steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Working Mothers (and fathers)

As reported in many papers and programmes yesterday, and on the Today programme this morning, research has shown that babies aren't necessarily harmed by a mother's going back to work within a year of giving birth.

Well, good - but am I the only one who finds it depressing that none of these reports (the ones I've seen and heard, at least) gives any hint that childcare might be equally, or even partly, the responsibility of the father? "The best person to bring up a child is their mother - and you can't argue with that", says the Today interviewer, and no one demurs - except the researcher, Jane Waldfogel, but only to add the rider that the mother is the best person to bring up the child "if that's what she wants to do". The word "father" isn't mentioned anywhere in the entire interview. Or in the report in the Guardian. Or the Telegraph, the Express, the Mail, the Washington Post, the Metro, the Money Times, the - well, after that I'm afraid I gave up looking.

Okay, so the study was about working mothers, not fathers, but it claimed to be breaking new ground because it took the "full picture" into account. Why is only one parent present in that big picture? And where, for that matter, are the studies showing what happens when fathers go back to work?

I don't know whether to be more offended on behalf of mothers, fathers or children. Mothers, because all the responsibility and associated guilt is piled on their heads alone; fathers, because they are assumed to be irrelevant to their children's early upbringing except as a source of income; and children, because they are being fed a particular vision of what family life "ought" to be like before they've even left their cradles. Meanwhile in the real world some mothers actually aren't that great at childcare, and don't have a particular yearning to do it, and some fathers take on the lion's share of childcare from almost the word go. (For the record, I did most of the childcare for my own children, though we also used a childminder.) The coercive way in which studies such as this are framed, even when (as in this case) they are telling mothers that it's okay to go to work if they want, gives me a wave - actually a second wave - of revulsion. Telling mothers that they can "juggle" with impunity is not what feminism is about.
Tags: gender
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