Archive for the ‘daycare’ Category

Heffernan isn’t wrong here but she misses a crucial point: childcare doesn’t merely allow a mom to work, it allows both parents to work, or however many parents are involved. So everyone’s incomes go towards that cost. Add up the total income and then subtract the amount of childcare before you ask yourself, “Is it worth it for one of us to stop working?” Why is that so hard?

If everyone benefits from childcare, everyone pays for childcare. Period.

From Ester Bloom’s “Let’s kill til it’s dead the myth that mom’s salary pays for childcare’ in The Billfold.

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.. was about the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare and early childhood. (Whoops, I forgot to tell you).

I snuck in some talk of universal minimum incomes, too.

I don’t regret being a work-outside-the-home mother. There are many advantages to having parents in the workforce – higher family income and social capital opportunities, to name a couple. And as a, now, single mother I can attest to the benefits of staying attached to the workforce in terms of the longer term security it provides me. (Which is why it can make economic sense to work during the early years of motherhood even when part-time work and childcare costs mean you may not lodge a profit. Think of it as an insurance policy). But if we’re going to encourage higher participation rates for women, and quite frankly our economy now depends on such, then we need to think about how we incorporate care into economic systems rather than segregating it outside the system. We must recognise that love and reciprocity are drives as fundamental to us as self-interest.

File all of this with notions like a guaranteed universal basic income and other economic possibilities for happiness that might actually be a real option if we were ready to consider them. Because, we are not talking some stagnant old debate here between capitalism and communism. We’re talking about ways of better organising our economy and care. And it starts with framing the debate around the understanding that children are in many ways a public good and warrant public support accordingly.

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Whoops, I forgot to mention this article here when it was published last week. I wrote a response to Prime Minister Abbott’s announcement about a Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care.


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Susan Faludi is the business. “Facebook feminism, like it or not” in The Baffler is brilliant.

Beneath highly manicured glam shots, each “member” or “partner” reveals her personal “Lean In moment.” The accounts inevitably have happy finales—the Lean In guidelines instruct contributors to “share a positive ending.” Tina Brown’s Lean In moment: getting her parents to move from England to “the apartment across the corridor from us on East 57th Street in New York,” so her mother could take care of the children while Brown took the helm at The New Yorker. If you were waiting for someone to lean in for child care legislation, keep holding your breath. So far, there’s no discernible groundswell.

When asked why she isn’t pushing for structural social and economic change, Sandberg says she’s all in favor of “public policy reform,” though she’s vague about how exactly that would work, beyond generic tsk-tsking about the pay gap and lack of maternity leave. She says she supports reforming the workplace—but the particulars of comparable worth or subsidized child care are hardly prominent elements of her book or her many media appearances.


Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn’t so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.

Which brings me back to this recent post… Capitalism both accelerated women’s liberation and exacerbated inequality and there is no feminist analysis of anything in our lives without consideration of that fact. I seem to continually find myself writing articles about the tensions between work and family and apart from the fact that I might be a bit repetitive I also think this stuff is at the very heart of what feminism is trying to reconcile.

Previous posts on this blog on the topic include:

The split

Some women want to stay home with children and feminism needs to make peace with that

The real reason why you should be careful in your discussions about mothers

David Willets – yeah kinda, but not really

Workplace flexibility is a feminist issue

You must read

Why we should be careful taking ‘maternity’ out of parental leave

What does feminist motherhood look like when black mothers are defining it?

Mother guilt as a luxury item

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I have a new article in The Guardian.

Yesterday the prime minister announced a $450 million dollar commitment to improve “before and after school care”. It was Kevin Rudd’s big pitch on the first day of official campaigning and as such, it is significant. The fund will allow up to 500 schools to provide extended opening hours, more places and better activities for the children attending.

The commitment is formal recognition from the government that combining work and family responsibilities isn’t easy. But the truth is, policies like these are a mixed blessing for parents like me.

Judging from the comments it is the most controversial thing I have ever written. Go figure. (I do love the commenter who proposed that work and family responsibilities couldn’t be managed any better than this so it would be better if my children were put up for adoption and able to join a more child-orientated house. Thinking outside the square. Thank you, Internet).

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Across Australia today thousands of grandparents have been put to work. But they won’t earn a cent for their efforts.

