Women At Home

 

The Transition to Motherhood - a Reality Check

 

Making sure your needs are met

 

Fundraising

 

Help I feel so isolated at home

 

A Blueprint for economic justice for the Family

 

The Homemaker's Allowance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Transition to Motherhood - a Reality Check by Elyse Killoran

The following experiences are almost universal - yet they catch many of us off guard. If you have been judging yourself as a success or a failure at this mommy stuff based on what you had imagined motherhood would be like, read on...

  1. As a new mother, you are likely to be exhausted and under stress, and to experience emotional highs and lows.

    The postpartum experience is one of peaks and valleys. As in any transition, there will be losses as well as gains. At times you may question your ability to mother well. Your relationships with friends and significant others will likely change. You may feel very isolated and you may miss some aspects of life before baby's arrival. New mothers typically report experiencing the full range of emotions--from elation to joy, to pride and a sense of spiritual expansion, to jealousy, anger, guilt, and frustration. A sense of ambivalence during the first months of your baby's life is not a sign that you are a poor or uncaring mother. On the contrary, it is a sign that you are deeply aware of the significance of this experience and that you are allowing your love for this child to change and deepen your sense of who you really are.

     

  2. Your expectations of motherhood may not match your reality.

    The images that you might have had of motherhood, garnered from the media, had you believing that nearly every minute spent with your new bundle of joy would be peaceful, joyful, and fulfilling. Yet caring for a child is difficult, emotionally demanding, and frequently boring work. It is likely to come as a shock when you find that you were ill prepared for just how demanding your infant could be. You might find yourself feeling frustrated by the repetitive nature of the tasks (for as soon as you have diapered, clothed, and fed your baby, it is time to repeat the cycle). You might miss the social interaction that you enjoyed at the office or the intellectual stimulation of your job. No matter how much you love your child, it is perfectly normal to admit you are not necessarily enamoured of the role of full-time at-home mum.

     

  3. You may find may find yourself so enthralled with your little one that your love affair with the baby begins to eclipse your love affair with your husband.

    Many new mothers find that their needs to be touched and adored have been satisfied by the interaction that they have with their babies. Yet their husbands long for the intimacy they once enjoyed with their wives. It may seem as if finding time for adult conversation or romantic nights alone requires too much effort and energy, but unless a couple puts forth a concerted effort to keep the romance alive, the arrival of a baby can mark the end of passion and the beginning of something more akin to a "sibling/best-friend" relationship. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is the model of a successful marriage--one in which both partners listen, respond to, and support one another. Although it might seem difficult to imagine now, it is really in your child's best interest for you to set aside time without your child so that you can continue to nurture your marriage.

     

  4. You may have to work to stay connected to other aspects of your "personhood."

    It is so easy for a new mother to get swept away by this new role and to lose herself somewhat in the process. Therefore, it is essential that you make it a point to carve out some time for the activities that meant a lot to you prior to motherhood. By reserving a bit of time for enjoyable and rejuvenating activities, you will find it easier to share yourself with your child during the rest of the week. One suggestion is to reserve one evening a week where one of the parents can have time for him or herself. The other spouse is then responsible for all child and home care for a set amount of time, which provides each parent both with quality time with the child as well as some very vital personal time.

     

  5. The best gift you can give to everyone around you (especially your children and your spouse) is the gift of caring for yourself.

    Not only is your own self-care a gift to yourself--it is an absolute necessity for the health and well-being of your loved ones. While most new mothers will stop at nothing to ensure that their children's needs are met, these same women behave as if they can deny they own needs indefinitely. The reality of motherhood is that you can only share as much love and nurturing as you yourself are receiving. It is essential that all mothers ask for help and support on a regular basis in order to replenish themselves and to build up their reserves of energy and love. Once your needs are met you'll have so much more to share with your family.

Elyse Killoran is a Personal Success Coach

Return to Top of Page

 

Making sure your needs are met

by Karen Houghton

When we become a stay at home Mum, full or part-time, it is so easy to forget about our own needs as a living breathing person being met. This can begin from day one!

You probably agonised over your decision of taking some time out of the workforce. Will we cope financially for a couple of years? Will work cope without me for that time frame? Is this really the best way to go about it all for my child? Will my husband feel o.k about me being at home. Odds are, thinking about your needs and whether it is what you want was probably way down the list! If you are like most women and I hate to say it Mums, you are probably still putting everyone elseís needs first. If you are, then it is time to make a few changes.

Iím not talking about running away from home when we feel like it, or leaving children to fend for themselves. (Yes, yes, we feel like it sometimes!) What I am talking about is making sure we get a balance happening where everyone in our family has their needs met and that means us too!

Most women in our fortunate country of Australia manage to have their basic needs met like shelter, food, and water. These basic needs might have been satisfying for our great mothers, as they were too tired after looking after families of 10, with no appliances and help from partners to even think about other needs, but it is 2003 and today we have other needs that need satisfying. We need to have our needs of stimulation, self-esteem and sense of achievement met. If we donít feel great and feel positive about our life as it is, right at this moment in time, then we run the risk of depression, anxiety and a general feeling of a life spinning out of control.

