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.
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