They’re looking after their grandkids while their own kids are at the office. They’re helping the next generation of Mums and Dads to pay the bills, contribute to the mortgage and continue with their careers. According to the Council on the Ageing, around 10 to 20% of over 65-year-olds are putting in unpaid childcare hours, amounting to a massive $90 million a year in NSW alone.

Those providing childcare typically contribute around 12 hours a week but for some, it’s a part-time or even full-time job.

Plenty of these Nans and Pas enjoy the hours they put in (most of the time) but that doesn’t change the fact its work, and it’s work that’s contributing to our economy by allowing parents to get to their own, paid, places of work.

From “Nanna and Pop’s unpaid labour keeping the economy ticking” by Angela Priestley in Women’s Agenda,  and thanks to Hendo for the link.

I recently cleared my calendar for nearly a month, deleting it all: work, meetings, appointments, dinners, movies, and even workouts at the gym. It felt at once liberating and luxurious, and a little bit scary. I had done this a few times before, twice for much longer times when our sons were born and once for a sad, open-ended time when my father was dying.

This would be a happy time. Our son and daughter-in-law had arranged to bring their first-born across the country for two separate two-week visits. They would both have work; could I take care of Jack?..

.. So, that history established, you can imagine that I was very interested to time-travel and try out modern life with children. Here’s what I learned, in three parts: the sociologically interesting, the surprising, and the highly improved.

Dads. I should have seen this one coming. There was no missing the appearance of more young dads with kids at the playgrounds, in the grocery stores, on mid-day outings, or the announcements of paternal leave and dads’ support groups over the last generation. But old habits die hard, and when I was laying in supplies for the baby visit, I unthinkingly asked our son to ask our daughter-in-law what size diapers and what kind of bottles I should get. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Size 3 Pampers Swaddlers and Medela bottles.”

My first reaction was: a misstep by me. My second reaction was: He’s a good dad. Later, I even indulged the idea that maybe something about our sons’ own upbringing had rubbed off on them. My husband, a writer, has primarily worked from home. He saw, heard, and, to a much greater degree than most fathers of our generation, was part of the everyday scramble of life with kids. The lucky break of the workstyle of his profession allowed a participation in and empathetic appreciation of family life that is, I think, a version of what many young families aim toward today. Something has changed demonstrably in the functioning of modern young two-parent families: Both parents are there in the elemental sense of the word. Finally.

From “How the ‘Having It All’ Debate Has Changed Over the Last Thirty Years” by Deborah Fallows in The Atlantic, and thanks to John for the link.

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When feminist writer, Jessica Valenti had a baby it turned out to be a life-threatening experience for both her and her daughter. It was an immediate introduction to the ambivalence that is possible in motherhood. In fact, Valenti described her early months in motherhood as being – “(c)rippled by fear and post-traumatic stress.” It’s the kind of gut-wrenching description that stops a reader in her tracks. There’s a great potential to trivialise motherhood and in doing so we miss out on understanding both its bleakest moments and its soaringly romantic ones. I suspect ambivalence is a near universal experience for women but it’s so taboo we rarely fully identify it in parenting books. This book, more than anything else, is attempting to fully examine that ambivalence.

Why Have Kids?  is an interesting and brave approach to the conversation about parenthood because it frames the discussion in a political sphere. At one point the book quotes Katie Allison Granju and Jillian St. Charles as saying – “many women will tell you that becoming a mother was the most politically radicalizing experience of their lives”. Absolutely, and it is refreshing to see an author treat the subject with just this level of seriousness. Valenti covers a range of topics that deserve attention but which rarely get featured in books about parenthood like, the history of state control over women’s bodies and child-rearing practices; the infantalising pregnancy diet and the alcohol-abstinence messages; the incessant downplaying of the role of fathers; the success of non-nuclear families; the classism around how we view at-home mothers differently according to their wealth; the tensions in achieving work-and-family balance; and the predatory success behind the ‘parenting expert’ anxiety industry. Because this book is a commercial one about parenthood, rather than an academic book, these topics are probably ground-breaking for the genre.