For most women, we work up until we have children and have activities like sports and hobbies, and a full social life to boot! I know I did. My life was full, but oh what a shock those first few weeks of full-time at home Mum were! It was very difficult to get my basic needs met like sleep, food and even water! I can tell you. Even though Ian was off for 6 weeks it was still a survival game!

Things soon settled down a bit, and my basic needs were being met. Ian was now back at work and I would wait for the moment he walked home through the door. ĎTell me everything! What Ďs the gosí I would ask, as I grabbed his coat and case and neatly put them away. The house was absolutely perfect with not a speck of dust anywhere. His coat and bag had to go away instantly! Weíd have a drink and Iíd pump him for any news! Then Iíd tell him how Gareth could now clap his hands. I had sat for hours showing him how, mind you! He was a wonderful baby and was going to be the most wonderful child/adult, on this planet!

I think it was the fact that Ian would not put a glass down on the table, (for fear of me whisking it away to wash it) that finally made me realise that I needed a life! I was living my life through my husband and my sonís life. I was trying to have my needs met by them. I needed conversation, I needed to feel a sense of achievement, self-esteem and recognition of a job well done. I soon realised cleaning a house from top to bottom and teaching my son everything was not the only way to go about having these needs met. I was certainly a happier mother, spouse and general individual once these needs were met.

So how do we meet these needs. Well we canít just wait around for it to happen, we have to make it happen. If you crave conversation, like I did, then join playgroup and meet other women who are in a similar position to your self. If you crave conversation about anything but children, then join a bookclub, rotary, neighbourhood watch, or toastmasters. If you have a need of doing something worthwhile then do some charity work. You may be able to bring your sweet bundle along to a nursing home and say hello to the residents.

A sense of achievement can be met through sport or hobbies. Going for a walk and losing all the post baby weight can be a big achievement! If you are a creative person and these needs are not being met, then you will definitely not be a happy lady! You may now have a little person around, but this doesnít mean you canít still be creative. You will no doubt think up creative ways just to manage sewing with a toddler on the ground! (Yes, my son has pushed the peddle down and the machine and it took off at 60kms!) but I just thought up ways of how to still sew.

Take a reality check and see if your needs are being met. If you run from place to place making sure that all the childrenís needs are met (sport and hobbies) and you canít wait for your husband to walk in the door, then it might be time to think about how you are going to meet your needs.

Return to Top of Page

 

Fundraising   

Many women at home belong to committees. You may be on the playgroup, preschool, school, or any other local organisation or club committee. Some women are on more than one! As less and less funds are made available for these groups, fundraising becomes more of an issue.

The first thing to think about when considering fundraising is why you are fundraising. It may be to: 

  • raise funds for a particular project
  • simply raise extra funds. 
  • let the general public know that your organisation or club exists 
  • just bring all the members together and have some fun and raise a little money at the same time. 

How you answer these questions will give you the outline of your fundraising needs. If you need a lot of funds to build a new clubhouse, then that is serious fundraising. You may be constantly fundraising by an accumulation of different ongoing activities. On the other hand, if your local dog club needs to paint and repair the fence, you may wish to bring everyone together and have a BBQ at $10/head (to cover the cost of the food and fence materials). In between eating and having a great time, everyone will help with the fence. So establishing why you are fundraising can vary somewhat.

Fundraising can be fun and easily achieved if you try a few of these ideas and suggestions:

Planning and organising

A written fundraising plan is essential. This plan should include:

  • the amount of money you wish or need to raise
  • how you intend to do this ie the fundraising activity or activities;
  • who is going to do what;
  • the steps involved in bringing the activity to fruition (eg purchasing the food);
  • everything that is needed for each of these steps (eg for the step above ie purchasing the food, youíll need to decide what to have, where to buy, how much is needed etc)

You may do a few draft copies of this plan before the final plan is decided upon. Once you have the final copy make sure all the people involved have a copy so that everyone knows what they are doing to ensure your fundraising activity runs smoothly and easily. A written plan also makes it easier for someone to jump in, if someone drops out. This written plan can also be kept for future fundraising.

Deciding on the activity

Most committees are looking for ways to raise funds that donít need much planning and organising but deliver great results. Risk factor is also something to consider. By spending a few thousand dollars to organise a fashion parade and dinner dance would carry a risk of many tickets having to be sold to cover the cost and make a profit. These larger events if organised and planned well can raise lots of money! Lots of smaller activities spread over the year is a popular way of fundraising for many groups. To be successful, these activities need to be appropriate to the group involved and have the widest possible appeal. Selling bulbs as a fundraiser in Darwin for instance, would probably not be that successful. Think of the target group and plan appropriate activities. 

Protect your interests

If in doubt about any of your fundraising activities, ask first. Check if you need to obtain any licences, insurance cover or council approval. Insurance is a hot issue at present, with a lot of organisations concerned about public liability. Check with your insurer.

Record Keeping

Good record keeping is essential in fundraising. For each project, keep in a file the names of businesses that you will be dealing with and a contact name. Keep all copies of correspondence between yourself and them. Make sure you collect all receipts as you go along. I can speak from experience here. Itís a lot easier to ask someone for the receipt the day that they pick up the breadrolls than trying to get it from them two months later! If the treasurer's job is too demanding, then split the position and have a vice treasurer or a fundraising treasurer. Check on GST and ABN implications.

