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This House believes mothers should stay at home and look after their children.
This House believes mothers should stay at home and look after their children.
In the age of apparent equality women are increasingly encouraged to ‘have it all’, balancing career, children and marriage in order to be seen as successful. Some feel this is bad for children who are then cared for by a child-minder, nursery, or member of the extended family. Others feel that no harm comes to children if the alternative care is good and that children may in fact benefit if paid work makes the mother happier and her work improves the family’s living standards . Occasionally fathers will also decide to stay home as carers instead of mothers. In many countries, mothers (and sometimes fathers) have a legal right to maternity (or paternity leave). The Czech Republic has the longest parental leave programme, lasting until the children are 2-3 years old and can be taken by either parent. For UK women this comprises 26 weeks paid leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave. Recently the British government has made changes so that this leave can be shared between partners as the parents see fit. In Sweden, leave is offered to either parent until the child is 18 months old. The USA does not have a national paid maternity leave program (although there are schemes in some states), compared with 50 weeks paid maternity leave across the border in Canada. India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, and Japan (and many more) offer around three months paid maternity leave, and Australia began a paid maternity leave programme in 2011 (All statistics from the International Labour Organisation)1. Other options exist, such as protecting the right to ask for part-time work or flexible hours. However in many families, especially where the mother earns the majority of the family’s income and may be the only earner , it is financially impossible for the mother to stop work without considerable state support, which in most cases doesn’t exist. Many studies point to the years before a child starts school as the most important in its educational and emotional development. For this reason, should the mother be at home, at least until her children start school? Or can children develop equally well- or sometimes better- with support from others in addition to their mothers? In the context of this debate, I use the term ‘housemother’ to express a mother who stays at home to look after her children, and ‘housefather’ to mean the same thing in relation to their father.
|Points For||Points Against|
|The role of the mother is sacred.||Focusing on the role of the mother ignores role of other carers, namely the father and grandparents|
|Childcare options are bad, and often unaffordable for poorer families.||Mothers who stay at home are not as good role models as those with active careers.|
|It is better for society if mothers stay home.||It is unpractical for many mothers to work at home, because the family needs her financial support.|
|What is best for children.||Encouraging mothers to stay at home wastes the education and talents of many women|
|Good nurseries are positive environments for children|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The role of the mother is sacred.
In many religions and cultures the role of the mother is a sacred one. The bible, specifically in scriptures Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2: 4-5, focuses on women’s role as ‘keepers of the house’, who should bear children and raise them in the way of the lord. In Proverbs 31: 28-31 women as a whole are praised for the successful raising of children and home, and as such this role is valued more than a mother working. In the Quran, mothers are regarded highly (e.g. 17:23, 31:14, 46:15). The prophet Muhammad even stated that 'Paradise lies at the feet of your mother'. The Islamic Scholar Majmoo' Fatawa wa Maqalat Mutanawwi'ah explains that within the Quran ‘She [the mother] is to be given precedence over and above the father’. Yet for a mother to earn this regard, she must stay in the home above all else, and this involves not gaining employment outside the home when caring for children. Hindu scriptures similarly often state that one must worship his or her mother first (Vanparva313.60, Apastamba Dharmsutra i.10.28.9). Thus for many religions the role of mother is sacred. This means that the woman should be viewed as privileged and valued as a housemother, a god-given position that is not available to the father.
In secular circles as well, often women look after children because in most countries they originally receive more maternity leave than a father does paternity leave1, or are necessary carers because they provide breast milk. In this case the mother’s choice to look after the child at an early age is merely a practical one, and if during this time a closer bond develops between mother and child, then it seems easier that they should continue to care for the child.Improve this
Scripture is out of date when it comes to issues of women’s rights and responsibilities no matter how sacred they may consider the role of motherhood. Focusing on the traditional stereotyped role of mother as the primary care giver is extremely restrictive for women. It is such religious beliefs that have meant that social prejudice is so developed world wide that even when women are given the option of letting the fathers care for the children, they often feel that this is not really a possibility. This severely limits a woman’s freedom of opportunities, and is likely to restrict her future employment prospects. As both partners have created their child, it is only just that the care of the child is assumed to be shared unless other issues, such as finance, change this position.Regarding the importance of maternal breast-feeding, few mothers breastfeed for longer than the period allowed for paid maternity leave in many countries. This is therefore not an argument for their staying at home for longer than the period of leave.
