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We need a Mother’s Union: how society is failing to support parents

Parenting, in particular motherhood, can be a really tough ride. The Opportunities Party’s Jennie Condie writes about why she’s entered politics to try to make a difference.

“How many times have you worked with co-workers you loved but hated the job?”

This question was raised by Amy Gray in a brave column recently about mums who regret motherhood. I hope Amy had lots of good friends around to moderate her comments and tell her what a great mum she is, because any mother who dares to talk publicly about the frustrations and challenges of motherhood better be prepared to be publicly shamed, insulted, humiliated, and bullied.

Or, as our own Emily Writes put it, be told to “be grateful.”

I’ve got two young boys; the oldest is four and the youngest is 18 months. I love my boys to pieces, and they are demonstrably the most wonderful children who have ever existed (fight me!). I’m so proud and yes, grateful, to be their mum. But motherhood, well, sometimes that’s pretty rubbish.

To paraphrase Emily, “We are grateful, now give us the support we need to do our damn jobs!”

If you worked somewhere where the employment pay and conditions were as terrible as they are for motherhood, you would join your union and fight for better support and conditions. No one questions whether police officers or teachers love their job when they strike for more support so they can do their job well. But when mothers complain about how hard motherhood is, suddenly it is the mothers who are at fault and not society. Sadly there is no “Mothers Union” to fight on our behalf.

People often say at this point that “if you didn’t want to be a mum, then you shouldn’t have had kids.” Look, I support the choice that many women make to not have kids. But let’s be realistic – without kids there would be no future adults. Parents provide society with an incredibly valuable resource: future citizens. And whether these kids grow up to lead successful lives as fulfilled and active citizens is largely determined by the care and teaching provided by parents in their child’s first three years.

And, increasingly, mothers are saying that those first three years are a lot harder than they need to be. Motherhood shouldn’t be like boot camp, where only the most resilient make the cut. Motherhood is not a test to weed out the unworthy. Mothers (and fathers) provide a valuable community service that benefits all of society and it is time we started acting like it.

In Amy Gray’s column she said that “anyone shocked by women who regret motherhood isn’t listening to women.”

Jenny Condie and her family Credit: The Opportunities Party

At The Opportunities Party we are listening to women. In fact, several of our candidates are mums with young kids, so we know first hand how hard it is for mums – like Jessica Hammond-Doube, who is standing in Ōhāriu. (And we’re pretty bolshy, so Gareth doesn’t really get a choice about whether he listens or not). We know that society is failing to support parents. And we know that this has a huge negative impact on mums, dads, and kids.

First off, we will make sure parents actually get paid for the important work they do caring for children and acting as first teachers. All parents with a child under three will receive $200 per week. We trust parents to know how best to spend that money to ensure their families thrive. Some women would rather stay home with their children, so they can use that money for rent and groceries. Others are excited to go back to work, so that money can be used to help with childcare costs. And hey, did you know that sometimes fathers might want to stay home with their kids?! (These crazy young people today, challenging traditional gender roles.) With this support, parents get to decide what works best for them and their family.

This money will be unconditional, meaning everyone will receive the full amount regardless of their income. This makes it easier for parents to work part time or casual jobs if they prefer, without worrying about the impact these extra hours will have on your Working for Families and other benefit payments.

Second, we will give extra support to lower income parents. These families are often the worst affected by the draconian work testing requirements that mean that, for example, solo mums can’t pick up a few extra hours of work without losing their benefit for weeks. These families will get an additional $72 a week without a work hours requirement, instead of the current in-work tax credit. They will also get free full-time childcare for their one and two year olds if they are in paid work (with no minimum hours).

Third, we will extend free Early Childhood Education (ECE) hours from 20 to 40 hours a week. We will also make sure that all ECE centres provide high quality education and care. Too many low income families have no choice but to leave their children in substandard care at the moment, and this cannot be allowed to continue.

We know there is a lot more to do for mums and dads, but we think that this is a great start.

This article is part of an ongoing Election 2017 series on the major parties’ family- and child-focused policies.

Jenny Condie is an academic with a PhD in accounting, a former public servant, mum of two delightful young boys (one who likes to sleep and one who doesn’t), and a list candidate for the new political party The Opportunities Party (TOP).

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