Are recent government policies actually good for our children?
A number of factors have led us to where we are.
We are living in a culture where it is now considered normal and, by some, desirable for mothers of quite young children or even of babies to go out to work.
Many are driven to do so, often reluctantly, for financial reasons. Single parents have little alternative. Also, expectations of what constitutes an acceptable standard of living have increased in recent decades. House prices and mortgages are determined, to some extent, by the assumption that there will be two earners in a household; that in itself establishes a vicious circle when it comes to the need to earn.
Feminism and its desire to eliminate any distinction between gender roles has been a powerful influence. Many wives do not want to be financially dependent on their husbands or partners. And it is very understandable that when a woman has worked hard to gain a qualification she wants to continue to put it to good use after the arrival of children. In any case, days full of potty training, toddler tantrums and first steps in teaching a child how to read may not seem that attractive. There is considerable peer pressure too from the sense that others will look down on a stay-at-home Mum.
The government is also making it very clear that ‘working mothers’ is the desirable norm. Child benefit rules now discriminate against many one-earner families. And recently it was announced that financial help towards childcare costs will be increased.
From October next year the state will contribute up to £2000 per child, tax free. Initially this will only be for children up to five years old but within a year it will be extended to children up to 12 years.
In announcing this, David Cameron said he ‘wanted to help all families’. Churchill might have called this a ‘terminological inex-actitude’! He should have added ‘except those where a parent chooses to stay at home to care for their own children’. To add insult to injury, only those who go out to work are called ‘working mothers’! But caring for children and looking after the home on your own for the greater part of five days out of seven is surely not for slouches. How dare they imply that such Mums are not workers!
Costs of the policy?
The costs of government policy and these relatively new cultural norms are likely to be high and are already being evidenced. Are not many of our problems with older children and teenagers often, although by no means always, related to a lack of a strong bond of love with their parents and the lack of the security that a loving, stable home provides.
The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says that children should be sent to school-based nurseries from the age of two because so many start school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. But may not a large part of the problem be that mothers are not at home and, among many other things, teaching their pre-schoolers these basic skills?
A group of academics and other professionals have warned that Sir Michael’s policy would be catastrophic for children’s mental health. Moreover, it would further undermine family life and parental responsibility and open the door further for the state to indoctrinate our children. Do not a good many marriages break down because both husband and wife are under too much pressure from their employment responsibilities and have too little time and energy left for each other, let alone their children ?
Sometimes you have to
None of this is intended to place a burden of guilt on Christian families where both parents go out to work. In many cases it is a necessity which they would love to be without. Nor of course is it to suggest that every home where the mother chooses to stay at home produces well balanced, well behaved young people! But child rearing is a huge privilege and responsibility. There are few greater ones. Many a Christian biography bears eloquent testimony to the influence of a godly mother in the early years of life.
Counter cultural family
In this area of life, as in every other, Christians are called to be counter cultural and to keep their priorities constantly under review. The Lord Jesus said his followers must take up their cross daily and deny themselves. For some that may mean, for example, going off to an inhospitable place to be a missionary. But for some parents it may mean choosing, out of love for their children and love for Christ, that the wife be a stay-at-home mum for a number of years.
For most this will involve considerable sacrifice, not only financially but in terms of feeling fulfilled and of enjoying kudos amongst some of her peers. Husbands should recognise this, support and encourage them in every way possible, positively accept a lower standard of living than what might otherwise be possible, and repeatedly affirm that their wives work at least as hard as they do – but without any of the perks. PCHS