On Women and Work

I find myself with a bit more leisure time having ploughed past a number of deadlines including Whizz’s 50th birthday party, painting the scenery for Mavis’s theatre group, organising a fund raising quiz to save an old building in Robinghood and dealing with a suddenly defunct washing machine having had a house full of party visitors and having let the laundry grow to a mountain of remarkable proportion.

Today I listened to Woman’s Hour, It’s ages since I listened to a whole episode, and the subject of one dicussion leads me to put finger to keyboard. The thrust of the item was an interview with the Danish minister for childcare – do we in the UK have one of these? Apparently 90% of one-year-olds in Denmark are in childcare and nearly all their mothers are employed. The minister was clearly in favour of this situation and thought that a similar, subsidised arrangement would be an ‘investment’ in the UK. I beg to differ:

For a start, do we not already have high unemployment? Should we really subsidise care of our little ones so their mothers can join the unemployment statistics?

The Danish minister was asked whether their system put pressure on mothers to go out to work. Her answer was ‘No’ but then she went on to say that women in Denmark would ask a woman who decided to stay at home why she would do such a thing and put her children’s social skills in jeopardy. I think this could be construed as social pressure. Our ‘live and let live’ way of life may have its price but I think it also contributes to our self esteem.

Speaking as a person who has had two married lives and two experiences of child raising, I can speak with some authority when I say that staying at home with your child and becoming part of the local community is of benefit to that community (over-use of the word community here, sorry). With my first child, Horace, I shot back to work when she was 6 months, leaving her with my sister in law, who was far better at child rearing than I was. Horace then went on to a child minder and learned to read before she was at school, asked to leave the table and picked up other people’s litter (less keen on this one). After that she went to the before and after school clubs at her primary and junior schools. Horace loved school, was never ill, was confident and happy and did well socially and academically. I can’t attribute all that success to the fact that I worked and that her child care was exemplary but it certainly worked for Horace.

For Mavis, I had another husband who was much keener on providing for us and on me staying at home – I think. As I was 44 and had worked since the age of 18 when I had Mavis, this was something of a novelty for me. At first I felt as though I had lost a limb, because work had been important to me and had formed a big part of my identity. Without really analysing the reasons I reinvented myself as a village volunteer and before I could blink I found myself – and I still do – spending more time volunteering than I ever spent hours at work. Mavis gets less of my time than Horace did; not only that but she doesn’t ask to leave the table and often doesn’t say ‘please’.

I’m not sure that I’m saying one way is better than the other but that there are benefits to both. To the general populace it must be good to have parents at home, parents involved with their children’s school, taking part in local politics and helping the less able. If Our government decided to send us all out to work, would they not then have to fork out more to social services to replace all those volunteers? As social Services are extremely stretched, how would increasing their burden help us at all? I suppose it might provide a few jobs for all those home-parents newly recruited to the dole queue?


2 Responses

  1. As usual, I’m a bit confused! Firstly, a tiny point – not strictly your ‘sister in law’

    Main point seems to be that your primary disagreement with the Danes, is the unemployment issue. Otherwise, your experiences seem to indicate that the use of a child minder is the better choice.


  2. I think she was my sister in law.

    My points against:

    1. Unemployment
    2. Pressure on women who may prefer to be at home
    3. Impact on the community.

    My experiences were positive for me but I wouldn’t want to be forced into a decision that might not be right for my family and I would hate to think other parents were going out to work when they wanted to be with their children.

    I should have written a more balanced conclusion I suppose.

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