Article published recently in The Catholic Weekly.
On my blog recently I referred to ‘non-working parents’ and to a school day I spent at home with my young sons as one of my ‘non-working’ days. But of course, while I had not been in any income-producing employment I had worked a lot on that day.
Apart from looking after the two younger boys I had washed, dried, sorted and put away a load of laundry. There was cleaning and tidying, preparing lunches for the next day, doing the school run and supervising the after-school routine (emptying of bags, retrieving of notes).
There was more cleaning, carrying, and physical caring for children, plus covering of new school books after that. I also did some exercises with my son and took a walk with my eldest daughter, which left us free to chat about things pre-teens want to talk about. No wonder I was tired by the end!
Most parents, unless they are very elderly or infirm are working parents. And the elderly and infirm contribute richly too, but in a different way. Raising a family is real work! Real hard work too, and while the work of parenthood is abundantly recompensed it is not paid in monetary terms and thus not very prestigious employment. I wouldn’t expect a senior high school student telling a career advisor she intended to pursue marriage and motherhood to be taken too seriously.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has just announced a decision to allocate more funds to childcare and scrap the paid parental leave policy in an overhaul of the federal government’s family assistance system. It’s clear that our government values our contribution to the paid workforce more than our contribution in the home.
However women are living longer and thus many will be able to participate in the paid workforce for longer. I’m no expert but it seems that if a woman is able and wishes to take extended time out of the workforce to raise young children (and future taxpayers) that should be a viable option from an economic perspective.
One problem though when we talk about the ‘work’ or the ‘job’ of motherhood is that we easily fall into the trap of comparing apples with oranges. As part of a vocation in the deepest sense it belongs to a higher order of things than ‘consultant’, ‘teacher’, ‘bus driver’, or ‘doctor’ although mothering can encompass aspects of all these jobs and many more. Mothers are uniquely placed to form the kind of people and citizens our world desperately needs. And they are uniquely placed to form souls for heaven.
We raise our children to value this work of motherhood. They might make noises as though they don’t think it important. They may talk back, or ignore our requests, question every single thing we say, or be utterly dependent on us for every single thing (in the case of newborns, or even, I am told, some teenagers and young adults!). But the second they need us, we see that they do value it. Or at least we can hope they will one day, when they have their own children.
Pope Francis recently encouraged fathers to “waste time” with their children, to play with and do things with them, to make sure that they invested lots of time into their relationships with them.
As he knows, playing and ‘wasting’ time with our children is not wasting time or energy at all. It’s an important part of the work of parents and not something that can be outsourced to their children’s friends and their digital devices.
We need to push back against the notion of many of our political leaders that people are valuable primarily as economic units. Part of pushing back is to acknowledge our appreciation at every opportunity the work of mothers qua mothers, and fathers qua fathers. And to show it in our own lives in the way we interact with our children and spouses.