With news this week that within four years more women than men will have jobs in the UK, I’m beginning to wonder if something’s gone awry on the long walk to women’s liberation.
I’ve long fought for a woman’s right to choose in every department in her life, but lately it’s struck me that ‘freedom’ is being increasingly interchanged with selfishness, and the idea that women might give up a portion of their old busy lives for the sake of their babies is too frequently derided as old fashioned or repressive.
Just as old fashions often come back into vogue due to their unarguable good sense, new fashions often turn out to be shallow, stupid and badly thought through. The current trend for busy well-off women to carry on after the birth of their children as if nothing has happened is all three. Unless there’s a willing, and baby-tuned dad to stay at home — and there usually isn’t — women should be making sacrifices for the babies they’ve chosen to have.
Last month Gordon Brown was forced to scrap his plans to abolish childcare vouchers after a Labour backlash against the idea. The story roused great passions in the Press but the aspect which worried me most was barely considered — Brown had hoped to use the funds to extend free nursery care to two year olds.
I’m sure this policy would be great news for those mothers who bounce back to full-time work within months of giving birth, such as Billie Piper (after six months) and Kate Garraway (after three months). But isn’t it time to ask whether the citizens of tomorrow are best served by government policies which push them into the arms of strangers at the age of two? When did we all agree that this was the best way to nurture our children, to form unbreakable bonds with them and give them childhoods full of happy family memories to get them through hard times and to form the basis of their own childrearing ideals?
There are some mothers who, due to poverty, have little choice but to go back to work early. Some of them are single mothers, and my heart truly breaks for them. But there are too many women who believe that work is their right, their identity, and their passport to a nice house, decent holiday and fabulous wardrobe. They resent the idea that their choice to have a baby might impinge on those aspects of their lives. Many of them, within months of giving birth, have their kids in wraparound care from 8am until 6pm. They like to talk about how it’s quality time that counts, but actually, it’s not all that counts. Sometimes your kids just need you there.
I know it’s hard. I left an exciting and glamorous job in London, where I was an enthusiastic participant in the capital’s many pleasures, for a quieter, cheaper life in Belfast when I had my daughter. My son is still only three and I haven’t worked full-time since.
I know some of my old friends think I failed to grasp the benefits of modern feminism properly. But secretly I’ve always pitied the men who are expected to rush back to the office.
Why do so many see days spent singing and reading and rolling around with giggling, happy babies as wasted time? I wouldn’t have swapped those days for all the dream holidays or ideal homes in the world.