JANE FRASER

LAST LOOK

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

TO work or not to work is the co­nun­drum fac­ing most women with chil­dren. My elder daugh­ter, the mother of my two small grand­sons, works part time and is lucky enough to have the other grand­mother who minds her two small boys, oth­er­wise she wouldn’t re­ally be able to af­ford to work. She’d be pay­ing more for child­care than she earned, which, to make it even more com­pli­cated, would prob­a­bly be nec­es­sary in the long run: when women are out of the work­force — or the rat race, how­ever you see it — for some time, it’s a strug­gle to get back in.

She’d love to have six chil­dren, but prob­a­bly will never af­ford to do so; mar­ried par­ents with chil­dren, it seems to me, are fi­nan­cially worse off than they’ve ever been. Of course the very rich can af­ford to have as many as they like and the very poor go on hav­ing them any­way, but the mid­dle classes can’t re­ally have more than two if they want to main­tain some sort of qual­ity of lifestyle.

A young col­league told me she couldn’t af­ford to take her chil­dren out to din­ner; this, of course, is not the end of the world, but I see her point. I do not, how­ever, see the point of the Abo­rig­i­nal wo­man in the Kim­ber­ley, who re­cently said her chil­dren’s school uni­forms were filthy be­cause her wash­ing ma­chine had bro­ken down and the Gov­ern­ment re­fused to re­place it: hasn’t she heard of hand- wash­ing?

I think it’s not such a bad idea to ex­clude small chil­dren from restau­rants, al­though I’m sure my young col­league has very well­be­haved young­sters. ‘‘ Be seen and not heard’’ would be a good thing to bring back, but it won’t hap­pen in my life­time, or at least un­til I’m hoisted into wa­ter­proof pants.

Most mar­ried women with chil­dren do have jobs, which I think is a good thing, even if they are not full time. Of­ten those who do work full time are in jobs they don’t re­ally want and come home at night cranky and tired to an equally ex­hausted hus­band and latchkey chil­dren.

On the other hand, moth­ers who do have some sort of ca­reer have a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with their chil­dren and hus­bands, and those who stay at home of­ten re­sent the fact their men have an­other life and can for­get about the house­hold chores, school pick- ups and put­downs and the laun­dry the mo­ment they walk out the door.

It was a sheer fluke I worked; I had ev­ery in­ten­tion of stay­ing at home, mind­ing the ba­bies, em­broi­der­ing lit­tle smocks for them, play­ing bridge, per­haps, when they were older. But due to fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances I was forced to work and in those days there was no such thing as a part- time job: it was nine- tofive or noth­ing. Some­times it was hard and I prob­a­bly took too many short­cuts in the moth­er­ing and do­mes­tic de­part­ments, but hav­ing a job more or less kept me sol­vent and out of mis­chief and I thank my lucky stars ev­ery day.

re­view@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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