Try not to look at fundraising as a chore and keep this in mind when choosing your activities. Enjoy what you are doing and have fun. Keep the motivation going by encouraging each other and keep in mind that all involved are mostly volunteers and are doing their best. Remember that what you are doing is going to benefit your child at school or your Mum at the local senior citzs! and take pride in the fact that your family helped your local community to be a better place.

Return to Top of Page

 

 Help! I feel so isolated at home

re  

"Hello is that the Fantastic Decorating Shop, yes, great I was wondering if you might be able to come over today and give me a quote on new curtains for my whole house. You do give free quotes donít you, great? See you at 11.00"

I was watching this show on the television once and this is exactly what the main character did on the show. She rang up all these tradespeople and got them to come over and give her free quotes, just so she could have some company. At the time I thought, wow how desperate are some people! After being a full-time mum at home now for 11 years, I still remember that show, and boy it is not a concept that is now so far out there as it once seemed in my full time working days! No I have never done it, but I do use the idea as my personal benchmark. I was determined never to let myself become that lonely.

So what does make us feel like we are isolated at home? For most of us, we chose to be at home with our children because we wanted to be their primary care giver. No matter how much we love being there for our children, we can only handle so much baby/child chatter and making the 100th batch of playdough can only extend the old brain so much! Boredom and the loss of our self worth can make us feel isolated and lonely.

Everyone, young and old, need to experience new things. It keeps us alive and gives us the motivation to get up each day! If you doubt this think of your terror two year old. I bet he is up each day thinking what can I get up to, or the old lady down the road who hasnít let old age stop her from playing bowls and belonging to every committee around! If we donít experience new things life can become boring! We are bored and we become boring to others!

To combat boredom we need to fill our brain with information on a daily basis. This doesnít just mean reaching for the nearest text book! Read the paper, jump on the internet and check out the FWAH website, or catch the news. This will at least feed the grey matter.

If you feel like the four walls are closing in, get out of the house! Even if it is for a walk around the block. Go to the art gallery or the museum, for a culture fix! It doesnít have to cost a lot of money to get out and about.

In our working days, we didnít have to organise meeting people, it just happened. People would come and go around you, and most work places had the lunch room to catch up on the gos! When you are home full-time, you have to plan meeting other people. A lot of women who work part-time say part of why they like to combine part-time work and being at home is so they get to have that contact with others.

As full-time mothers we tend to seek out other mothers like us who are at home. It is only natural. I use to tell my friends that playgroup was for me and I just brought Rohan along for the ride! Having that special network of other mothers is fantastic. Who do we usually discuss a problem with first? Nine times out ten it is our friends who have children.

Sometimes it is nice though to spend some time doing something or spending time with others whose main focus isnít centred around family life. Lucy, a member of FWAH said ĎI love walking with my friend. She lives about 10 mins drive away. So on her way home from work, she calls in, gets changed and we go off on our walk. My husband gets in about the same time, so he has a play with the kids while I get some adult female company, and a little bit of exercise. We do this twice a week, but it is something that I really enjoy and look forward to "

Getting involved in the community is also rewarding to the full or pat-time mum at home. Yes it is part of the duty statement to get involved in playgroup and the local kindy, but also think of becoming involved in something a little detached from family life. I was involved with Neighbourhood watch for 4 years as the treasurer for our area. It was great fun. We use to turn it into a big social event once a month. My poor husband use to wonder what we got up to as I walked out the door with my box of paperwork and balanced on top a plate of yummy food and a bottle of wine held in the other hand! It filled my need to keep the brain working and my need to have adult company. Even though we have moved away, those people are still very dear to us and we still visit them and stay in touch.

Another way to fill the gap is by taking a class in something. If you are feeling like you are just little Johnnies mum at the moment, stay clear of parenting classes for a while, until you are feeling back on track. Think of something you have always wanted to do, and as Nike say just do it. Sally a FWAH member always marvelled at the way those eastern women could belly dance. So she enrolled in a class. "It meant having to find $80 for the term, so I have made a few cutbacks and I am thoroughly enjoying it. My partner wants to know if I have any homework!"

The feeling of isolation is also tied with how we view ourselves, and being an at home mum can affect our feeling of self worth. Any job whether it be our previous profession or our new career as an at home mum is what we want to make of it. It took me a few years at home to come to this conclusion, but I wish I had of earlier! No one can change the way it is at home other then us. No matter how much your partner, or if you are lucky family helps, encourages and supports us, the bottom line is we are the ones living our life.

When we are working in the paid workforce we have a clear defined role. In my case I was a Dental Therapist. My patients were booked in at appointment times by my Dental Assistant. The day was totally structured. I was confident in my skills to perform my duties. I would examine patients, do a few fillings, have lunch with the girls I worked with, and receive lots of positive stroking from parents who would thank me, for helping their child. I had high self-esteem and a feeling that I was doing some good! I had a lot to show for my day. I completed 10 patients.

