"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Let's get off the consumer-driven carousel!

Childcare Costs are Forcing Parents to Give Up Work, shouts the headline.
But is that always such a bad thing? Is it so very bad for one parent to stay at home with the children? Is it a good thing that we have built a culture where both parents are expected to work? What happened to the good old-fashioned division of duties between the parents, one to earn the living, the other to look after the home and the children?
Have we been building a society where the parents are so busy with their own work that they don’t bother where their children are or what they are doing when they get home from school?

Now I know that modern parents can have a tough time bringing up their children, and I know that there are special problems for single-parent families. Of course we should have good social and economic policies that support single mums or dads in their task. And I understand that there are some very real hardships with parents struggling to make ends meet. But what about the two parent family, surely an ideal we should strive towards. Childcare costs in the UK are supposedly some of the most expensive in the world. When combined with cuts this year to certain State Benefits that were designed to help parents get back to work, many are now finding that they simply cannot afford to work anymore – hence the headline. And America is way behind most other wealthy countries in the provision of paid maternity and paternity leave for parents. In addition parents often find that they have to both work to afford health insurance for the children. The absence of readily affordable healthcare is a real problem for many families. The CHIP, or Child Health Insurance Program, gives free health insurance for children up to a certain level of income, but that level is woefully low. This link between healthcare and wages needs to be broken.
But I would submit that one important reason why many families have both parents out at work is that they find themselves on the consumer driven carousel that is twenty-first century life, and they cannot find a way to step off. Children are bombarded with images of the material world. The marketing media cynically exploits them, practically as soon as they are aware of their surroundings. As a result we have more and more material possessions, we buy bigger houses to accommodate it all, we saddle ourselves with mortgages that stretch us to the limits and we then shop at cheap hypermarkets for the lower prices. ‘…American parents buy into a false definition of need that leaves them addicted to a two-income lifestyle and robs children of family life. These parents are not bad, selfish, or greedy. They are simply doing what most people are doing, going along with the prevailing tide of cultural expectations.’ (Duncan Collum, Danny and Polly, Taking Back Our Kids, Sojourners Magazine, January 2006, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 12-19).
And because we are out at work to fund all these things we are not on hand at home to protect our children from these influences.
The normal working week in most of Europe is less than 40 hours. In Sweden and the Netherlands, dual-earner couples with children average two fewer workdays per week than do U.S. couples.
Isn’t it time we valued our families and our children more?

I believe that in many instances mothers would far rather be at home with their children in those early formative years. I really didn’t want to return to work and leave my babies at home with childcare, but like so many others I was driven by education and a career to think I could ‘have it all’. I believe that in our hearts we all want more quality time to spend with our children, to be involved in more local activities as a family, rather than ferrying our kids off to expensive entertainments all the time while we get on with our work! It has even been reported that many parents no longer have the time or energy to pursue that most wonderfully rewarding of pursuits, reading the bedtime story.
Early in 2009 and again in 2010 we had rather more snow in the UK than we are used to. It pretty much ground the country to a standstill for several days. But among the moans and wails about no gritting lorries on the streets, roads impassable and schools closed, one city man honestly admitted that for the first time in his life he was forced to stay at home with the family, spent two days making snowmen and tobogganing with them and loved every minute of it. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.
We need policies that support the parent and the child together, not policies that encourage us to go back to work as soon as possible after having our children. We want time to play with our families.
And that will be good for our communities, ourselves and the world!

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