The Prime Minister announced this week that he will offer several thousand pounds worth of cash to women for childcare to help them with the return to work.
According to the Daily Telegraph, families could claim up to £2,000 per child every year from their tax bills to cover the cost of childminders and nurseries.
This is great news for the women that want to go back to work, or already have, but have been struggling to balance the finances associated with work and childcare.
The problem is that this policy implicitly encourages women to make the choice to go back to work, even though there are millions of women that choose fulltime motherhood and believe that the choice of caregiving represents a significant contribution to society.
It seems we are now in an age where the Government feels comfortable weighing in on the relative value of a woman's choices, and that women should be encouraged into work as soon as possible. That is what this economic incentive effectively equates to, even though dozens of studies show not only that babies thrive when they have one-on-one loving care (the vast majority of which is provided by mothers), but that children that don't have that type of care in the early years are socially not as well adjusted.
One explanation is that this decision was driven by male politicians who are unaware of the complexities motherhood adds to a woman's choices, and just how many new mothers want to stay with their newborns, believing rightly that the care they can offer cannot be substituted.
It cannot be denied that most of these government ministers are upper class men accustomed to nanny care--the expensive, one-on-one kind that they had as children and they now can afford for their own kids. Or maybe ministers haven't taken into account the value and wishes of many new mothers because these women are so consumed with giving love and changing nappies that they don't have time to take a seat at the policy table to be heard.
If there are feminists out there that don't like what I'm saying because they believe that the progress of women is still centered in the workplace, my answer is that your concept of feminism is limited and outdated. Our unique capacity to give birth not only makes us different from men in the workplace, but it creates a more complex relationship to working outside the home and it's time for Government policies to start recognising and honouring that. This should be the case, not only because the choice of motherhood is often central to a woman's identity, but also because caregiving carries long-term social value that rivals women's economic contributions as workers.
Going forward, the conflict and complex choices women face between balancing work and caregiving should not only be reflected at the heart of our economic policy, but it should also be at the heart of the next wave of feminism. Why? Because it's already a struggle in the hearts of every working woman who choses to become a mother.
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