Contrast this with a new baby, where I felt I had little if any skills in knowing how to do things, not to mention when, and believe me my day held absolutely no structure! As for positive strokes, I donít think chucking down my back counted as thanks for a great feed Mum! As far as having something to show for the day. Ha, I was lucky to get lunch!

Once things settled down a bit, I found by having some sort of structure helped. My baby and I needed some sort of routine! Not the precision army sort of routine but just a general outline. I also found setting myself some short-term goals helped. One day my goal was just to be dressed by 10.00am! I also found if I had one thing that I had extra to show for the day, I was happy. One day this might have been getting all the photos out and in order ready to put into albums. The next day it might have been putting them in the albums. Needless to say my self worth increased as I felt less hopeless and over time so did the feeling of isolation.

Donít loose site of the big picture on those days of feeling Ďthere must be more than this, out thereí- we chose to be at home, because we feel no one else can raise our child as well as we feel we can. You might not see on a day-to-day basis the rewards of being at home, but we certainly do over time!

Karen Houghton

Return to Top of Page

 

A Blueprint for economic justice for the Family
From the Journal of the Australian Family Association
"Houston, we have a problem......"

Commander Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 is perhaps credited with one of the greatest understatements of all time. His crew, during a routine test, had just blown away half their spacecraft. There he was, 100,000's of miles from Earth, his mission was doomed, his oxygen supply rapidly falling and his chances of survival quite slim. But they did survive through unprecedented teamwork and a preparedness of everyone involved to challenge every assumption, throw away convention, and do whatever it took to achieve a safe return. I put it to you that we too have a challenge. A challenge that we must rise to, tackle with conviction and passion because unlike those involved in Apollo 13 who were fighting for the lives of 3 astronauts and the credibility of NASA, we are fighting to preserve the family, the basic unit of society that has suffered unprecedented assault over the last 20 years.

Perhaps the plight of the family can best be summarized by reworking a famous quote of Winston Churchill, "never have more parents spent less time parenting fewer children than the parents of today". Notwithstanding that parents today are more informed, more committed and more interested in their children they struggle to meet all their demands and are pulled away from them by the demands of staying afloat. Over the last 20 years the economic plight of the family has been deteriorating significantly. Inflation and taxation creep have eroded the value of ordinary take home pay leading to the either the conscription of mothers into the workforce to maintain the standard of living or for the single income family simply a drop in their standard of living.

Patti Smith, from AFA in Queensland, makes the very valid point that since 1976 wages have increased by 135% while income tax imposed on the single income family has increased by 435%. And all this from a succession of Governments, Liberal and Labor who have all claimed to be friends of the family. But inequity in taxation is not all that the family has had to endure.

We have had to sustain ourselves through years of micro-economic reform and of course the recession we had to have. "Economic restructuring", "Globalising the Australian economy" or any other phrase we choose to use has changed the landscape of the Australian economy. We have seen unprecedented social upheaval, the decline of our manufacturing sector with consequent loss of thousands of jobs. We have seen the rise of more lowly paid jobs in the service sector and we have seen the number of long term unemployed rise to record levels.

While we can debate whether we had or did not have to restructure our economy in the way that we have, what is inescapable is that decisions by government to tackle these issues without a coherent family policy has meant that the big losers through this process of economic rationalization has been the family and our children. The Australian workforce is now distributed over the social scales from the underworked to the overworked. From the families in which neither parent is employed, creating a climate of low esteem and welfare dependency which impacts directly on about 25% of Australian children. To those families coping with one income which often requires a fifty to sixty hour per week effort to secure their position. To the two income family and the horrendously stressed lifestyle this often imparts rushing from home to childcare to work and back again, then guiltily spending money on the kids to make up for the time they are not there. In a lot of cases these dual income families work so they can pay for the childcare and transport and additional costs that result from working. I think they refer to this as a Catch 22!

As a result, middle income Australian families - yours and mine - are being squeezed into financial and emotional turmoil and experiencing great difficulty maintaining their standard of living. This difficulty is placing great pressure on marriages which are ending needlessly through sheer lack of time to build and foster relationships. Health is being damaged through overwork, kids are being neglected and mistreated, teenagers suffer from despair and unemployment. Simply put, something is terribly wrong! It is clear the Australian family is dying of stress in trying to maintain a family both financially and emotionally. It was not always like this.

Economic justice for families was a given in this country earlier this century. In the Harvester case of 1907, the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, Mr Justice Higgins, laid down the principle of the family wage, i.e. That organized society owed the family breadwinner a sufficient income to support a decent standard of living for a normal family. He took this to mean a man, employed as an unskilled worker, his wife and two or three children. He established the benchmark for the basic wage, set not on the needs of the average worker, but on the needs of the average family supported by that worker.

This nexus between the basic wage and the needs of the average family remained fixed until 1967, when the wage based on the needs of a family was replaced by a minimum wage determined by the needs of an individual. This radical change was not accompanied by a review of support programs for the family, such as child endowment or taxation reform. The sad matter of it all is that most families with young children want the ability to raise their family with only the need of one income but are prevented from so doing chiefly because the "family income" would not be sufficient.

