An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Friday, March 05, 2004  

More on housework

I've been reflecting on Kevin's comments and I've a few more words on the housework issue. Not all coherent, but anyway.

1. I read somewhere recently (a letter in The Irish Times no doubt) that Ireland is almost exclusively discussed in terms of an economy rather than a society. So obviously it is better for the economy that women work and employ maids or nannies. The more work being done, the more money swishing around, all the better to drive the economy. My approach is more concerned with the social consequences of the working mother - for both mother and child. I firmly believe that mothers and children are happier if mother is at home to raise them - no guilt for Mom and better everything for children.

2. But but but, I am not denying that there are major downsides for Mom. Housework is crap and repetitive and HARD. Doing the weekly shop is HARD. Minding demanding children is HARD. But it's also really important and this is why it deserves respect. We do have brains and we do get frustrated so it would really help if we weren't told that it was worthless work that should be fobbed off onto other poor women.

3. Intensive child care is only required for a few years. So what I am saying is that a woman can have it all. She just can't have it all at the same time. I see my life as split into decades. Twenties were for partying, spending my money on myself and being a corporate slave. I want to devote my thirties to having babies, minding them and being free from the constant pursuit of cool clothes. In my forties I want to have the career I always really wanted - journalism/broadcasting etc. In my fifties I want to go back to college (altho' if hubby has croaked it I'm keeping in my mind that I'll probably have to keep working to pay for the kids to go to college instead). That leaves my sixties and seventies to be a mad eccentric, churning out the odd column, enjoying the grandchildren and passing on my pearls of wisdom to anyone who'll listen. So if all goes according to plan I will have it all - I just won't have run myself ragged in my thirties trying to everything right and getting everything wrong.

4. The economist tells me that the flaw in my plan (leaving pension requirements aside) is that my earning power will be damaged due to my absence from the workplace and this will account for the fact that men will always earn more than me. Just this week I read yet another article which said that new women graduates are still consistently being paid less than male graduates because they are very bad at bargaining. I would go further and say that because traditional women's work has alway been undervalued, women continue to undervalue themselves at everything they do and fail to demand top salaries from employers. Further, if housework and child rearing got the respect I believe it deserves (and lets face it, managing a household budget is not easy and the smaller it is the harder the job) then those 'absent' years would not be simply written off by employers but rather taken as being part of valuable life experience that can be brought to the job. Isn't there an argument to be made that managing children and managing office workers isn't that radically different? The multi-tasking required to clean, cook and change a nappy at the same would be very useful in a busy office. And as for that pension, why shouldn't a woman who stays home have some kind of recognition from the state through the award of social insurance stamps for her future state pension?

5. Finally, our assumption so far has been that the women being discussed are the professional ones who can afford home help (albeit of the cheapest type available;poor immigrants), and who have aspirations to find appropriate channels for their intellectual abilities. To be fair, the children at question here will only have the problems of the affluent. The real question is what happens to the families whose mothers absolutely must work? The office cleaning lady is not able to pay for any help even if it is cheap and foreign. Again, if the government would officially recognise the importance of raising children properly we would see more money being spent on subsidised child care centers. For those are the children (that is, the ones with no one to mind them while their overworked mother is out to get some cash - any cash) that will have the most difficulties in the future.

posted by Sarah | 22:01 0 comments
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