Childcare options are bad, and often unaffordable for poorer families.
The BBC has previously recorded that in the UK childcare options are often unaffordable, and families with two working parents are often not much better off than families with one working parent (October 2003) 1. There is more recent evidence of this from Aviva’s Family Finances Report in 2011, which found ‘parents questioning whether they can both afford to work, due to the high cost of childcare 2. Workingmums.net reports a similar situation in the USA, and from anecdotal evidence, such as a number of blogs, it appears this situation is common worldwide. If this is the case, then maybe it is logical for mothers to save on childcare costs and give up their own work.
Furthermore, it is undeniable that a professional carer who looks after a group of children cannot give as much singular attention to one child, or know all the specific whims of each child. Psychologist Steve Biddulph 3 believes that this leaves the children desperate for a single adult to shower them with affection, and a denial of this desire can lead to higher levels of aggression by the time they reach primary school. However, a housemother would both be able to give the attention and know the details, and avoid an increase in these levels of aggression.
3 Biddulph, 'Raising Boys: Why Boys are Different - and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men'Improve this
Childcare teaches children to socialise at an early age, and some are state sponsored. Places such as nursery/playschool or any form of group child care actually teaches children social skills, such as how to share toys with other children, how to make friends and how to cope without their parents for a short time at least1, and this is a happy, informal and easy way for children to learn these skills. Kathy Sylvia disputes the research illustrated by Biddulph and claims that after the age of two, and in good nurseries, children are no more likely to become aggressive than those who were looked after by a fulltime housemother. She also claims that in the cases where aggression levels are higher, this is usually dispelled by the age of 11. She bases her findings on the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project, 2004 (explained further in scrapbook).
Instead of taking time off to look after their children, mothers might use their energy to protest in their right to free, reliable child care in order to allow them to work if they choose too.In reality, in Britain one in three working mothers rely on grandparents for childcare, who do provide affectionate one-to-one care 2. Grandparents are also not an unaffordable expense for poor families.Improve this
It is better for society if mothers stay home.
Mothers who stay at home benefit society as a whole. The money that they save on childcare can be spent in other areas such as pensions, healthcare, or environmental issues.
Stay at home mothers are more likely to have time to be involved with their community. Volunteers are needed in many spheres of education such as PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations), classroom assistants or organisers of school trips and sharing skills(News Talk Radio) 1. However there are many other areas where they can make a difference as they have the time, such as volunteering for charities or community groups and looking after other parents’ children. Those mothers who stay home are able to become more fully involved in these aspects of community life in the process making the community a much better place to bring up children.Improve this
Finally, why is it better for mothers to spend time outside the home volunteering rather than in paid work if we are concerned about the impact of separation from the mother on the child? Surely one is as harmful, or not, as the other? If mothers aren’t working and earning a living, where are they going to find the money for pensions, healthcare costs and environmental issues? Furthermore, if more women were working, then the state would have more funds from tax. Therefore the state would equally have more money to spend on these issues if more women worked than if women stayed at home to look after the children. If mothers work for a living, they can engage in society more directly through their job, and they can use the money that they earn to make a real difference in their community. The money that is earned by a working parent typically offsets the costs associated with childcare so leaving the children in a similarly well off situation1.Improve this
What is best for children.
Early childhood is the most influential period in a child’s development 1. It is in this period that a child learns which social rules are to be obeyed and how emotions, such as anger, are expressed. Also it is the period of time when ‘attachment’ begins (see ‘attachment theory’ authors such as Donald Winnicott or John Bowlby, also discussed in ‘scrapbook’ below), and many psychologists believe this attachment is essential to normal social and emotional development in the child 2. Therefore the more time the mother spends with the child at this time, the stronger this attachment will be. Mothers who stay at home can ensure their children get the best possible start in life. They can help the child learn how to appropriately express emotions, and create a loving bond. This bond will ensure that they know what their children are doing, how to make them happy, and when something is wrong.
When the children are older, a housemother is more able to monitor her children’s activities and therefore will know if the children are late home from school or tardy going to school and therefore will be able to notice any problems. Housemothers will also be better equipped to take their children to other after school activities or social events. For these reasons, if the mother stays at home when the child is young, she can better ensure that the child has a safer and more varied experience later on in life.
