Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ask Not For Whom The Rattle Shakes

The last thing I wanted to be confronted with on my first baby-free coffee break since having my two-month-old baby boy was the debate on whether working mums were getting too much flexibility at workplaces. Unfortunately, the column by Sarah Le Marquand in the Sunday Style magazine (unfortunately, not available online) that I was leafing through slam-dunked me with exactly that. 

The complainants seemed to be other childless working women who felt they were left covering-up for their working-mum-counterparts waltzing-off for their children's soccer practice or ballet class. It just seemed unfair to them.  

“Great!” I found myself thinking. “Now not only did I not have to worry about how and when I would get back into the workforce, I also had to worry about how I would be imposing upon my child-free counterparts when I do.”

At first glance, I had to agree with naysayers. I am candid enough to accept that even when I do start working, I probably won't be as single minded about it as a childless worker. I would be balancing my home commitments with that of my workplaces’, so presumably be less available than others. Wouldn’t that make me the workplace moocher?

After all, no one asked my husband and I to have children. We chose to have them. Why should anyone, choosing to forgo the joys of parenthood, pay any price for my choice? I am the one enjoying the hugs, the kisses, the first word, the first step, the messy artworks and shaky football kicks. What good are my kids to all the child-free people of this world? 

There is a clear economic rationale to having full-time workers. I couldn't just bank on social niceness and tolerance. Does my being a mother of any economic value to others, I found myself wondering?

Then, I found one (and a bloody good one at that) and sighed with relief.

My choice of having children carries an incredible economic benefit for all my child free counterparts. My kids would make the future working generation of this country. All our pensions will depend on their existence, skills, earnings and taxes. Seen from this angle, working mothers are doing a favour to all the child-free people of this world. They are taking on the pains of labour, breast feeding, tantrums, illnesses, school admissions, VCEs and the choice of university courses so that everyone’s pensions could be safeguarded. And on top of that they are working and contributing to the country’s taxes. Flexibility from their co-workers to attend an occasional football game or music recital is the least they can ask. 

In traditional societies, people had children as their insurance against old age. But with modern states came the concept of social welfare: that it was society’s responsibility to look after its old. The individual didn’t have to have children to pay for his or her elderly care in future. So having children became a lifestyle choice instead of an economic one. 

But what we seem to have forgotten is that while not each one of us has to have children, society as a whole still needs children for its system of social welfare to be sustained. And those children still need to be nurtured into responsible and contributing members of society. So childcare becomes not just the responsibility of parents but of all members of the state. 

So here is my counter to all those who question a working parents’ flexible hours, “Ask not for whom the rattle shakes, it shakes for thee...”

On that note:

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