have more appealing things to occupy my mind, but apparently not – and as it’s still on my mind I’ve decided to write about it.  Please feel free to skip over this one, there is nothing remotely related to cooking, gardening or any of my other usual themes.

Last Monday night I was watching Q&A on the ABC with Mr Good – according to my sister, that was my first mistake – when a question about the value (monetary, that is) of the work of mothers came up.  The response of the panelists I thought was quite typical, Joe Hildebrand seemed totally lost on the concept of paying women to sit a home and Judith Sloan balked at the idea claiming it as being ridiculous and then the debate turned to a comparison of the two major parties paid parent schemes.  Paid parent leave in Australia has been a long time coming and goes some way to recognising the role of parents in our society, but the inability of any of the panel (Joe Hildebrand of News Limited, Miriam Lyons from the Centre for Policy Development, Joe Hockey, Penny Wong and Judith Sloan, economist and business woman) to reflect the completely inequitable position our inherently patriarchal society have placed parents caring for children in (usually women, but thankfully not always now) was disappointing.   It has been well documented that western capitalist economies are somewhat reliant on the unpaid labour of parents.  And while most parents would say parenting is in itself reward enough, blah, blah, blah, many of the ideas we hold about mothers and mothering are formed within the context of a patriarchal society and not as driven by natural instincts or biology as some would have us believe.

But actually, this is not what irked me so much about the debate.  It was a seemingly insignificant line thrown out by Judith Sloan right at the end.  She made the comment that mothering should be private and kept out of view, and I thought therein lies the problem.  The work of mothers is to be be kept behind closed doors.  Perhaps this explains the looks of disgust proffered up by strangers when a toddler throws a tantrum in public, or the woman who I recently saw change train carriages to avoid a mother desperately trying to comfort her distraught son.  And I won’t even get into the whole feeding in public debate here.

This line inferred that women could and should turn off their mothering ‘job’ when in public.  They should return to work within the same inflexible constraints as they managed pre-children and firmly remove their mother-hat on the way in the door.  We seem to have developed a society where women are expected (whether they like it or not) to ‘have it all’, family and job, but have made very few concessions to allow women to do just that.  Perhaps if mothering was allowed out of the closet so to speak we would see real change in the way working and parenting are managed by both parents, regardless of gender.

Finally, I should add that I have been particularly sensitive to these issues since trying to negotiate a return to work arrangement that suits me, my family and my school.  It is only now that I have started to realise just how far we, as women and mothers, still have to come to be on equal footing with men (and perhaps the same could be said for men trying to find working arrangements that allow them to take on a greater parental role).  So I guess is this me outing myself as something of a feminist.

And that’s my rant over.

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3 Responses to Sunday Rant – Private Mothering

  1. Alison says:

    She’s out!! Hurrah!! If you haven’t seen already, I’m sharing this about the work of working: http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/arguing-with-your-partner-and-other-feminist-work/ Actually found it hard to choose which one in reply to this…

    There are lots more excellent feminist-parent bloggers out there – all wonderful women (& men). Your post is right up there amongst them 🙂

  2. Liz says:

    I’m with your sister, Q & A invariably makes me want to hit the TV. I think the governments decision to take away parenting payment from teenage mums unless they finish year 12 probably says all that needs to be said about the value they place on motherhood…. I also think that because you need to be either: childless or have had very little break from work upon having children to occupy a position of power as a woman, the needs/ideas of those who stay at home are not particular well represented at any level – elected government, private sector or even public service.

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