Undoubtedly the responsibility of raising a family is the individual parents, however we cannot succeed as parents unless the structures we live in support our goals. Our society, perhaps unintentionally but notably undeniably, has become toxic to families. Accordingly things are ripe for change and we must change it. Once women fought for the right of a career, now its a fight for the right to parent their children. If the government authorities really value children, if they really want to save the family, they must ensure that a "family wage" is available to all families. A "family wage" of sufficient value so that only one spouse need be in the paid workforce. A "family wage" that will allow the other spouse do what the majority of families desire, i.e. to provide their own "childcare" and be at home with their family.

For Women At Home has reproduced this article with permission from the Australian Family Association

Return to Top of Page

 

The Homemaker's Allowance
By Martin Sheehan & Pat Byrne
Introduction

The proposed Homemaker's Allowance should be closely related to the value placed on unpaid work in the home, and whether or not such work should be viewed as worthy of the same recognition given to work outside the home. Any discussion of a Homemaker's Allowance should also take into consideration the place of the family in society. If it is argued that the family is the basic unit of society, the basic mediating structure, then a Homemaker's Allowance becomes part of broader effort to defend the family against continual attacks from a variety of groups, who seek to reduce its role, with the view to eventually doing away with it all together.

In considering the concept of a Homemaker's Allowance it is important to recognize the several dimensions covered by the term "homemaker." These dimensions include the running of a household of people who need to be cared for, fed and clothed. This requires house cleaning, laundry, upkeep, budgeting, purchasing food and other necessities and maintaining social contacts. It can also be argued that combined in the role of homemaker are a number of other roles that society at large only considers the work of qualified professionalsthe roles of teacher, chef, nurse, psychologist, etc., to name but a few, can be included in the definition of the caring duties of a homemaker. It involves, generally, care of children and spouse, and ready availability when children need care or discipline and encouragement to meet certain obligations within the family.

It also involves a close supervision of the emotional and educational development of children and an intelligent response to many situations that arise from day to day. It requires an appreciation of the most effective way that a mother and a father can fulfill their roles within the family, especially as it relates to the upbringing and socialization of children. The homemaker will spend the whole or the greater part of the day working in the home and not be significantly involved in the market economy. On the other hand, the homemaker will have a greater role to play with the care of the extended family and in other community activities. In this regard, both spouses may play important roles that will tend to complement each other. As one spouse will have a major obligation to earn sufficient income to support the family, one will spend more time in the market economy and the other - the primary homemaker - will spend most time in the home.

In other words the role of homemaker is one which is integral to the maintenance of family life, and family life is integral to the workings of society at large. In his essay, "Philosophies in Collision," B. A. Santamaria defined the social importance of the family and of the homemaker:

The individual left to himself is insufficient. Rousseau wrote"Man is born free and is everywhere in chains," a proposition which flies in the face of the visible evidence. What is truer is that he is born helpless and dies helpless and is helpless much of the time between.

Thus the individual needs a support, a place of security and safety, during these times of helplessness:

The family institution should normally fulfill all of these functions - procreation, birth, rearing, education, maintenance, psychological support, care in old age. While the family institution needs outside supports to function at high efficiency, the supports should never substitute themselves for the institution.

Only the family can provide those values necessary for the nurturing of life, values which a bureaucratic welfare service can never emulate. These virtues of love, patience, tolerance, self sacrifice, discipline and forgiveness only human beings can provide for one another. It is the application of these skills and virtues over a long period of time that stamps the vocation of homemaker as one of the most outstanding in society.

Value of Unpaid Work Contribution to Society

The market economy has failed to account for the enormous amount of unpaid, voluntary work the family helps to promote and sustain, as part of the effective operation of the economy. This occurs both in the home, and in the form of voluntary work outside the home. Such work includes, for example, charitable activities for organizations such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Red Cross, cultural bodies, sporting groups, aged and health support organizations, and the work done by parents on a voluntary basis for kindergartens and schools. The family provides a "cost free" welfare service which, when considered in all its social aspects is the most efficient provider of a plethora of social services.

Duncan Ironmonger, director of the Households Research Unit in the Department of Economics, Melbourne University, argues that it is clear from all the data available that the three largest industries in the economy are not to be found in the private sector, but in the area of domestic household activities. These activities he divides into three parts(1) preparation of meals, (2) cleaning and laundry and (3) shopping for household items. Activities such as these absorb more labor time, according to Ironmonger, than the three largest market industries.

The report of The National Council for the International Year of the Family on the state of the family in contempary Australian society, also concluded that the contributions of families to the social and economic life of the nation was unacknowledged and underrated. A section from this report is worth quoting in full:

In Australia, the monetary value of unpaid work carried out in households, together with volunteer and community work, has been estimated to be between $151 billion and $163 billion.... Family-based activities for the bulk (about per cent) of work and its estimated value. These amounts are equivalent to between the production and exchange of goods and services and less tangible emotional resources which family members provide to each other (ABS, 1993c). Women contribute about two-thirds of the value of domestic activities, child care and the purchasing of goods and services; 50 per cent of the volunteer and community work It is clear therefore that families, and particularly women in their work of care in their households and extended family systems, provided the social infrastructure on which formal economies depend. Consequently, family policy should not be conceptualized as 'social expenditure' and therefore a drain on national budgets, but as 'social investment'. This requires the recognition that family- centered policies are central to both social justice for families and communities and to overall economic development.