The chapter, “Bad Mothers Go To Jail” is particularly thoughtful. Here, Valenti examines the phenomenon of child abandonment and neglect as the heartbreaking evidence it provides that motherhood is not nearly as serene and unconflicted as we are led to believe. It is a chapter like this that makes you appreciate a feminist like JessicaValenti taking on parenthood for her book. This chapter also highlights the sense of losing oneself that is common for women entering motherhood and one of the book’s strengths is the manner in which it normalises the desire in some women not to be parents. As Valenti goes on to argue, most women spend a great deal of their lives using contraception to avoid getting pregnant; so, it would seem strange that we stigmatise women for not wanting to ever be pregnant, given that it is a view we can all relate to ourselves for much of our lives. Why Have Kids? is not going to offend those readers who are ultimately deciding against parenthood, Valenti is clearly wanting to draw the non-parent and parent communities together and it’s an excellent ambition for a parenting book. This means the book doesn’t touch on any of the extreme individualism that is sometimes being directed towards mothers and children by elements of the childfree movement and which leads to a misogynistic judgementalism about mothers, but deciding that is beyond the scope of the book is reasonable.

Why Have Kids? is occasionally prone to some simplistic generalisations about attachment/natural parenting that can come across as divisive. For instance, elimination communication (EC) is labelled a “feminist’s worst nightmare”, staggered vaccination schedules are seen as helicopter parenting, and the backlash against French feminist, Elisabeth Badinter’s anti-breastfeeding book is described as “(h)ell hath no fury like La Lech League scorned”. Why Have Kids? is right to critically examine parenting trends, given their impact on women’s lives, but broad sweeping statements are likely to alienate some mothers. Valenti, a mother who breastfed initially but who chose formula-feeding when the breastfeeding became part of the trauma she was experiencing with her premature baby, is particularly concerned with the heavy-handedness of the breastfeeding message and it’s a very important story to be telling. But it is frustrating in a book like this one, that seeks to debunk myths, that scrutiny is not being applied with the same persistence to the misogynist barriers against breastfeeding. The ways in which public space, workplace practices and marital expectations are arranged is actively hostile to women trying to breastfeed and tend to their infants, and this is a serious feminist issue. I feel quite certain that Valenti gets all this; she selected quotes from an interview with me where I am making some of these arguments and she ultimately ends this particular chapter by acknowledging that “(p)arenting and caretaking are only as oppressive as our society makes them.” But still, the discussion around attachment parenting is uneven and could benefit from more nuance.

However, where Why Have Kids? gets it exactly right is where Valenti confronts the perfectionism and policing that happens in motherhood these days and some of this is coming from the attachment/natural parenting movement – “(i)t may be that American mothers are so desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves “expert moms” rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role for us”. These will be uncomfortable truths for motherhood experts and websites that make their money by schooling us in exactly these pursuit, but, yes and yes to what Valenti is saying here.

As well as the attachment parenting chapter I also found myself somewhat conflicted when reading the chapter, “The Hardest Job in the World”, where Valenti justifiably questions what can be a patronising and exploitative message for women about the role of mothers. It is sexist that the boring, mundane tasks of mothering are sold to women as some kind of special task for which we are biologically designed and therefore not entitled to reward or status for doing them; but it is equally sexist to reduce all caring tasks to the trivial, the mindless and the twee. Mothering can be complicated and compelling and also, intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The fact that we describe it as involving problem-solving no more difficult than “kissing boo-boos” is telling. Given all this, what does it say when we characterise some women as falling “for the trap of believing that parenting is the most important job they’ll ever have”? This is a difficult balance to strike in feminism – between denigrating ‘women’s work’ and liberating women from domestic servitude, but it is one where white, middle-class feminist mothers, like myself and Valenti, risk universalising our experiences at the expense of disabled mothers, mothers of colour, trans parents, mothers in incarceration, poor mothers and other marginalised people who are still fighting for their mothering to be respected and for whom mothering can be a radical feat of activism and community building. The availability of high quality childcare is not the answer to every problem.

Why Have Kids? is probably at its strongest where it approaches tricky subjects but openly acknowledges its own bias. So, for instance, the chapter “Women Should Work” is buoyed by this rather lovely piece of self-reflection from Valenti after admitting that she thinks women should generally avoid being at-home parents (a view I share, in part): “I’m not sure how to reconcile these beliefs with my feeling that people’s life choices should be honored. I think there’s a way to discuss and think critically – and be critical – of parents’ choices without resorting to personal attacks and hyperbole. And I trust women and mothers to be able to have this conversation with the knowledge that we want to make parents’ lives better”. There is some great stuff in here on what the studies are really showing about long-term outcomes for mothers and children when mothers stay attached to the workforce and it refutes conservative propaganda. The chapter also includes the most interesting and humanising interview I’ve seen with Linda Hirshman in some time. In it, Hirshman notes the social impact of elite stay-at-home mothers on the rest of us in terms of raising unrealistic expectations  – “Setting aside for a moment the people who have to work, an important question is why do they do it? It’s like the really skinny models; it’s some bizarre norm of female accomplishment that no one can really achieve”. Hirshman has her blind spots (some of them large) but she makes solid points in support of women’s participation in the workforce – “If the rulers are male, they will make mistakes that benefit males” – and her interview reminded me that Hirshman is mostly motivated by a desire to improve the lot of mothers.

