Valuing mothers

Why we need to pay mothers

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

Psychotherapy doesn’t exactly have a glowing history when it comes to mothers. Perhaps it’s because many of the founding fathers of my discipline were, well, fathers.

Or maybe it was just the times, being as most of the central theories and research, including attachment theory, was initially carved out in the early to mid-twentieth century.

However, I have a simpler explanation. I think it is so easy to blame mothers because, by and large, they’re there. When we think about our childhood, – there they are.

It’s like the old joke. The teenager, in a hormonal rage, turns to their father and screams “it’s all your fault!” Dad looks at them with a confused look and says “How can it be my fault, I was never here?”

From Freud to attachment theory, mothers then naturally become the focus.

It is undeniably true however that children need to attach to someone consistent. But more widely whether it be in the past, in other cultures, or in the Prime Ministers residence for that matter, fathers can and do step into that primary role.

In fact, children are quite capable of forming attachment relationships with many different adults, from an early age. Grandparents, wider whānau, and yes, even Early Childhood Educators.

However, it’s always struck me that while we “value” ECE, and as such are prepared to pay for it, why do we not pay mothers who do choose to stay at home and provide full-time care for their children?

To reduce the conversation down to whether daycare itself is good, or bad, is to simplify something to the point of meaninglessness. No matter what child-care a family might choose, it needs to be consistent, to be high quality and allow attachments to form and hold the child.

But most importantly for families, mothers, fathers and children, their needs to be a range of choices.

Increasingly – and especially in our larger cities – economic reality means most families don’t have a choice. And sadly, parents who may want to choose to be stay-at-home parents, or join parent lead ECE options like Playcentre can’t.

In fact, MSD requires mothers to utilise daycare once the child is three so they can be work available.

Only the privileged middle class still get to choose how to raise their kids.

So perhaps, if we really want to change our culture of attacking, shaming or otherwise critically focusing on mothers we should choose to value them. And how we value things in a capitalist society is to pay for them.

Of course, it would really be funding attached to the child. If mum or dad chose to stay home and parent, they get paid, you can use it to subsidise a nanny, or if you send your child to daycare, they get the money instead.

Parenting in ways that suit your families needs, and according to your own values, shouldn’t be a financial decision, because while you can’t buy love, maybe you can value it.

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