8 Apr 2014

Why is parenting becoming undervalued in our society?

While driving to a meeting last week I was flicking through the radio stations to find something worth listening to when I came across an interview on talkback radio. They were discussing the rise in discrimination of pregnant women in the workplace in Australia as the number one complaint against employers.
I was appalled to hear of stories of women being asked to choose between having a family and their job. Then there were others who were immediately treated differently in their work environment because they had the gall to make the biggest decision of their lives, to have a child. A decision and a responsibility that cannot and should not be taken lightly.

In The Age Newspaper (8 April 2014), it states that, "one in four mothers said they were discriminated against during pregnancy, almost a third experienced discrimination when they requested or took parental leave and more than a third experienced it when they returned to work."

Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick of the Australian Human Rights Commission who researched 2,000 women states, "The major conclusion we can draw from this data is that discrimination has a cost - to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole."
(The Age, 8 April 2014).

The biggest impact of this on our society is the stress, anxiety and pressure that it places on women, who then ultimately feel added 'societal and media pressure' after their child is born - this can then lead to further stress and anxiety that babies then also feel.

I don't believe it is limited only to women. Men are increasingly choosing to spend more time with their families and changing their work arrangements to enable them to do so. "A recent insurance company survey suggests that a man is now the primary carer in one in seven UK families." (The Guardian, Saturday 26 January 2013).

The labels that parents are given now is a reflection on the shallow and surprisingly negative attitudes towards parenthood. Women are labelled 'yummy mummies' if they lose weight after giving birth or 'stay at home' mums as if to suggest they stay home all day in their pajamas and hibernate from the world.
Men are labelled 'Mr. Mom', 'Stay at Home Dads', and the media states that parents have had to 'give up' their career to look after their child.
The problem with that is, why is this seen as a problem or something unusual?
One dad in the UK (The Guardian, Saturday 26 January 2013) was asked if he was gay because he was the only dad in the park amongst a group of mothers. He also received sympathetic comments from people because he had to 'give up' his job to take care of his son.

It got me thinking about how society is increasingly undervaluing the absolute privilege it is to be a mother and a father and how more often now it is seen as lowering your standards or decreasing your chances of success, not only in the workplace but in looks, in ruining your body, in having the best car, home, holidays........the list goes on.

The media is constantly shouting at us that if we don't get our figure back post birth or our jobs and career back, that we are not seen as successful in this world. That once you have a child, that's it. You have lowered your status and shame on you for making that choice.

Sad to say that I have even witnessed those who have chosen to over compensate for this apparent 'lack' and have taken the path to have a child and then end up in a spiral of the never ending climb back to the 'status' of having it all and doing it all - but for what and at what expense? There is a real risk that parents themselves will start to undervalue their role as a parent and understanding the responsibilities that come with parenting.

Are parents believing the hype and media pressure, that to be successful you must have or be seen to have money, a career with status, a new car, a home with a perfect garden, interior design and the latest fashion, trends and also to broadcast all that you have on social media for all of your 'friends' to see - to shout out that 'yes!' you have it all and that you should be held in high esteem for this? From whom and for what?

Why is it that society is so intent on forcing women back into the workforce for believing all this leads to success? We are told by Government that it is good for the economy.

But is it good for children?

Whilst I understand that many families are struggling on one wage and therefore must return to work, I also have a strong belief that the connection parents have with their children when they are young, particularly from birth to age 5 is irreplaceable and provides them with the grounding they need to move into the next phase of their lives. And no, it is not easy and there are sacrifices to be made, but this is what parenting is.
This may be an old fashioned view and it doesn't always suit everyone, however choosing to be a parent shouldn't mean you have to be labelled or chastised for making that decision or fall into the trap of believing the hype and following the trends of what is seen as success.

Through my work in schools, I am now trying to help parents to stay connnected through building parent engagement to improve learning outcomes for children. Parents quite often feel undervalued as the main educator of their children. When researching the barriers to engagement between home and school and talking with many of my friends who are parents, many of them feel out of the loop and not always welcomed at their child's school. Quite often these may be parents who have chosen to stay at home and raise their children who have many skills and ideas that could be shared and valued within a school learning community and to assist their children with learning at home. There are also parents who are working who are unable to be present at school but who would also like to stay connected and kept informed on their child's progress more often.

Ultimately, parents want the best for their children, however the barriers to achieve this are sometimes great, not least from a society and media intent on downgrading or devaluing the role of parents in raising their own children - to be present and connected is so important - the sooner we are a wake up to this, the better, more connected world we can provide for the most important people on the planet - our children.

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