This last remark should be considered in the light of the reasons why many women decided to enter the paid work force in such large numbers over the last thirty years or so. In a recent article from the U.S. journal, Harper's Magazine, the Federal secretary of labor, Robert Reich, argued that "Women did not go into the work force because of the wondrous opportunities suddenly open to them but to prop up family incomes." [My italics] He went on to argue that this response to the increased cost of living was followed by people having smaller families, and then taking on two or three jobs at once in order for the family to get by financially. Although this refers specifically to U.S. conditions there are obvious parallels across the Western world, and particularly in Australia. The whole thrust of modern market economies actually reduces the choices open to people in their family life; if drastic action is not taken in order to redress the uneven balance between the family and the economic system, then Western societies risk destroying the very foundations of the social order.

As the basic unit of society, therefore, the family deserves a special place in long term economic and social planning. This fact seems to be recognized by most Australiansa petition conducted by the Australian Family Association (AFA) in 1994 collected 130,000 signatures in support of the concept of a Homemaker's Allowance. Also, research has shown that the great majority of people believe that a woman should stay at home, or at least work part-time, when there is a child under school age to be cared for. A 1995 study found that of 2,203 people surveyed,

- 4% believed they should work full-time - 31% said they should work part-time - 65% said they should be a full time homemaker

What most Australians seem to desire, at the very least, is a choice in regard to whether or not they stay at home and look after children, work full time, or work part time, outside the home. In the present economic climate in which single income families are penalized through high taxation and the high cost of living this choice is not available to them. The proposed Homemaker's Allowance, therefore, would provide real choice for parents in bringing up children. In proposing a Homemaker's Allowance it must emphasized that such a policy would provide freedom of choice for families, unlike the present situation where financial difficulties force both spouses to work, inevitably leaving children disadvantaged, however responsible and caring parents may in fact be.

Homemaker's Allowance

The proposal for a Homemaker's Allowance is simply that a sum of $142.80 a week should be paid directly to any wife/husband with dependent children, who work in the home on a full time basis. The payment would cease when (1) there are no longer dependent children in the home (2) when the beneficiary becomes eligible for an old age pension, or (3) if the full-time carer decides to join the work force. This would relieve the pressure on parents so that they might choose freely whether or not they wish to seek full time employment outside the home, or whether they wish to become full time care givers in the home. With the implementation of the Homemaker's Allowance the Dependent Spouse Rebate (DSR) now available to single-income families, would be abolished. It is estimated that an amount between $4 billion and $6 billion dollars will be required by the Commonwealth in order to fund the proposal.

At present a system similar to the AFA Homemaker's Allowance proposal has been in operation in France. The French model originally provided an allowance of $139 dollars per week to families when it was introduced in 1987; this amount was later raised to $263 dollars per week. The French system has proved successful in reducing unemployment and promoting population growth (France has one of the lowest population growth rates in Europe). The French model of the Homemaker's Allowance is part of a broader taxation and welfare system which recognizes the value of families and their basic role in the wider community.

The basic unit of taxation in France is the family - unlike Australia, where the basic unit of taxation is the individual. In Australia if an individual earns $40,000 and supports himself he pays the same tax as if he earns $40,000 and supports a wife and four children. In France, however, the total income that comes into a family is calculated and taxed according to a quotient system which takes into account the situation of each family. For example:

- each adult counts as one (this includes grandparents and other adults living as part of the family unit)
- each child counts as half;
- each handicapped child counts as one;
- if the husband or wife has died the oldest child counts as one, rather than a half;
- and families with three or more children can claim an extra half unit for having a large family.

The French model calculates the total family income, the total units, or quotient, and divide the income by the quotient. For example, a family of four children, where the father earns $30000 p.a. and the mother $10000 p.a., pays tax on four $10000 taxable incomes. This family, for example, would get four tax free thresholds, and benefit four times from the progressive taxation rate. This tax system recognizes the reality of the way income is shared in families, unlike the Australian model which is directed toward the individual.

The Present Situation

At present there are approximately 840,000 families with one parent caring for dependent children at home full time. Compared to this there are approximately 1 million families with dependent children where both parents are in the outside work force, in many cases the wife being in part-time employment. Therefore, the total number of families who may claim the Homemaker's Allowance can only be based upon the estimated percentage of the 1 million families with both parents in the work force, who would drop out if the Homemaker's Allowance were available. All that is possible is an informed guesssay 300,000 as a maximum. Together with those families who already have a spouse at home the total number of claimants would be around 1,140,000. The gross cost of the Homemaker's Allowance would be approximately $8.47 billion dollars p.a. The net cost would differ substantially from the gross cost and would depend on how many vacancies for unemployed persons are created by the up-to 300,000 women who drop out of the work force.

The influx of formerly unemployed persons into the work force would assist the revenue by an estimated maximum amount of $1.56 billion dollars p.a. in unemployment benefits no longer claimed, and in average tax paid on wages which they would receive. On this estimate the net cost of the Homemaker's Allowance would be approximately $4.63 to $5.41 billion p.a.

