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Time for Parenting...

...because raising children is a full-time job

May 2003 Newsletter

New members write; What the papers say; What the surveys say; Who cares?; Parental involvement in pre-school education

What the papers say

Women graduates find cost of having children too great...

reports the SUNDAY TIMES, following research published by the Office for National Statistics which shows that nearly a quarter (22.5 per cent) of women with a degree or professional qualification remain childless, compared with only 15% of women who have not continued their education after school. In other words, women with higher educational qualifications are less likely to have children.

It seems that the findings raise questions about the future shape of society at a time when the birth rate has fallen to an average of 1.64 children per woman, the lowest since records began in 1924, and when an increasing number of women go on to further education. The low fertility rate has obvious long-term implications for society, placing a growing strain on the economy as the tax burden on those of working age rises to support an ageing population.

Steven Smallwood, who co-authored the report said that for career women with a good job the 'opportunity cost' of having a child, measured in lost income and chances for promotion, might deter them from having children in the early stages of their career or even altogether.
According to Melissa Dear of the Family Planning Association, for some career women, having children is a less attractive option because the freedoms that women have gained in education and at work have still not been matched in the home, where women still shoulder most of the responsibility of housework and childcare - and this despite the introduction of paternity leave and flexible working patterns.

Professor Alan Smithers, head of Liverpool University's Institute of Education and Employment Research, said that one solution to the declining birth rate is to have more part-time and flexible working to make it easier for people to have children and to work.

The National Family and Planning Institute offers a different solution: promoting the benefits of motherhood to educated women. They say that this process could start in schools where there is very little on family issues and the joys and fulfilment of parenthood.

Babies need breast milk for at least six months

In line with guidance from the World Health Organisation, it was widely reported that the Government has issued guidelines on the benefits of breast feeding which go much further that previous ones.

The advice is that 'breast is best' for the first six months of life, stating 'breast milk is the best form of nutrition for infants. Exclusive breast feeding is recommended for the first six moths as it provides all the nutrients a baby needs.'

Ministers are concerned that the rate of breast-feeding in Britain is low compared to other countries. Though many mothers breast-feed their babies for a few days after birth, only two thirds continue to breast feed, compared with 80 and 90 per cent in Australia and New Zealand respectively. Of those in this country who do start, a third will have given up within two weeks of getting home with the baby.

The benefits to the baby from breast-feeding in terms of physical health, emotional well-being and even of intelligence are well documented, as is the evidence that long-term breast-feeding helps mothers to lose the excess weight they gained during pregnancy, and lowers their risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer. There is concern that in spite of these well-known benefits, the uptake has been so low.

Baby deaths

The Mail reported on research which has revealed that England has the worst record in Europe of poor care for pregnant women, with avoidable blunders responsible for 53% of baby deaths during labour and the first six weeks of life. The disturbing findings were published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and have renewed concern about mothers being put at risk in baby units struggling to cope with a lack of staff. The chairman of the government's inquiry said that the UK is still suffering a shortage of midwives and doctors in maternity care. The Royal College of Midwives warned that nine out of ten maternity units are suffering staff shortages and vacancy rates are rising.

In another research study, it was found that neglecting babies - even for a short time - can permanently damage their development. The study found that babies from Romanian orphanages had still not recovered from the effects of their early life even after several years in a loving family. The study found that the children had lacked the early stimulation needed for their brains to grow, leaving them with a higher than average level of learning difficulties and learning problems.

Bristol survey

Widespread coverage was given in mid-May to a large-scale survey by Bristol University which claimed to demonstrate that children in nurseries suffer no measurable psychological or behavioural ill-effects from the absence of their mothers. The survey, part of the Children of the 90s study of 14,000 children, was paid for by Pampers which is promoting a new nappy for 'active' children. (The advertisements for it are now appearing on TV.)

What the news didn't mention was that the survey looked at only two measures, 'emotionality' and 'activity' and only focused on children at the age of three. The results came from questioning the mothers, often by telephone. No attempt was made to define what sort of childcare the children were in or for how long, or at what age it began. Nor was the child's overall development in behaviour, language and cognitive skills assessed.

