See-saw life

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS -

and down the in­come scale, and she’s an­tic­i­pated loop­holes, too: in­cen­tives to en­sure fathers ac­tu­ally take up the leave they are al­lo­cated, for ex­am­ple.

Asher says she’s “tired of the loud and dreary cho­rus” that in­sists such mod­els are un­af­ford­able. I sym­pa­thise, and while there will be read­ers who ques­tion her fig­ures, it shouldn’t be as­sumed she’s just ask­ing for pub­lic sub­sidy.

“Pub­lic pol­icy in­flu­ences pri­vate be­hav­iour”, she writes, but that’s only half of her ar­gu­ment: par­ents have to look to them­selves. Life with young chil­dren is hec­tic and full of pow­er­ful emo­tional tugs; it’s all too easy to “go na­tive”.

If roles are not to re­vert af­ter that first year, though, fathers will have to en­dure the hum­drum tasks, moth­ers for­sake pri­macy in their chil­dren’s lives; ter­ri­tory has to be per­ma­nently ceded.

Asher wants a rev­o­lu­tion, and her con­vic­tion is in­vig­o­rat­ing, but it also leads to an oc­ca­sional over­state­ment of claims. I am per­suaded, how­ever, that di­vid­ing the care in the first year would help us all make strides. From un­der­stand­ing each other’s perspectives to nor­mal­is­ing shared parenting, and the pri­or­ity of life be­yond work, there is a great deal to be said for Asher’s model; it de­serves to be dis­cussed and de­bated widely.

Her prose style is that of a cam­paign­ing jour­nal­ist, but some of the same ground is cov­ered across chap­ters, as in aca­demic texts, per­haps to al­low busy pol­i­cy­mak­ers to go straight to the leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als but still get the rea­son­ing be­hind them.

The key chap­ters are a dense com­bi­na­tion of doughty pro­pos­als and anal­y­sis, but Asher’s choice of con­trib­u­tors leav­ens the mix. Michael Gove’s de­scrip­tion of the witch­ing hour be­fore kids’ bed­time is very en­ter­tain­ing, and Asher’s own turn of phrase is of­ten sharply witty. So skim if you must, to avoid be­ing late at the school gates, but you may miss some gems. This book should be read by par­ents and pol­i­cy­mak­ers alike. It’s got me ex­am­in­ing my own hard­ened at­ti­tudes, for a start: I may have been there, done that, and bought the Mummy Mar­tyr T-shirt, but why should any­one else? – Guardian News & Me­dia 2011

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