1. Patterson, Child development
2. Bowlby and King, 'Fifty Years of Attachment Theory: Recollections of Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby.'Improve this
Attachment studies have actually shown that the best relationship occurs when the child accepts the fact that the mother will leave, but also knows she will return, and welcomes her when she does. If the mother never leaves the child there is no time for this belief to develop and the process of developing healthy behaviour concerning the mother's absence will be delayed.Furthermore, some of the studies referred to by the proposition, e.g., Bowlby were based on very limited or inappropriate evidence e.g., children wholly separated from their mothers in institutions.
Children do not need to spend their whole time with their mothers to develop well. Not all mothers are equally competent or nurturing. Mothers who are depressed or have other problems can be bad for the development of the child.In this age of technology, a mother does not need to be at home to ensure that her children are. Contacting the child on a landline telephone would be one way to ensure they are home. Also many homes are now equipped with internet video phones and a quick phone-call would be all that was needed to check they are at home and safe. This also suggests an element of trust between mother and child that would be well appreciated as a child grows older and teaches the child some forms of responsibility.Flexible and/or part-time working therefore enables mothers and fathers to combine supervision of children, taking to after school events with work. Part-time working has long been common for British mothers specifically.Improve this
Focusing on the role of the mother ignores role of other carers, namely the father and grandparents
Focusing on the mother as primary caregiver ignores the role of the father, which can have two severe negative impacts. It reduces him to breadwinner outside the home and no more. Firstly, it sidelines and trivialises the role that the father has in the child’s upbringing. Secondly, it limits the mother who faces the social pressure that she ‘should’ be the one giving up work to take care of the child, even if the father is equally capable and willing. Hoffman1 believes that, as a result of social stereotyping, a father is unlikely to undertake a fulltime childcare role unless he is forced to by his partner’s having returned to work. When this ‘higher participation in child care’ occurs, Hoffman believes it results in an ‘increase in the academic competence of both boys and girls, but particularly for girls’. Thus according to Hoffman, housefathers actually increase their children’s IQ levels more than house mothers.
Perhaps the most important issue with regards to the father’s role is that it is valued and desired by the father himself. Few employers offer paternity leave at all, and even fewer provide paid paternity leave. Even for those that do provide leave for fathers, it is often on a very short-term basis, leaving fathers often to miss out on time with their new born after birth. Over the past few years, Careerbuilder.com has released an annual survey that suggests that between 30%-50% of dads in the United States wish they could be stay-at-home parents with their partner working full time; but this situation is not financially possible for them.2 The focus on the mother as the ‘natural’ or ‘right’ primary caregiver for children ignores the desires of fathers like these.
Ultimately it seems that these issues can only be readdressed by dismissing the belief that women ‘should’ look after their children, and instead allow parents to decide what is best for them as a family.Improve this
Focusing on the role of the mother as the primary caregiver is not ignoring the father. Quite the opposite, as the breadwinner the role of the father is essential in enabling the mother to stay at home and look after the children.Improve this
Mothers who stay at home are not as good role models as those with active careers.
Girls need role models. However, mums who stay at home only offer the role model of housemother to their daughters. Yet a working mum illustrates to her daughter that she can have both a career and a family. This type of influence early on and throughout life has shown to have a huge effect on what women believe they can achieve in their careers 1. If this is true then housemothers suggest to their daughters that employment is out of their reach, which will perhaps limit their future choices and hinder them from a satisfying work life. Indeed, daughters of employed mothers have been found to be more independent, particularly in interaction with their peers in a school setting, and to score higher on socio-emotional adjustment measures2, so perhaps with this in mind a working mother is a good influence on daughters.
Finally, as children get older and begin to have a career of their own it could perhaps be difficult for them to relate to their mothers who they have only seen in a domestic capacity, therefore working mothers have the advantage of being able to relate these experience with their children.
Boys also need the example of how to be good, supportive, attentive, responsible fathers who don’t abandon their families.
1Thomson, 'Preferential Hiring'Improve this
A role model of a responsible mother who brings up her children well is not a bad role model for her children to have. Children have other role models apart from their parents, they may be other relatives or friends or celebrities. There is no complaint that Boys do not get a good role model on how to be a good stay at housefather because it is assumed that it is not necessary.Improve this
It is unpractical for many mothers to work at home, because the family needs her financial support.
