Parents who don’t work full-time are disadvantaging their children? Whaaat?

As a parent, there is nothing like peer pressure to make you change your ways.  And if you believe what journalist and mum Natasha Robinson tells you in her recent article for The Australian, that ‘home is so old school,’ then you will enrol your child in after-school-care for the upcoming term tout de suite!

For if you are one of the unenlightened, who is not prepared to give their child a leg up in society by allowing them the luxury of remaining at school for two or three more golden hours of camaraderie a day, all while you bring in some extra bucks at the office, you will be typecast as a lazy parent who sits around watching too much TV.  And your child will pay the price, according to Robinson (and Robyn Monro Miller – National Out of School Hours Services Association advocate).

If you want your kids to have a bright future, say Robinson and Monro, they need to be in after-school care.  It’s the place to be; it will make them more independent, more confident; it’s the ‘new streets and playgrounds of adults’ childhoods.’  No more shall they play with neighbourhood friends; no more ride the rickety skateboard down to the oval.  For the streets where they live are now empty, as are their homes – at least until 6pm on weekdays, that is.

But there are some of us who are resisting the new order.  There are some of us parents (whether mum or dad) who have chosen another path.  We have chosen – horror of horrors – to work in a less-than-full-time capacity.  And while my feminist friends cannot abide this decision, the benefits, for us and for our children, are myriad.  For when one parent decides to work outside the suffocating regime that is a full-time job, the ever elusive work-life balance is no longer under threat.  The family is no longer exhausted.

And despite what Robinson suggests, our children are not disadvantaged.  And they are certainly not ‘sitting at home with their parents in front of the television set’ thank you very much, Monro Miller.  Far from it.

They are riding home from school, getting much needed exercise after being cooped up the classroom all day.  They are at tennis lessons, learning to be the next Novak Djokovic.  They are sharing afternoon tea and stories from the day with their siblings.  They are visiting their grandparents.  They are helping with household chores that would otherwise have to be done on the weekend.  They are having a mental break from the more domineering students in their class, taking their guards down and being themselves.

Children are young for such a short period of time that for many parents, the choice to reduce their workload to accommodate the school hours is a no-brainer.  And they recognise that by high school, the burden is much reduced, as children are able to get themselves to after-school activities and be at home alone for short periods.

Of course there are many families who, for various reasons, have decided that two full-time incomes are necessary – and there are single parent families, too.  In these cases, after-school care is an essential service.

But let’s not pretend that being in a peer-based, often competitive, group environment for up to ten hours a day is not extremely tiring for young children.  And though I am willing to accept that your children may indeed love after-school care – as, we are told, do the children in Robinson’s article – please don’t make those of us who choose a different path feel as though we are doing our children a disservice.

It is amusing to note that where once upon a time mothers were chastised for going to work and told that their children would suffer, the opposite is now true.  That is because now, our entire culture is geared towards the holy God of Work.  There’s no reason not to work, especially when we’re told that childcare is better for our kids than being at home.

When The Australian Childcare Alliance tells us that children cared for at home (albeit in this context with a nanny) are less safe, because the home does not have to go through ‘all the regulations’ that a registered centre does and furthermore, that they will be ‘well behind their peers by the time they go to school,’ naturally we feel panicky about staying at home with the kids.  Better enrol them in out-of-home care and get ourselves to the office.

Yet despite the supposed risks of that now-becoming-quaint notion of home care, many believe that children are better off in this environment.  So why is society trying to deceive us into believing that we are not equipped to bring up our own children and that we would be better off committing to our careers full-time and leaving the raising of our children to childcare professionals and teachers?

Because we are now beholden to not only the holy God of Work but also the feminist movement.  A woman who does not aspire to full-time work is now ridiculed in feminist circles.  Hannah Rosin, author of ‘The End of Men and the Rise of Women,’ says that she would never not work, ‘because that decision is loaded with feminist betrayal.’

A woman, it seems, is no longer allowed to choose to be a housewife, without attracting the ire of the entire sisterhood.  So regardless of the consequences for family, for children, a feminist must commit to her career, in the same way as a man.

With this attitude firmly entrenched in the national mindset, though, does this leave a void of caring in the family unit?  Certainly it should not be solely a woman’s responsibility to shoulder this burden, but surely one parent has to concede a little or the family comes a poor second to work?  But, alas, work has now become the greatest defining feature of an individual’s worth and children must jolly well fit in.

Just this week, popular coMiammentator and editor of women’s website ‘Mamamia,’ Mia Freedman, opined on Facebook that ‘there is something fundamentally flawed about a system that gives parents 4 weeks annual leave and children 12 weeks+ of school holidays’ and asks her readers how they are coping.  Most reply that they have put their children into vacation care with a heavy and guilty heart.  But what would they prefer?  That the school year be extended to give children only four weeks’ annual leave?  Surely children need more time than that to, well, be children.  But that doesn’t fit in with the working adult’s life.  Instead, children must become slaves to our hectic timetables, all year long.

At the end to the day, parents must decide whether to alter their own schedules to fit their children’s requirements or alter their children’s schedule to fit their own.  If they choose the latter, they will naturally find that they are unable to assuage their guilt because they know in their hearts that, to a not-insignificant degree, they are robbing their children of a relaxed and slow paced childhood.

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

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