For all the doubts raised about the over-prioritising of parenthood in women’s lives in Why Have Kids?, Valenti arrives at a conclusion, not unlike a lot of us: “I, unfortunately, didn’t have a choice in deciding whether or not she would be the center of my life. She just was; her health and survival depended on it”. Making peace with this fact – that children are vulnerable little beings who will sometimes justify great sacrifices on our part and yet, somehow we must be allowed to remain intact as ourselves – is important feminist work. Personally, I would love to have seen more sharing of experiences from Valenti in Why Have Kids? because I eat that stuff up with a spoon, but I can see that a memoir is not the book Valenti set out to write here. You won’t agree with everything in this book no matter which direction of parenting you’re coming from, Valenti acknowledges that, but it is taking the mainstream conversation about parenting to a meatier level and it’s about time that happened. When the book ends with its wonderful conclusion about why we need to move away from individualism – because when one mother is punished, we are all punished – I am hoping all readers hear that.

In accordance with disclosure guidelines, please note that I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher and I am also quoted in the book. 

(Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town).

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While I absolutely love the book, and the conversations it’s spawning, I do try to remember that, say, attachment parenting, although it seems like 90% of people I know are trying to do it, is a BLIP on our nation’s radar. Most babies are on formula, most babies are in daycare, most babies are vaxx’d, most boys are circumcised, etc. I hate to pick on people who are already on the fringes for trying to defend their choices, many of which are great, sensible choices. How can women attempt to agitate for issues which ARE choices without being judgmental? One could say, never, but if you think that circumsion is genuinely wrong, do you say so to other moms? Do you try to convince people? When is it ‘mommy wars’ and when is it ‘lobbying for change’?

Well here’s the thing – they may be on the fringes population-wise, but not in terms of their cultural power and significance. And I don’t see it as “picking on” as much as I do thinking critically. But maybe that’s a fancy way to say picking on, I don’t know. And some of these issues – like anti-vaccination – have a huge impact even if they’re just practiced by a few people. The CDC says the whooping cough epidemic is at the worst its been in 50 years. If you can watch a video of a kid suffering with whooping cough and still not vaccinate…I don’t even know what to say. So that’s a tremendous public health issue. But with all of these issues, it’s always going to be painted as “mommy wars” so long as it’s women debating things. The difference for me in terms of what we should be focused on is lobbying individual mothers versus trying to create systemic change. It seems to me that all of this nastiness on mom boards and blogs (and I’m sorry, there IS a lot of nastiness) is a distraction that keeps us from politically mobilizing. So no, I’m probably not going to say to an individual mom that I think such and such is wrong (unless it’s vaccination then I’m just going to make sure my kid goes nowhere near her kid) because it’s not likely to create change that has any lasting impact.

From The Hairpin.

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You must read this wonderful essay in aeon magazine from economist, John Quiggin – “The Golden Age: The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil”.

Quiggin takes Keynes’ theory and in this essay fixes up some of the old oversights by talking about how happiness and money could be shared more equitably to include the marginalised like, stay at home parents, women, artists, the working poor and those who cannot (for a variety of reasons) work. After you have read this essay you will understand why capitalist feminism, which dominates in the USA, can frustrate me.

But far from weakening Keynes’s case against a money-driven society, the problems of caring for children illustrate the way in which our current economic order fails to deliver a good life, even for the groups who are doing relatively well in economic terms. The workplace structures that define a successful career today require the most labour from ‘prime-age’ workers aged between 25 and 50, the stage when the demands of caring for children are greatest.