Families need financial support as well as emotional support. While it seems indisputable that a child does need strong emotional connections in order to get the best from life, it is equally undeniable that families need a strong and reliable source of finance in order to thrive. Childhood poverty is shown to have a lasting negative effect upon infants. According to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Young adults who as children suffered financial hardship, were in trouble with the law or played truant have significantly greater than average chances of earning lower wages, being unemployed, spending time in prison (men) or becoming a lone parent (women).”1 Thus financial security becomes just as important as emotional security. This is especially true for the growing numbers of families headed by lone mothers on low incomes.
Furthermore a mother has to concern herself with the family as a whole, rather than a singular individual, and it might be in the case of the whole family, the financial needs of the many outweigh the emotional needs of the one child. Additionally, many housemothers are in a very vulnerable position. If a housemother is dependent on the wages earned by her working partner that the relationship power balance will become unequal, with the woman totally relying on the support of the man. Moreover, if a marriage were to end in divorce, a housemother would find herself looking for a job with lower qualifications and having been unemployed for a significant amount of time.Improve this
Many argue that this is a particular problem for women, as childcare often is so expensive that a working mother is not financially much better off than a housemother 1. In this case then perhaps what should be argued is that childcare support systems should be provided by the state that both allows women to work and look after their children, and gives them more support, both practical and financial, to allow them to look after their children in the early years.Improve this
Encouraging mothers to stay at home wastes the education and talents of many women
Many mothers have previous experience in the work place or a trade and skills that would be valued by society. The fact that these women then become stay-at-home moms results in a huge loss to various industries. Ohlsson, Sweden’s EU minister, claimed in 2011 that the GDP of Europe could grow 27% if more mothers were encouraged to work 1. However, if mothers were to return to work not only would this be a great help to the countries productivity but would also increase the demand for child care providing many more jobs. They would add to tax revenue by paying taxes, while also doing the valuable work of raising children. Most employed mothers work a ‘double shift’ : working hard at childcare and housework when at home. Much childcare is not paid for by the taxpayer or anybody but is given free by grandparents2.Improve this
Housemothers do a lot of work that should be valued highly by the state and society. Housemothers work an unpaid, 24/7 job that is very hard work. They save taxpayers money as housemothers do not require free childcare. They do all this without a wage and in many cases without any support (or at least without any extra support than that which is provided to working mothers). If we accept that a stay-at-home mother is the best thing for the child, the family and society at large, then rather than encouraging the mother to work, we should be focusing on the immense amount of productive work she already does in raising the children and reward this with a better scheme of benefits and support.
Good nurseries are positive environments for children
Children are not disadvantaged by the time spent in nurseries whilst their mothers work. Research by Professor Kathy Sylva indicates that in fact ‘those who attend average to high-quality nurseries will be able to form better relationships once they start primary school’.1 A combination of the regular exposure to other children of similar ages and to lessons imparted from good quality carers ensure that these children enter schools more mature and comfortable around others than children who were reared solely at home.Improve this
Many disagree that nurseries are positive environments for children. Oliver James, a clinical child psychologist, has written that ‘while nursery care may do no harm to about two-thirds of children, there is undeniable evidence that the experience is highly stressful and can be harmful’. Professor Sylva even admitted in her study that ‘some children placed in nurseries show slightly higher levels of aggression in school’.1
Furthermore, the Sylva study only applies to good nurseries, which are both hard to find and expensive. Many cannot afford or find such childcare options, rendering the opposition’s argument null and void.Improve this
Biddulph, Steve, Raising Boys: Why Boys are Different - and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men, Harper Thorsons (2003)
Bowlby, R and King, P, Fifty Years of Attachment Theory: Recollections of Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. Karnac Books, (2004).
Einarsdottir, Porgerdur, Through Thick and Thin: Icelandic Men on Paternity Leave, (University of Iceland Press, 1998)
Patterson, C, Child Development, New York: McGraw-Hill (2008)
Saul, Jennifer, 'The Politics of Work and Family', in Feminism: Issues and Arguments, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Thomson, J.J., 'Preferential Hiring', Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, (1973)
Tronto, Joan. C., 'The "nanny" question in feminism', Hypatia, Volume 17:2, 2002
Child Policy International, Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leaves in the OECD Countries 1998-2002, The Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies at Columbia University, 2002