March-April 2011 Selected Content
In Defense of First-Person Parenting - Jeanne Faulconer
Homeschoolers often have interesting arrangements for taking care of their kids. Families work it out all different ways--with work-at-home jobs, homeschooling and paid work shared between a mom and dad, dad as the primary homeschooling parent, or a single parent juggling it all. However, most of the homeschooling families I run into still have a parent, usually the mom, providing full-time or nearly full-time care for children with a spouse working a paying job outside the home.
No matter how prevalent that arrangement, most of us homeschoolers do not realize we need to pay attention to policies that impact at-home parents. We are busy looking at homeschooling legislation, as well we should be. But at-home nurturing of children is at risk by policy and popular culture. One of the reasons is the way working mothers are portrayed statistically.
Family and Home Network, online at http://www.familyandhome.org/
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Family and Home Network's website http://www.familyandhome.org/ notes many conversations about mothers' roles start with this statement: "According to the Department of Labor, more than half of today's mothers now work outside the home."
FAHN goes on to say:
While there is nothing wrong with the Department of Labor's statistic, it has been widely misused and misunderstood, impacting policy debates and public opinion. It's important to understand what this statistic actually measures. The DOL statistic includes all mothers with a child under the age of 18, and it includes mothers earning any income at all (even those working as little as two hours per week). Yet many advocates for "working mothers" use the DOL statistic in a setting that focuses on mothers of infants and young children, leaving the impression that the majority of these mothers need full-time child care. Why would anyone do this? Among the reasons: some are concerned about lower-income families' financial challenges, some believe it is better for mothers to maintain full-time employment, and some so-called advocates for working mothers/families are owners of child care businesses who benefit from increased use of their services.
I'd add that before state budget crunches occurred as a result of the economic recession, advocates for universal preschool also used this statistic to demonstrate the need for public preschool. Since the moms are working anyway, doesn't the government have an obligation to provide child care, and wouldn't it be best to do it by adding to the years a child spends in school? After all, we already have a system for that.
Adding to the early years a child spends in school might help the very most vulnerable children, but selling that--and the jobs it creates--requires buy-in from others, whose children's needs might be better served by as much family-based nurturing as possible. Family and Home Network's website explains that despite widespread misconceptions about the dominance of working mothers, national research studies show that a solid majority of parents prefer having an at-home parent care for young children. But what I see is that few are speaking for at-home parents. Some mothering groups, while doing important work to emphasize the value of motherhood, still make out-sourced child care their lobbying priority because it frees the mother for economic and career advancement and may help to level the career playing field with men. Some conservative groups advocate at-home parenthood as an expected role for women rather than a fulfilling choice.
What about me?
• What about the mom who would not accept being told my role for these many years at home was not a choice but a mandate?
• Where is the support for someone who values having children cared for within the family, transitioning into homeschooling as an outgrowth of a strong family culture of learning and caring?
• Where is the non-partisan support for as much direct, first-person nurturing of our children that parents find desirable and possible, regardless of our individual political positions on the economy, social issues, and foreign affairs?
My oldest children are in college after years of homeschooling, and my youngest is an early teenager learning at home. No longer dealing with the challenges of homeschooling a very young family, I've dipped my toe back into the world of paid work in various flexible, part-time ways, and I even consider now whether a single full-time job might be less stressful than my current piecemeal approach, which features no fewer than six work-related email accounts. But I've not forgotten what it is to know in my heart that my young children needed me and were, in our family, best served by having a parent as their primary caregiver as much as possible. I also continue to value what I learn and enjoy from being immersed in parenting--from personal growth due to the full-time navigation of at-home parenting to being the witness to a child's eureka moment as he realizes that 8/8 = 1.
What about you?
I know you are working it out in the ways that are best for you. If someone in your family is an at-home parent, or if you are seeking ways to maximize your children's time in the care of a family member, have you:
• Given thought to how those of us who value at-home parenting could be impacted by policy?
• Or how society is shaped according to policies that push or reward as much full-time outsourced child care as possible?
• How vulnerable will homeschooling be if at-home parenting continues to be marginalized as a choice?
I recently read an online debate among mothers and was startled to hear at-home mothers characterized by many of the women as always affluent yet somehow economically not savvy to their financial vulnerability--thus, went the conclusion, we must work, work, work and taxpayers must subsidize our child care--either by providing child care itself or providing tax credits to working moms. My own mind went to my friends who forego cell phones, cable TV, and car payments--who raise their own food and cook it at home. I thought of my many homeschool friends who make homeschooling work by shopping at thrift stores and trading resources with one another. I remembered fondly our old station wagon parked among minivans; it was known as the Griswald car because of its resemblance to the one in National Lampoon's Vacation movies, but my husband only half-jokingly called it the secret to our financial success--a success we defined by being able to have an at-home parent and the resources to enjoy camping trips and homeschooling.
I'm not saying all parents should live frugally so they can have an at-home parent; I'm saying that the choice is no longer seen as a possibility by many in our society. Further, in that vacuum, our government is free to promote policies that engineer our society toward outsourced child care, even as new research about child development confirms the rightness and richness of the type of nurturing that can be done well by first-person parenting and indeed, by corollary, an education at home in the heart of a family. Additionally, parents who are at home may feel more adrift than ever, lacking support for their vital, yet invisible, work. And rather than boosting the status of women, we see further societal devaluing of nurturing, something many women are good at and drawn to.
Family and Home Network is the only non-partisan organization I know that is addressing these concerns in the ways that ring true for me. While FAHN unapologetically addresses children's needs for generous time and nurturing from their parents, and parents' needs for support, I'm especially drawn to the organization because it educates policy makers and the media "about policies that discriminate against families who provide 'quality care' for their own children."
If you, like me, are concerned about the nurturing of children, are drawn to ideas of maternal feminism--which includes at-home parenting as an empowered choice by women or men--and would like to address society's slide toward partiality for outsourced child care, please consider exploring the resources at Family and Home Network http://www.familyandhome.org/. Maybe you'd like to join or support the work.
As homeschoolers, I believe we are especially vulnerable to policies that marginalize at-home parenting. Addressing that concern doesn't have to be because we're conservative, liberal or libertarian--it's just because we care about children and want to be treated fairly as we go about the business of letting the bread rise, trampling through the woods with bug jars and nets, and coaching the youth soccer team. And because we think society is better off when many people know about the benefits for children and rewards for parents when people do as much first-person parenting as they choose.
© 2011, Jeanne Faulconer
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