Yes, the essay does have a bit of economics in it but I think it is all quite manageable, so don’t be put off, read on .. and if you’re having trouble with understanding any of it copy and paste the relevant bit into the comments below and I will try to ‘layperson’ the economics for you.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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NOTE TO COMMENTERS: Welcome to bluemilk. In this thread, the same points are now being hashed and re-hashed in comments. Please read the entire post and thread before replying. In addition, please note that any comments downplaying slavery & racism may not be accepted. Some existing unacceptable comments may be left in place at the moderator’s discretion, especially if already replied to/called out.

Let’s move the conversation forward. Thankyou.


An African mother and slave, presumably wet-nursing for a white master’s baby while her own child goes without. The image is from The Sociological Cinema files and they are having trouble tracing its true credit. I find this photo incredibly painful – breastfeeding, with all its hormones, bonds, and intimacy, and the transferral of that unwillingly from one’s baby to another’s.

Looking at the photo I was reminded of a description in this piece, which is not about slavery but which is truly beautiful writing from Mona Simpson in The New York Times with “Nannies – Love, Money And Other People’s Children”:

Seeing Michele Asselin’s portraits, I remember the heightened sensitivity of my first months as a parent. The pictures are beautiful and idealized. The women look at the children with love. No one looks frustrated. No one looks bored. No child is having a meltdown. They conjure the dome of tender air that encloses a mother, whose body is coursing with hormones, and a newborn.

But these moments of private contentment, with the serenity and depth borrowed from the portraiture legacy of the Madonna and child, do not depict mothers with their infants. The women holding the children are nannies. Part of what’s striking about the pictures is that they position front and center a person who is often left on the editing-room floor when a family’s memories are being assembled. Nannies have told me that their employers crop them out of photographs of their children. On the wall of a West Los Angeles home, I noticed a blown-up photo of a baby in a pretty white dress, held by a pair of hands of a darker color. In her photos, Asselin captures a radiance between caregivers and children, often of different races…

.. We don’t like to mix love with money. We want love to come as a gift that offers as much pleasure and reward to the giver as to ourselves. No one receiving love wishes to break it down to its component parts, of good sense and feasibility, much less to consider that payment may be necessary to inspire the whole project.

I highly recommend that article, it takes what can be a one note guilt-trip topic and goes somewhere else with it.

UPDATE: As you can see below in the comments the picture has now been identified – this is one of the things I love about writing on the Internet. Pretty much instant knowledge. Harper has the story in a comment below and the mother in the photograph may or may not be an African slave, because she might instead be a paid ‘wet nurse’.

The second thing that has changed since I first wrote this post is my assumption that this photograph would make everyone uncomfortable, as it did with me. The title of my post was, in part, a reference to all the many photographs of mothers breastfeeding their babies that we see where anti-breastfeeding types complain that the pictures are making them uncomfortable, offending them, or turning them on. I thought, now here’s a photo that really does make me uncomfortable and it is because the mother is doing this lovely, nurturing activity with the baby but there is, what I assumed to be given the information I had, a pretty awful backstory. It is the juxtaposition of ‘mother love’ against the cruelty of slavery that makes me feel uncomfortable. But Minna Salami of MsAfropolitan, and a Huffington Post blogger, told me she had quite a different reaction to the photo:

Minna Salami: Does this photo make you feel uncomfortable? I find it strong and compassionate even if poignant. Wondering why you presumed that the African woman’s own child wasn’t being breastfed? Takes away agency..

Me: Guess I’m imagining her baby isn’t allowed to be prioritised over this other baby. And it’s missing out on something.

Minna Salami: Whether prevented or not, a mother could find ways to protect her children. And surely often would. There was still agency. To me, the photo says love and humanness triumphs despite patriarchy and racism.

This is another thing I love about writing on the Internet. New ways of thinking. Minna Salami makes an excellent point and it is one that was also expressed by ifyspify in the comments below.

Finally, a word to clarify my original post: I wasn’t assuming that the mother in this photo was necessarily not able to also breastfeed her own baby but I was assuming that she would be forced to attend to this baby over her own baby.

PerthMum makes a good point in her comment that breastfeeding supply equals demand and obviously mothers are able to breastfeed twins and other multiples. My opinion on wet-nursing was also influenced by having recently read this article about Europe where Anne Manne says:

There was, however, an entirely different rule for poor women. For them it was not merely okay but necessary to breastfeed for they became wet nurses to elite women’s babies. Such babies replaced at the breast their own infants, who frequently died.

More Update: You must read Elita’s reply to Minna below.

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