The question then becomes how the state is to fund such a scheme. During the period in office of the Hawke and Keating Governments, substantial reductions in tax have favored the wealthiest sections of the communityUntil the end of the financial year 1983-1984 the Fraser tax scales applied. The tax rate on taxable income in excess of $35,788 was 60%. In 1993 the tax rate on taxable income over $50,000 had fallen to 47%a reduction of 13%. In 1986-1987 company tax had been levied at 49%, while in 1994-1995 company tax had fallen to 33% (a reduction of 16%).

In addition fully-franked dividends issued to shareholders by companies which issue them have been of considerable tax advantage to the share holding community. Also, negative gearing favored the wealthier section of the community, and tax foregone on noncompulsory payments into superannuation funds (which also favor the wealthier sections of the community) are estimated to cost the revenue $5.5 billion annually.

Funding the Proposal

What all this points to is the ample scope available for tax amendments to raise $4.63 to $5.41 billion annually in order to fund the implementation of the Homemaker's Allowance. One suggestion which has been made for raising the funds necessary in order to implement a Homemaker's Allowance, is for a tax on imports. The suggestion is that, with the estimated value of imports being around $80 billion (estimate for 1996-1997) a 12.5% tax on imports would raise approximately $10 billion in revenue. This obviously far exceeds the necessary $4.63 to $5.41 billion required for the proposed Homemaker's Allowance.

To answer those who object to any increase in taxes, whatever the purpose, it can be pointed out that even bodies like the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) have estimated that economies of up to $8 billion p.a. could be made by radical changes in the Federal Budget, e.g. eliminating the duplication of Federal and State bureaucracies. Further, it needs to be noted that the revenues of the Federal Government grow automatically each year without any increase in taxes, by the process known as "bracket creep." Whatever the immediate budgetary pressures may be, there is ample scope for spending on the Homemaker's Allowance, so long as the political will is there. What it comes down to in the end is thisIf it is considered important enough in the community for there to be a full time homemaker when there are dependent preschool children present in the home, then the money will be found to fund a proposal like the Homemaker's Allowance. With other funding arrangements in the past, for example the Commonwealth Childcare Assistance, the decision was made first of all that such a course of action was desirable, then the costings were developed which made such an idea economically viable.

Part of the problem to be faced in the implementation of a Homemaker's Allowance is a philosophical one whether or not an individualistic, market driven society like Australia can accept the need for a measure designed to support the family unit. The problem , however, may not lie so much in convincing the ordinary person, but with the intellectual, economic, political and social elites in our society who are imbued with the liberal ideal of the autonomous individual. Part of the argument, therefore, lies in a philosophical debate with these elites for the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians.

Philosophical Struggle

A recent article in The Australian by Michelle Gunn discussed the fact that a recent survey conducted by the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence had shown that for many women a career outside the home in the full time paid work force is not considered an option superior to caring for their young children in the home. The survey showed a gap between the more highly educated sections of the community who view work outside the home as superior to the task of full time mothering, and the great mass of women who are quite happy to stay at home and look after young children. It is these people who realize the importance of the work that women do in the home and who would most probably welcome the implementation of a Homemaker's Allowance.

On the other hand the philosophical model which dominates the "educated" and affluent upper middle class, who dominate the positions of power in society, places the individual at the center of society rather than the family. It is these people who need to be convinced that if what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons" of society are allowed to wither away, much will have been lost in the way of social life, communal warmth and the security which is only to be found in the loving environment of the family unit; not to mention the economic, social, psychological, and moral consequences of the destruction of the family. The advantage for the government, in economic terms, would be enormous if the traditional family can perform the various roles of nurturing and caring for its own that the state now takes a hand in performing through a costly welfare bureaucracy.

Perhaps the best recent definition of the family, in opposition to philosophy of individualism, is that made by Allan Carlson of the Rockford Institute in the U.S.A. We hold to the time-honored definition of the family, rooted in human nature and sustained by human culture, namelyA man and a woman bound in a lifelong covenant of marriage, for the purposes of the continuation of the human species, the rearing of children, the regulation of sexuality, the provision of mutual support and protection, the creation of an altruistic domestic economy, and the maintenance of bonds between the generations.

This outlook on human existence must underpin recommendations for a Homemaker's Allowance, against the liberal individualist outlook which so dominates the academic and social elites of Western societies, such as Australia.

The implementation of a Homemaker's Allowance is one way in which people can be more free to support their own little platoon, the family, without being forced into a pure market economy which favors the individual over all other interests. Duncan Ironmonger in an address to the AFA argued that we Australians "need a major change in our view of reality, a major change in what needs to be measured, and a major change in our thinking about the way in which families and households participate in economic activity.... [t]he reality of the huge unpaid contribution of households to economic value needs to be accepted; adopted as a benchmark fact, it would change nearly all of our deliberations about economic and social policy."

