Do women want it all, or do they just want better child care?

Many of you may have seen Anne-Maree Slaughter’s piece in July edition of The Atlantic magazine about women trying to have it all, and the subsequent internet debate about it.

If you haven’t, you can read it here.  You can also read pieces responding to it, here, here and here. It caused a bit of a fuss, largely because it allowed lots of journalists to get excited about whether feminism had got something wrong.

Most of this debate misses the point entirely.  Many women in Australia grow up thinking we can have it all, and then the reality of having children and raising a family hits us.  For some, it is the first time they experience any sort of discrimination, or realise the world isn’t fair.  In Anne-Marie’s Slaughter’s case, she realised it was impossible to commute across the country and still see her children.  I’m not sure what she expected or why that was news to her, but we’re all learning I suppose.

In my experience, many women are perfectly fine with taking a backwards step in their career to spend more time with their children, especially while they’re young.  We know that this means less superannuation, a slower career path to seniority and less involvement in major work decisons that might happen when we’re not there.  It’s frustrating, and when we know we’re capable of doing our bosses job it can drive us crazy, but we can cope.

The problem arises when we are willing to work, and know our kids will be fine if we worked at all/more days/different days, and we can’t find the childcare or the employer who will help us manage these responsibilities.

To that end, I am pleased to see that Childcare Minister Kate Ellis put removing restrictions on childcare centres being open after 6pm onto the agenda.  For many families, this would reduce our burden considerably.  As would more reliable public transport.

Another option could be to allow some centres to open on Saturday in areas where there is local demand among miners and shift workers.  No-one wants to have children in 24 hour care, and so this would need to be regulated, but having some help available for families at odd hours would surely help the many shift workers we have in our economy, as well as those of us (like me) who battle Sydney traffic in the evening to avoid a fine by getting there after 6pm.

Would more flexible child care make a difference to you? What else do you need for your version of ‘having it all’?

Kirsten

 

8 responses to “Do women want it all, or do they just want better child care?

  1. Rather than taking your kids out to care – would you like them to be cared for in their homes? Imagine what would this mean to families – less illnesses – and when kids are ill, they can be at home snuggled up in bed, getting all the fluids and other things they needs to get better; a generation of kids who aren’t stressed out because they are ‘working’ up to a couple of hours more than their parents in some cases; the freedom to explore butterflies instead of dinosaurs – and the ability to see them in their natural environment, have access to water that’s deeper than their hands and explore and connect with their local communities; be able to eat what they like and not have to eat out of prepackaged food (well it transfers better and food is not always heated up in centres). To have someone who can cuddle you when you want – for a whole five minutes if that’s what you need when you are missing mum and dad or have hurt yourself – or blimey – just because you can. To have someone who will read you copious amounts of stories and knows what is special to you in life and does their utmost to create opportunities in your life (visit the library, extend your knowledge, prepare you for school and the ‘big’ world.
    Kiwi kids have access to this – as an Australian parent, wouldn’t you?
    I’ve worked for many mums who for three to five years gave up alot to ensure their kids were cared for at home – it’s meant a great deal to them – their kids have benefited enormously. Great wine, holidays and a smaller home may be a trade off – but a better lifestyle as a whole is a long term benefit.

    • The problem with this system Marina is cost. There is no rebate for in home childcare unless it is family day care. So it is impossible for many families. I also don’t agree with your criticisms of day care – pre-packaged food etc. I don’t think this is true, and I don’t think making mums feel guilty about their options is a very good idea either.

      Kirsten

      • Kirsten, my intention was not to make mums feel guilty about their choices – I have four kids have used day care for all of them at some point. It’s about the quality of care on offer. My reference to food supplied is based on experience – that many children are taking packaged food, as some centres don’t have fridges. And yes – InHome Care is available, but has limited numbers and there is a criteria for families to meet. It’s like having a Nanny McPhee – a government nanny – where parents can access both the childcare benefit and also the childcare rebate.
        There are cheaper versions of care in the child’s home – Nanny Share and Nanny Mummies are great option that can cost from $15 – 25 hour, depending on where the care is. This works well for many families – especially those with 2 children. I have the deepest respect for working mums – I am one and have supported many mums over the past 25 years from midwives and health workers all the way through to corporate and business mums. Some just aren’t aware of what their options are.

      • Thanks for clarifying :-)

  2. HI – just thought I’d share my perspective as an Australian mum living with my husband and 2 y.o. in Singapore. We both work full-time. We are fortunate to have access to affordable live-in domestic help. We could not do what we do without it. This is one of the big reasons why we choose to live away from home at this stage in our lives, with a preschooler and another one on the way.
    Our helper is a nurturing, clever, wonderful lady who loves our little girl. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have someone who loves our child and can give her individual care, in the comfort of our own home, when we need it. She’s there if, on the odd occasion, we can’t make it home at our regular time, and also if our little girl is sick and can’t go to preschool she’s there to look after her.
    I don’t think Singapore get everything right (eg. only 16 weeks maternity leave) BUT they do have a high rate of female workforce participation, and I think this largely comes down to women having access to affordable, flexible, in-home care.
    The arguments against introducing a similar system in Aus are typically about foreign domestic workers being unskilled, untrained, unregulated, etc. All true, but I would still pick our helper hands-down over any day care centre. She’s more flexible, there’s no pick-up/drop-off to worry about, and it’s also MUCH cheaper.
    If Australia is serious about supporting working parents I think we should be looking at models like Singapore’s foreign domestic worker scheme as an alternative to expensive, inflexible day care centres.

  3. Hi – I just felt like I have to respond to a couple of Marina’s comments. First of all, I think the food served in Aus childcare might be different to NZ. The centers provide the food and it all has to meet certain nutritional guidelines -they serve fruit as a snack, and regularly have cooked lunches with meat, veggies, pasta/rice. They also have sandwiches & rice cakes as snacks, as well as the occasional ‘muffins/cake’. I sometimes feel like my kids eat better at childcare than they do at home on my day off, when I’m busy trying to run around and do 100 things at once! And secondly, I don’t really think saying that kids are ‘working’ when they are at childcare is even half way accurate! Certainly at the centers my kids have gone to they do a wide range of ‘play’ activities throughout the day – playing outside, on bikes, in the sandpit etc and inside, play dough, drawing, painting, collages, playing with cars, dinosaurs etc. And they love it! My kids are so happy and well balanced it’s ridiculous! Getting that same range of activities and level of social interaction would be hard if I just did at home care, so I don’t think it would be an option I would even want to look at. That said, I do think the more options available for working mums the better – I just wouldn’t totally rule out child care centers as they have alot of benefits and some kids thrive in them

  4. Every Women wants best child care of her child. Because they are the one who suffers most when their child did not get good child care from any babysitter or nanny. But Perth has best Nannies in the World so they don’t have to worry about this and can let this job to someone shoulder easily.

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