'Don't forget about stay at home fathers'.
That comment on a Facebook group throws up a clear example of the difficulties and barriers which face a mother who advocates greater support for maternal care, and a greater recognition of the needs of mothers who 'do the childcare' of their kids.
Not quite 'what about the menz' but certainly a reminder that to talk about mothers, maternal care and mothering is a minefield. Someone's going to feel left out (women who are not mothers; women who have chosen a different path in their life as a parent; men; fathers - including 'stay at home dads'). Don't get me started on a comment on said Facebook group that, should more women actually have the freedom to stay home with their children, and they exercise their right to do so, people who work in nurseries will be out of a job. Well forgive me for not taking up that banner, too, it's just not on my agenda (but one suspects it is certainly on that of policymakers).
Here's the dilemma. I stuck my little head above the parapet and pursued a political campaign about the raw deal experienced by mothers who wish to care for their children full-time but cannot do so because of financial penalties against her family, or the neglect of mothers who struggle by on a modest family income which is taxed disproportionately in a system which exploits loving, caring families. I nodded to the fact that, when talking about care of children, whether maternal or paternal, families are penalised by the State. I fully recognised that there is a small number of 'stay at home dads'. I know one with triplets - not a big deal. No bigger than the many women doing the same thing.
But does this all mean that I am compelled to remove the word 'maternal' in my Blog and facebook page out of fear of 'forgetting stay at home fathers' and to embark on a genderneutral exercise which erases the word mother and any mention of maternal care (an exercise perfected by the State to the detriment of women).
No. Sorry, but I'm not gonna do it.
To censor myself, or adapt my Blog, to remove mention of the maternal, would amount to succumbing to the taboo of mentioning - let alone promoting - mothering and maternal care, and to the unease with which women often feel in proclaiming their rights or protecting the interests of themselves or their families.
My impression is that many women, raised in a 'post-feminist' age and experiencing greater economic freedom than our predecessors might well experience a shell-shock on becoming a mother and experience a fear that the moment we confront maternal desire we are back to the dark ages of inequality. To unabashedly say 'I do not want a career or I do not want to be in employment while my children are dependent and I would rather be with my children' is so utterly unfashionable and, in many quarters looked down upon that, actually, I see even greater need to focus on childcare by parent as a feminist issue. Politicians and 'gatekeepers' do not accept the validity, benefits or, at times, even existence of many women's desire to care for their children themselves. So, yes, Mothers. Yes, our experiences and our fears. The challenges and the joys.
You have probably guessed that maternal care is my personal experience as well as that of numerous relatives and friends. I attend breastfeeding support groups - guess who? Women. They have the equipment, see? I am interested in mothers' experiences and accounts in matters ranging from pregnancy, birth, postnatal depression, post-partum recovery and breastfeeding; as well as other women's experiences as primary, full-time, carers of children. All that considered, is it any wonder I principally focus on mothers? Is this, in the 21st Century, not allowed?
The campaign group Mothers at Home Matter takes a very inclusive approach to its campaigning - so fathers, have no fear, you have somewhere to go. It is a group run by volunteers which campaigns about really old-fashioned stuff like love, parenting, family time, relationships and connections. It focuses on the sort of 'care' that is given and received within families and particularly (but not exclusively) the special love and care given by mothers, often against the odds. It does not promote one particular 'type' of family but represents women and men who care passionately about family life and building a better future - a country that is more caring, a fairer society, with less inequality and more social justice. It takes a 'family life cycle' approach, and its campaign is not interested in judging different choices made by mothers and fathers. It is not a bunch of privileged yummy mummies, contrary to the wilful misinterpretation of some politicians. Dads are most welcome to campaign with them. So there we are. Nobody is forgetting the men.
Now, should there be a stay at home father who is interested in setting up his own campaign to debate the benefits/pitfalls/social issues around parents or fathers at home - and who wishes similarly to press the political class on the economic and social promotion of paid-for child care over loving parental care - I would happily work with him, as I am sure so would Mothers At Home Matter, and would wish him well. I would hope that a father out there might take up the challenge.
But, no. I am not going to go genderneutral in my blog, as though men regularly lactate too, or grow a child from their body and birth the baby in quite an awesome feat of nature. Dads are well catered for elsewhere.
There is a role for fathers. They are indeed special. My children love theirs. I love mine. In some families, they might well do the mother-work. However, do forgive me if I concentrate my efforts on women in my little campaign.
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