How about sup­port­ing those who want to do the par­ent­ing?

Govern­ment pol­icy is not fair on par­ents who want to stay at home and bring up their chil­dren, writes Wendy Grace ‘Who cares about the time with our chil­dren we will never get back?’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Anaysis - Wendy Grace is a broad­caster with Spirit Ra­dio

WORK­ING par­ents are now pay­ing an ad­di­tional €1,700 an­nu­ally in child­care costs in Dublin and €770 out­side the cap­i­tal, com­pared to five years ago.

When­ever sto­ries like this break there is a rush from politi­cians and women’s bod­ies to screech from the rooftops that the an­swer lies in sub­si­dis­ing child­care more with­out ac­tu­ally both­er­ing to ask fam­i­lies what they want in the first place.

Re­search pre­sented last week to the Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search In­sti­tute by Dr He­lene Turon, showed that if we in­crease creche sub­si­dies it might not nec­es­sar­ily mean more women would work be­cause, brace your­selves, some par­ents ac­tu­ally want to mind their own chil­dren.

She said that no amount of child­care pol­icy will change the minds of house­holds who are happy with their child­care ar­range­ments, and most fam­i­lies in Ire­land are happy with their choices.

The Cen­tral Sta­tis­tics Of­fice shows the vast ma­jor­ity, 70pc of par­ents, mind their chil­dren at home, with a mi­nor­ity, only 13pc, opt­ing for creche. Surely th­ese par­ents are just dy­ing to get away from their sticky-fin­gered lit­tle monsters, and the only rea­son they are at home is be­cause of excessive child­care costs? Well I’m sorry to break it to you, Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter Kather­ine Zap­pone, but 82pc are happy with their cur­rent choice. How about sup­port­ing them for a change?

In­stead, it’s all about creat­ing an econ­omy that forces both par­ents to get out and work whether they feel that’s best for their fam­ily or not. For women, the pen­du­lum has swung now in the other di­rec­tion. Pre­vi­ously, our only value was seen in our work in the home; now it seems our value is de­ter­mined by the ladders we climb and the ti­tle on our busi­ness cards.

And let’s avoid ac­tu­ally dis­cussing what might be best for chil­dren. The largest ever study car­ried out on child­care in the UK found the most crit­i­cal time for a par­ent to spend with their child is the first year of their life, yet we want par­ents back at work af­ter six months, be­fore a baby can even feed them­selves or sit up unaided.

It would be less ex­pen­sive for the State to sup­port par­ents work­ing in the home for the first year of a child’s life than to pro­vide one-to-one care in an in­sti­tu­tion­alised child­care set­ting. But let’s just keep ig­nor­ing the ev­i­dence, the wishes of par­ents and, of course, the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren. We will just keep fun­nelling all our re­sources into one op­tion only, creches, while pun­ish­ing par­ents who make other choices.

A few years ago I was of­fered a high-fly­ing job in a swanky PR firm, floor to ceil­ing glass in the of­fice, a Ne­spresso ma­chine, free pas­tries in the board­room, that sort of thing. I was even of­fered dou­ble the salary I was on at the time to take the job. I de­cided I didn’t want to work 80 hours a week, I wanted to have a life and a fam­ily.

My story is not unique — it is re­flected in the choices many women make.

In coun­tries such as Swe­den, which of­fers child­care and 480 days of well-paid shared maternity and pa­ter­nity leave, the gen­der pay gap is not much dif­fer­ent to Ire­land. Why? Be­cause not all women want to be CEO or a board mem­ber.

The shame­ful in­abil­ity of busi­nesses to be­come fam­ily friendly and flex­i­ble have meant those things come at the cost of so much time away from fam­ily, a sac­ri­fice many women sim­ply don’t want to make.

Sadly, this is seen as a dis­ser­vice to the sis­ter­hood which seems ob­sessed with solely valu­ing women based on their ca­reer achieve­ments.

We hear the Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter wax­ing lyri­cal about ‘sup­ports for fam­i­lies’ but only for those who wish to have any­one but them­selves care for their own chil­dren.

Govern­ment pol­icy is about mak­ing more of us into ‘units of pro­duc­tion’ rather than what might be good for fam­i­lies. Who cares about quality of life or the pre­cious time with our chil­dren we will never get back? Be­cause when we die we will all wish we would have been able to work more and spend less time with our chil­dren, right?

So even though the ma­jor­ity of fam­i­lies don’t want their chil­dren in a creche (no mat­ter how much it is sub­sidised), govern­ment pol­icy con­tin­ues to dis­crim­i­nate in favour of creche care above all other op­tions.

There is no rea­son sub­si­dies should not fol­low the child, whether a par­ent chooses to use a creche, work part­time, full-time, stay at home, or have a child­min­der. Cur­rent pol­icy is try­ing to do the op­po­site by forc­ing par­ents into the work­force and by mak­ing stay­ing at home not fi­nan­cially vi­able. Not only that, it ac­tu­ally pun­ishes fam­i­lies where one par­ent is at home, via tax in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion to the tune of around €6,000 each year — and that’s be­fore you count the cost of the salary that par­ent is sac­ri­fic­ing to care for their child.

We have ignored the needs of par­ents and fam­i­lies and con­tin­ued to mind­lessly fuel poli­cies that have cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where both par­ents have no other choice but to work just to pay the bills.

This isn’t ‘lib­er­at­ing’ for any­one. It’s sim­ply trap­ping par­ents in a sys­tem they will find harder to get out of if we don’t de­mand change and au­then­tic choices.

The dual-econ­omy isn’t mak­ing life eas­ier and it’s cer­tainly not mak­ing us hap­pier — we are more anx­ious, stressed and time poor than ever be­fore, and I’m pretty sure par­ents who find them­selves drop­ping their small ba­bies off at creche in their py­ja­mas and pick­ing them up just be­fore bed­time don’t feel they ‘have it all’.

Govern­ment rhetoric would have me be­lieve I would have been more ‘valu­able’ by taking the im­pres­sive sound­ing job ti­tle and spend­ing my days (and prob­a­bly nights) ped­dling mind­less PR cam­paigns. And I’ll get lit­tle val­i­da­tion from faux fem­i­nists who only see their ca­reer woman’s world-view and noth­ing more, but the daily gig­gles and kisses I get af­ter I come home from work at lunchtime is ku­dos enough for me.

Sadly, I’m not sure how much longer I will en­joy this lux­ury, as Ms Zap­pone seems de­ter­mined to cre­ate an Ire­land in­tent on taking away the choice from par­ents in how they want to raise their chil­dren.

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