Recently, John Howard said that a “stay-at-home” Mum provided the best start for a child. All I can say is: there is a massive disconnection between the rhetoric and the reality of the “family friendly” policies of the Coalition government. His government’s policies do not make it very much easier.
How does Mr Howard think that a family can survive on one income for an extended period of time? I can tell him that it is pretty difficult. We spent all our savings during the eight months I took off after having my daughter. We had been planning to use that money for a house deposit.
I now work part-time to cover the bills, and over the last year, we’ve managed to crawl back into the black. We are really lucky to have the support of my parents and my parents-in-law, who take it in turns, looking after our daughter while I am at work. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done. My present salary wouldn’t begin to cover childcare costs.
My husband has done a postgraduate degree, so he spent a substantial number of years at university (including undergraduate and postgraduate). We’re still paying off the HECs gradually. Despite all that expertise and knowledge, my husband’s wage is not “much” compared to, say, a lawyer or a doctor at a comparable level. Science just isn’t valued.
Of course, I did a dual degree (Arts/Law) and that took a while to complete too. Part of the price I paid for gaining a varied and enriching workplace experience was that I also only earned just above the average wage for most of my career. Ironically, I got my first big pay rise when I was four months pregnant. I know everyone thinks lawyers are “rich”, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes I think I’d have been better off being a plumber. No 5+ years at university not earning any money, no HECs debt, more flexibility and control over your own work.
It’s all very well for Mr Howard to say that a stay-at-home mother is better. But the reality is that most women I know can’t afford to stay at home for too long. Most women have little choice. The same applies for fathers who wish to stay at home (of whom I know a few).
There’s a couple of different reasons why parents go back to some sort of work after having children:
- They need the money.
- They don’t want to spend too long out of the workforce in case they can’t get back in again.
- They crave adult companionship.
- They enjoy their job.
Let’s address each point in turn. I would say that first point is all-important. A once-off payment of $4000 is not a replacement for $40,000 per annum (an average salary). And these days, prices are predicated on having two wages.
The second point is also important. Take too long out of the workforce and according to employers, you’re cactus, baby. A “has-been”. No use to anyone. (Why workplaces think this I don’t know).
I would say that one of the pleasures of working again has been getting a little time to myself, two afternoons a week. Okay, I’m working the whole time, but it is nice to be able to have a cuppa after my class in peace. A little break also means that my daughter and I can’t wait to see each other. She stands at the top of the stairs shouting “Mummy, mummy!” and I run up to her. (I’ve never had to go a whole day without her yet. I’m not looking forward to that.)
I do actually enjoy my job too. As Goldilocks said about Little Bear’s porridge, it’s just right. Not too much time in the workplace: I’d start resenting it for keeping me away from my baby. But enough time for me to get enthusiastic about it and enjoy the mental stimulation.
I love my baby so much. I don’t want to suggest that I regret having her. She is the centre of my life.
But I do feel like the system punishes educated professional people who want to have a family. First, you spend all that time at university when you could be earning. And then, as soon as you do start earning, you have to pay tax on all that time you spent at university. The more study you do, the bigger the bill is – the more you are punished for learning. Unfortunately, just because you are qualified and learned doesn’t mean that your salary will reflect your qualifications. And it takes a while to work up to a decent salary – by which time the biological clock is ticking if you are female…
The head of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has recently said that women are punished for having children, and that compulsory paid maternity leave should be introduced. But is paid maternity leave the answer? I think it’s important to offer a choice. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Anne Manne tells of a Finnish innovation where parents are offered a choice between a government-funded childcare place or three years leave with a guaranteed job and an allowance of equal value to the childcare place. Manne notes that over three-quarters of Finnish women chose the leave option. Personally, I’d also choose the leave option. I would use the money to pay a home carer if and when I needed one. However, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone who chose the childcare option, or who chose not to have children at all. As outlined in another previous post, I would not get on my moral high horse on this issue.
Obviously Mr Howard has never had to live on one averageish income, with small children to boot. I’d like to see how he fared. And then I’d be interested to see what new policies he came up with.
Have a look at this post on the cost of motherhood at Larvatus Prodeo.
Also read this post from a new addition to my blogroll, the delightful RG.