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Time for Parenting...

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

October 2000 Newsletter

Editorial; Notice of AGM; Feeling under pressure; Marriage and Parenting; Motherhood mady sexy; Survey Results; Warning! Motherhood can damage your wealth; What the papers say

Mothers and society: Our Survey Results - by Ruth Chenoweth

'Full-time mothers are energetic, creative thinkers who shoulder responsibility and successfully take up positions of leadership. They are able to develop clear personal objectives to balance the different dimensions of their lives and possess superior interpersonal skills. They make a high impact contribution to the lives of their families, friends and community through good use of time, resources and commitment'.

This active portrait emerged from the responses to the survey which FTM recently conducted amongst its membership. There were returns from all around the network, from a wide variety of women including single/divorced parents, part-time workers and grandmothers. Despite disparate back -grounds, there were significant common themes that help to describe the state of mothering today. Ruth Chenoweth, FTM member and former management consultant, initiated the survey and analyses the results:

Life-changing

Most respondents were very positive about their experience as full-time mothers. They described the satisfaction of caring for and nurturing their child as life-changing. Direct participation in the development of their children resulted in the emergence of creative talents in drawing, craft, writing and the honing of high level interpersonal skills in negotiation, communication, and diplomacy.

Community service

The depth and range of full-time mothers energetic involvement in their local communities suggest that, without their leadership and caring skills, education, health and social services would experience a serious dent in their effectiveness. Full-time mothers are school governors, adult learning and literacy counsellors, breast feeding counsellors, emotional counsellors, charity trustees, playgroup/ toddler group leaders, home educators, care workers (elderly and children with special needs), writers, artists and representative in various professions
on a part-time basis. Given enough time and energy most full-time mothers found sources of support in their local communities.

Frustration with government

There was, however, almost universal frustration with the attitudes of government. Economic and social policy neglects full-time mothers. This also influences the workplace, so that many women deciding to become full-time motherss were met with amazement and comments such as 'I never thought of you as the motherly type' or 'what will you do all day - you'll be bored stiff.' Such attitudes frequently contributed to a severe loss of identity and a sense of worthlessness that took many women two or three years to emerge from.

Economic pressure

The pressure to demonstrate economic viability manifested itself at several points: first, when their children started school, secondly when their children became teenagers and thirdly if they became single parents. Mothers in such situations found it necessary to point out that children need a release from the pressure of school; that teenagers (especially boys) need emotional security; and that poor children need their mothers, as much as (if not more than) rich ones. Women who decided to remain at home through these transitions believed that high quality care is most effectively provided by a secure, supported full-time mother.

Support networks

Women discovered that the support of those around them was vital to achieving a sense of value and purpose. Male partners played a crucial role in supporting their choice, but so did extended family and social networks in the wider community. Pressures and challenges of mothering causes mothers to need cultural support and therefore the flavour of current political and economic attitudes becomes even more bitter.

Many respondents were members of their local churches or NCT branches where a sense of extended family provided the social approval so conspicuously absent from society at large.

Returning to work

Many had undertaken part-time work, but expressed a desire to retain their sense of autonomy. There was a realisation that in returning to the workplace the agenda would be set by the employer and that their own values, centred upon the family and community (which had often taken much emotional work to achieve) would become subordinate to the economic goals of their employer.

A few described a perception that mothers at home and mothers at work were in opposition to one another. It was most likely to be female colleagues who exhibited hostile reactions to a decision to stay at home, and there was some resentment that mothers at home are assumed to be available for childcare and voluntary services to support mothers at work.

Further education and re-training

Improving job skills was an important experience for a significant proportion of respondents. The most commonly-mentioned area where mothers wanted to enhance their skills was information technology. Reasons given: to achieve personal satisfaction, to improve future employability and to contribute to the education of their children.

Barriers preventing mothers from accessing opportunities for training in IT and other areas were finance, the availability of flexible, trustworthy childcare, time and energy. Full-time mothers who had decided to take on more formal employment found that their emotional and managerial skills had been enhanced by their time caring for children. Others discovered a completely new direction such as writing, art, caring or teaching.

Summary

In summary, three core messages can be drawn from the honest and lucid accounts of the mothers who responded to the survey:
Mothers need valuing: their work in building social capital in the family and the community requires external recognition, particularly at national policy making level.

Mothers need resourcing: loss of earnings causes real personal hardship and many of the largely voluntary organisations mothers depend upon are poorly funded.

Mothers need personal development: the potential for learning through the experience of full time mothering is neglected. Lifelong learning opportunities need to be free and flexible for all women who want the chance to be full-time mothers.

RC 2000