Further enquiry revealed that the emphasis of the report was not on maternal employment, but rather on the association between temperament and development. It is therefore misleading for anyone to draw any conclusions about the relationship between maternal employment and a child's development.

It is difficult to conclude that a parent who works all day can observe (or perceive) his/her child's behaviour in the same way as a parent who is at home with his/her child all day taking most of the responsibility! At one point it is suggested in the report that a child at home with the mother is more fretful. However I would suggest that this is because the mother has had to deal with the fretful behaviour herself - a child at nursery will have had the behaviour dealt with by someone else!

The Family Education Trust said: "We should be cautious when interpreting these findings."

Member Jenny Wilson commented: It would appear at first glance that there hasn't even been an article about this published in a Peer Reviewed Journal, which, as a scientist myself (not now working!), would be the first thing you would expect from any study. What is also weird is the speed with which the media obviously snatched this up and put it in major news broadcasts.

Young tearaways may be taken away from parents

The Times reported on the White Paper on Antisocial Behaviour, which moots the possibility of introducing compulsory intensive foster placements for young people who are a serious disruption to their neighbourhoods. Entire problem families could be placed in residential centres to teach them better parenting skills.

Experts however were reported to feel that the moves were unworkable and would anyway be a drain on the already inadequate pool of foster parents. Other commentators expressed scepticism as to the long term effect of the measures.

Ministers are keen to emphasise that parents of tearaways, whose behaviour can disrupt entire communities, need to be given the skills to control their children and be provided with support, not just the threat of greater punishment.

FTM comment: How much better (and cheaper) if the government would recognise the need of parents for support, encouragement and parenting skills at the stage when the child is newborn, and the pattern of its future is being set.

No sex please, we're married

In the Sunday Telegraph Review Caitlin Flanagan reported that "sexless marriages are an undeniable epidemic". Pointing as reasons to 'the exhaustion that dogs contemporary marriages', and resentment at anything that keeps the overtired from their sleep, together with the ending of the type of advice given out in the 1950s, "One way to get a husband to be more considerate is to seduce him", and this sad state of affairs becomes more believable.

Flanagan quotes Michele Weiner Davies' book The Sex-Starved Marriage. She advises a group of female clients who complain of angry, critical husbands, to "pay more attention to their physical relationships with their husbands" to "be sexier, more affectionate, attentive, responsive and passionate". 'Darned if the old bag of tricks doesn't work like a charm' continues Flanagan - 'the ladies arrive at their next session giggling and thrilled with their new powers.'

On another tack she continues, 'Another less quantifiable factor which has served to snuff out marital sexuality is the labour-intensive form of parenting' now common, which, oddly 'has arisen now, when parents - and specifically mothers - have less time to devote to their children than ever before.

One can't help finding in these developments a frantic attempt at compensation for the hours some professional-class mothers spend away from their children.' Gone are the days of 'mucking about' at home with siblings; instead it is all organised activities requiring an enormous amount of ferrying children to and fro and less time that ever to sit back and relax. 'All domestic life now turns on the entertainment and happiness not of the adults but of the children.'

Grandma Chic

Grandma Chic is the next big thing, according to the Times. In a welcome change from superwoman aspirations, the Times reports that stores are expanding their haberdashery departments and knitting and cooking are once again hip. The modern domestic goddess "wants to create a warm and happy house and cook great meals for her friends."

'Grandma Chic' is about what is deliberately homely, about a longing for things that have that touch of imperfection, that appear to be the work of a non-professional, ….made by someone who wants to make something out of the sheer love of creating

It seems to tap into a nostalgia for a simpler, less anguished world where grandmas did what grandmas are supposed to do, like bake apple pies, have ample bosoms and keep the homestead going, …part of a rebellion against the slick and over-sophisticated things which are made too fast, too anonymously and with too little love and care.