Sunday, 28 October 2012

Why 'Not Different But Interesting'

Blogging: everyone is doing it
The most notable thing to come out of my research into blogging about parenting? Answer; how many people are at it. Fascinating. I read stuff in the newspapers about how I am living in the age of self-disclosure, how the whole world and its dog (or in this case, kid) wants to share their life experience via the web. But, despite my sitting each evening with laptop at least nearby (glued to my thighs may be a more honest appraisal), reading blogs has not been my thing. Yet it would appear I am about the only person I know who isn't following someone, somewhere. Tots 100 (a community for parenting bloggers) estimates that about 6 million folk in the UK are following the 4000 or so bloggers who focus on parenting issues. That's 4000 individuals who all have something to contribute to the subject of how we raise our children in this country (and a lot of advertising revenue, by-the-by). So, however witty, erudite or thought-provoking I think I am being, the very existence of so many others, busy creating content on my chosen subject, means I that am unlikely to ever be Different. But I might just manage Interesting.

Cognitive dissonance and the meaning of feminism
Have you heard of 'cognitive dissonance'? A psychology graduate told me about the concept a long time ago now. In rough terms, it describes the sensation one has when trying to reconcile two or more views held on one subject and finding that they just won't blend into a single coherent perspective. An article on the front page of today's Observer has reminded me of the notion. In very concise terms, the article examines the impact of the high cost of childcare in this country, and laments the impact this is having on families as they endeavour to get by in these tough times. In particular it focuses on how un-worthwhile it has become for many mums, as the 'second earner' in the household, to commit to working anything more than a few hours, as the cost of childcare cancels out any benefit to the family purse. Quotes abound about how living standards will never rise if we don't get mothers back into the workplace.

Now, I was playing with my Tiny Tears when Germaine was publishing her polemics and the Equal Pay Act came into force, and I was a teenager when a woman lived at Number 10. My mum was a single parent and I let myself in after school. I should be a Feminist with a capital F, and be out there campaigning for all I am worth for my right to have a career at the same time as being a mum. But as I read this article today, with paragraph after paragraph of criticism for the current situation, I wondered 'and what about the kids?'. The demand for more affordable childcare rang loud and clear but at no point did the author wonder whether spending all this time away from mummy (or daddy) would do little Jonny any good. I don't want to knock The Observer unduly as it has done a good job of covering the impact of childcare on children on other occasions. And when I checked the online comments, I was relieved that my fellow countrymen (and women) had spotted the omission. Plenty of others had questioned whether increasing the availability of childcare was the way forward, arguing that maybe some of us actually just want to be fiscally-free to stay at home and raise our kids the old fashioned way, and that perhaps our kids would be happier if we did just that. I know, as a modern, educated mum I am supposed to want it all, even be able to have it all and do it all, but should it really be about what I want? What about what my kids need?

So, getting back to my graduate friend and his cognitive dissonance, here's where I am at. As far as I can tell, there is no one answer to the question of how we support families to be financially stable, because there is no one kind of 'second-earner' mother. I might be a mum who would rather not have to go out of the home to work, and laments the fact that my finances don't match up to my Radio-4-listening fantasy. I don't need there to be more childcare, but I do need government to organise its tax and benefits system differently so that I can be home now while our kids are really little (she's 4, he's 11 months, if you're wondering). But my 'sister' down the road, busting a proverbial gut to get her business off the ground would probably be appalled with me, because she really does want to be back out there, and isn't being enabled in her goal either. The undoubtedly un-feminist thought enters my head, that all Feminism has meant for me is that I have to work harder to keep the roof over, the food in the fridge and the kids within the parameters of content. And it still hasn't resulted in giving me or my sisters the kind of choice our mums and their sisters were hoping it would.