Catherine Parish: Motherhood undervalued… again

20 May 2009

By The Record

Catherine Parish says that recent move to institue a paid parenal leave scheme shows endemic disdain for stay-at-home mums.

Quite frankly I think a paid maternity leave scheme, announced in the Federal Budget for introduction in 2011, simply entrenches the undervaluation of the contribution of stay-at-home mothers to the wider community.
This undervaluation is not really worthy of comment any more, it is so endemic in all levels of society. But it still makes me mad.
Pretty much all the public comment about the paid maternity leave scheme reveals an implicit belief that stay-at-home motherhood is no longer a viable permanent option for women. Not economically, and not socially.
It seems evident that the ‘commentariat’ believe stay-at-home parenting is unnecessary in the long term, and less important than the mother getting back to real, paid work as soon as possible.
Now for the tax coffers this might be a good thing, but for society generally? 
We have long needed to redefine our whole narrow idea of what constitutes ‘work’.  
Paid employment in the workforce is not the only work performed by men and women in society, neither is it the most valuable. 
I have heard it said recently that a woman cannot physically give birth and be at work the next day.
This is simply not true.  Any woman who has had a child is at work pretty well straight after, feeding, changing, bathing and generally caring for her newborn. 
Or is this not real work?
And when she gets home (the next day or the day after that if she has given birth in a public hospital), that is not exactly a long holiday either. But while this physical aspect is vital to the well-being of the child, it is not paramount. 
The one-to-one, long-term relationship of a stay-at-home mother with her children is fundamental to their development into well-adjusted, well-socialised, productive adults. 
There are so many studies that support this statement that it could safely be called a fact.
In light of recent revelations about the widely varying standards of care in childcare centres, and the chaotic collapse of the ABC Learning group, I am sure there are a lot of mothers out there who are quite stressed by the feeling of pressure to get back to paid work and leave their children in childcare centres. 
Eighteen weeks seems a tragically short time to have entirely with your baby. Just over four months? 
It isn’t long; your baby isn’t even ready to be weaned yet. 
The difference between paid maternity leave and the baby bonus is perhaps negligible financially; but the pejorative sense of the latter being a bonus (a handout) while the former is a right is somewhat offensive to those mothers who choose to stay at home permanently.
If the government did want to reduce the appearance of bias, they could simply deal with all child and family-related matters for taxpayers through the tax system, rather than handing out fortnightly payments through Centrelink.  
If you have so many children and so much combined family income, you get this much tax reduction. 
Not only would it reduce administrative costs, it would affirm to all parents regardless of their paid employment status that providing future productive members of society (and taxpayers) is valuable work that should be rewarded through a reduced tax burden that bears no stigma of ‘handout’.