HOUSEWIVES AND HOARY CHESTNUTS

Good old Shane Lynch has stirred up that old hornet’s nest again…
Who’s he, do I hear you ask?
Remember your man who used to be in Boyzone and then became a racing driver??
What hornet’s nest?
Oh that old hoary chestnut about whether a parent should stay at home to mind their children or go out to paid work and avail of some form of childcare.
What’s a hoary chestnut?  Noooo… enough now.

Anyway Shane apparently said that he would like a woman to stay at home and mind the children.  “I like a traditional house, where a woman stays at home to raise the children and the man goes to work” he said.

Oh Shane what are you like?  Traditional house, woman at home with kids, man out working? Oh… except I can understand where you are coming from.

Let me first of all say that I am not laying down any rules about how we as women (and men) should organise our lives and nor am I making any judgements about parents who work and avail of childcare.

As many of you know, I worked from age 17 until 39 and have gone back to part time work in the last 18months.  I have been a single parent, a working married parent with children in crèche and I have been a full time housewife and stay at home mother.  In my opinion, if it is financially possible and if one parent is happy to take on the role of full time parent it is the best option for children.  I am aware that I am privileged that I have been able to be at home for ten years while my husband earned the money to keep us all afloat.  

A few months ago I interviewed David Coleman, who is a child psychologist, broadcaster and author.  I asked him this question, “in a perfect world where all choices were available to parents which is the best childcare option for children?”  I fully expected to get a fudgy, PC answer.  But no, he stated with great clarity that where it is financially possible and where one parent is happy to take on the role of full time parent in the home, this is by far the best option for children.

This morning I took part in the Midday programme on TV3 where this issue was discussed.  Shane Lynch’s comments were then being commented upon on the Twitter machine.  I expressed my opinion and there was a small, reasoned and respectful debate (social media is capable of such a thing – although you might not be aware of that from listening to our politicians and reading some of our newspapers).

One comment however struck me as particularly interesting.  The gist of the tweet was that nowadays we need fluidity and a willingness to transcend traditional gender behaviour models.  Mmmmm.. this is part of the problem in my opinion.

I know many, many women (and some men) who are full time stay at home with kids parents (we don’t even have a proper term for the role).  They have given up careers to care for their kids themselves.  They enjoy their new role and take it just as seriously as they did their ‘paid jobs’.

But as a society I don’t believe we put any value on these parents.  This is part of the reason I got so exercised by the cut in child benefit which I wrote about here.

In our rush for equality we have raced ahead demanding, quite rightly, to be paid the same as men and be given the same opportunities but we have forgotten the sisters for whom running a home and raising children is a job, a hugely important job.  In our rush to abandon ‘traditional gender behaviour models’ have we denigrated a role that many women and men believe is their most important one – that of homemaker?

Being at home with children is only possible when you have a partner who sees the role as equally important to his/hers which is to earn the money to keep the show on the road.  It’s truly a team game!

But how many of us ‘housewives/husbands’ have been asked when we are going back to work?  Or when asked ‘what do you do’ struggle and apologise for our ‘just being at home’?

Equality for women is all about choice.  And yet I know many women who feel they have let down the sisterhood by abandoning their education and career, albeit it temporarily, to care for their offspring.

So I think we have silenced this army of stay at home parents, who are mainly women.  They work away within their homes, volunteering in their communities and making endless cups of tea at school events.  These parents are working and are contributing to society.  I am not sure we value their contribution as much as we should.

So Shane – I know what you are getting at… but the bottom line is that it is up to each family to decide what best works for them… but I am grateful to you for highlighting a role which I think we have sidelined for too long!