In conclusion it is worth quoting the report of the Federal Government's National Council for the International Year of the Family once again:

The cross-generational flows of material, emotional and cultural resources generated by families in the course of their caring work through the nurturing of children and young people and supports for other family members who are aged or have a disability or severe illness are of paramount importance, not only to the well-being of families but in the contribution made by these resources to the formal economy and society. The only proper response to this enormous social obligation is recognition by way of public policies which invest and distribute resources to families through paid employment, the tax/transfer system, family, children's and community services, housing and urban/regional planning and through supportive work practices which acknowledge the family responsibilities of employees.


References

Allan Carlson, The Rochford Institute (U.S.A.)
Duncan Ironmonger, "The Domestic Economy$340 billion of GHP (Gross Household Product)" Address to the Australian Family Association International Conference on the Family at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 5 July, 1994.
B. A. Santamaria, "Philosophies in Collision," (1973)
Patti Smith, "The Homemaker's Allowance," The Australian FamilyThe Journal of the Australian Family Association, Vol. 17, No, 1, March 1996.
Recommendations of International Meeting, 'An Economy for the Family',"Pontifical Council for the Family, L'Osservatore Romano, 12-20 March, 1996
Worldwide Attitudes," November 1995, International Social Science Survey/Australia.
Final Report byThe National Council for the International Year of the Family, "Creating the LinksFamilies and Social Responsibility," (1994).
European Observatory of National Family Policies, "National Family Policies In EC-Countries in 1991, Volumes I and II," (1991).
John Ditch,. Helen Barnes, Jonathan Bradshaw, Jacques Commaille and Tony Eardley, "A Synthesis of National Family Policies 1994," (1994).
John Ditch, Jonathan Bradshaw, Tony Eardley, "Developments in National Family Policies in 1994,"(1994).

For Women At Home has reproduced this article with permission from the Australian Family Association

Return to Top of Page

 

 So, what do you do? 

So, what do you do?

One of the ways in which people improve their self-esteem is through their occupation. How you feel about your occupation determines how others will view your occupation. If your occupation was selling ice in Alaska but you spoke with confidence and enthusiasm and believed you were the best ice salesperson in Alaska, then you would certainly be seen by others as being successful. You are also able to answer the ĎAnd what do you doí question with pride as you believe in what you are doing.

Why is it then that most women at home dread being asked that question. Most part-time workers answer with their occupation first and then mention they are at home also.

Full-time mothers at home sometimes answer the question with a defensive tone. "Oh Iím a taxi driver, a nurse, a teacher, a babysitter and so on". This almost leaves the person sorry they ever asked! Yes women at home full-time do all these things but this type of response seems to be justifying what you do. You never hear other professional people going into the full list of what their occupation involves when they first great someone. Just imagine it. "Oh Iím a dentist! I start the day with a clean and polish then I perform a class 2 restoration on an upper 26, followed by several x-rays and to finish off an extraction". Not only would this leave the person who asked thinking you are the most boring person at the gathering, but also wondering what planet are you from!

I must admit in my early years of being at home that this is exactly how I use to respond. I had been working full-time in a profession up until being a first time Mum and I felt I had to defend my decision of being at home. I would also think up quick, smart like comments. "Oh I am self-employed, or I am the CEO of a small family business. I seemed to be on the defence. Just give me a form to fill in that asked for occupation, Iíll tell you what I do! The line was never long enough to complete my Ďjob descriptioní not occupation.

I also observed how other women at home from my social circle, would react to the question. A lot would not make eye contact, almost hang their head and answer "Oh Iím just a Mum" when they answered the question. I wanted to jump in, there and then. Just a Mum but you do bla bla bla!!. I couldnít understand how they werenít defending what they did. I felt these women were almost apologising for being at home and raising their children. I thought long and hard before I decided to be at home and know these women did too. So why were they apologising for a well thought out decision that they made.

It took me a while to really feel comfortable with my new role as full-time mother. I did some soul searching and started to believe that I was still a professional. I was a professional mother and homemaker. Like my previous profession I decided to be the best I possible could be. I was going to be the best taxi driver, nurse, teacher and all my other roles that I could possible be. This realisation changed my whole outlook on Ďwho I was according to my occupationí. Everything that I did took on new meaning. I took more pride in myself, my children and our home around me. Sure I hated doing the ironing, still do, but it didnít seem as awful as it did before.

The next person who asked me "And what do you do?" I answered differently. With my new belief in my self and in what I was doing, I smiled, stood tall and answered "At the moment Iím a full-time mother." It was actually easier than thinking up a new smart, quirky answer! I didnít go on to defend my answer and I actually got into a conversation with this women about how long Iíd been at home full-time and what my plans for the future were. I still receive the odd ĎOhí from someone, but they are definitely in the minority. I do not let this type of response upset me. Most people are keen to ask you how old your children are, what are their names etc. Donít then spend the rest of the conversation going on and on about what cereal is your childís favourite! Answer but then ask about them. Do they have any children? Where do they live etc? To be interesting you need to be interested in other people

When all is said and done, we all make choices to fit our own family lifestyle. You made your decision and you donít need to justify it to any one. Next time someone asks "And what do you do" tell them. Look them right in the eye and speak from the heart. Speak with the pride and belief you have that you are a wonderful professional full-time or part-time mother. You will find that most people will respond with the respect you deserve.

Karen Houghton

Return to Top of Page