Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Sentimental Value of Motherhood

I was recently watching a comedy show where the comedian started talking about how Hollywood treats the Irish. He said you only need to look at the movie the Titanic to see that the Irish are expendable but of great sentimental value.

I thought that a very apt description of mothers, mothering and motherhood especially under the new conservatism that is ensnaring society. While women are to now consider themselves pre-pregnant, abortion as a right is being threatened, and motherhood is touted as the be all and end all, little is being done to really support those who choose to be mothers.

While women drop out of the workforce even for short periods of time to have children their male counterparts are going on to achieve greater gains by not having to take time off. Though there are laws on the books to encourage fair hiring practises in reality women are often asked questions about marriage, motherhood and childcare, and certainly not in any positive sense. As well though we are fortunate in Canada to have a maternity benefits program there are still restrictions on number of hours worked in the last year, and the amount of benefit is only to a maximum of 55% of your income or $413 a week, whichever is less. You must have worked a minimum of 600 hours prior to your claim, more if your employment is sporadic or you recently joined the workforce.

Daycare programs that would enable mothers to work are woefully short of spaces; even fewer are programs, which cater to mothers who work shifts. Promises have been made for decades without any real movement and the current government’s agenda is to put daycare even further back on the list. The $1200 payment they offered as daycare plan is seriously flawed. [1]

Excerpt from an informative paper on childcare;

If the democratic and civic function of a child care centre were fully applied, the choice of moving to an industrialized area that is unsafe for children would not come up, since from the outset, we would not have created areas that are unsafe for humans. Nor would a child care centre adopt sectarian values because the search for the common good runs counter to sectarianism. We would know that we have to adopt holistic strategies, adapted to the different learning methods and living conditions of the children, because we would know that all people have specific characteristics that strengthen the group and ensure its survival over time.

Child care centres would link up with the other services and programs in the community, since it is only in that way that they can facilitate the transitions, ensure the continuity of services, and reflect a shared vision. Finally, we would treat all members of the group – children and adults – as well as the group itself as equally important, since the individual cannot exist without the group, nor can the group exist without the individual.
The concepts of community, of all working together for a common goal, of supporting families and incorporating the concepts of ensuring universal access to quality childcare in order that women are free to participate in the workforce without penalty, are foreign to any of our current governments. All emphasis is put on running government as a business forgetting the common good is the government’s business. A government which truly supported mothers and children would see universal childcare centres central to supporting mothers as a reality and not motherhood as sentimentality.

The stigma of single parenthood falls squarely on the shoulders of women. When was the last time you saw a study devoted to how unmarried fathers negatively affect children’s lives? Or cuts the taxpayers money. It is somewhat surprising that scientific studies haven’t been conducted to find out how these women are getting pregnant on their own. When single fathers are mentioned at all it is to laud them for doing so well without a mother in the house. Yet single mothers are under a constant microscope to do not as well as a two parent family, but even better.

Politicians can vent about single mothers and welfare rolls not only with impunity, but also with assurance it will gain them votes. This is how we respect mothers who have left abusive situations? By cutting funding to shelters, cutting welfare payments and assuming that everyone on welfare is trying to cheat the system? We reward those who (in accordance with conservative beliefs) choose to keep their child by calling them immoral and not wanting to provide them with the extra supports they will need to continue their education in order to find decent paying future employment? Widows are treated no better despite the sentimentality on that subject as well.

And after a life of caring for others, of losing out on the fast track, of taking ‘low power’ positions how are mothers rewarded? With pensions that in too many cases leave them in poverty and a Hallmark card vision of what being a grandmother means. And though our society sentimentalizes grandmothers it does little to ensure their well being, instead leaving them to finish their days on the street, in small rooms or warehoused in low cost nursing homes where death may well be a welcome relief.

Sentimentality is what we offer when we try make ourselves believe we care for those who care for others, instead of facing the reality that we are a society unwilling to take care of the caregivers.

[1] [ The Incredible Shrinking $1,200 Child Care Allowance: How to Fix It, Ken Battle, April 2006]


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