The situation for parents is growing more difficult in most countries of the world today, in spite of technological and material advances in the Western world. Capitalism and the ethic that supports it is encroaching on all the cultures of the world. Under that ethic, work that creates profit is made to seem far more important than the work we do to create closeness and caring with the people we live with. Nurturing children, caring for those whose needs are great, and fostering community are activities that are threatened by the forces that draw men and women into paid work over long hours.
It is in the interests of profit-makers to involve as many people as possible in paid work.
Workers make the profits that increase the wealth of a few. It is in the interests of profit-makers to see that wages earned by one person are not enough to support a family. This insures that other individuals in the family will work for pay, and produce more wealth. It is in the interests of profit-makers to pull as many hours as humanly possible from each individual worker. This cuts down on overhead. And it is in the interests of profit-makers to create a poverty of time in worker’s lives. People who are time-poor are forced to buy more commodities to shore up their existence.
Convenience foods, ready-made clothing, childcare, child transportation, cleaning services, and devices to occupy children are made necessary by long work hours and the need for two parents to work outside the home. Since there is no workable way of making profit directly from the at-home nurture of children, our parenting work doesn’t "count" in this ethic that supports the making of profit. Meter minders and fast food chefs get training, pay, regular breaks, and protection from overwork and injury. They get ‘employee of the month’ awards. Parents get no preparation, no pay, and no protection from overwork or overwhelming circumstances. Parenting is the most important work we’ll ever do, and it doesn’t ‘count’ in our economy.
When businesses become enormous, and graduate into multinational corporations, they tend to erode community in all corners of our world. Where such corporations wield influence, the work-week gets ever longer, the gap between the lowest-paid and the highest-paid workers grows quickly, and we adults lose the essential vehicles of human caring. We need time. We need energy. We need hope. We need time to talk, time to play, time to enjoy one another, time to solve problems in our families, time to share meals together, time to direct toward being neighbours, friends, and community activists, and the time to learn new things. We need time to care well for ourselves and for our loved ones. The time and energy we need for the work of parenting is turned toward making profit that does not, in the end, serve the common good. Our time and energy is gathered and spent by companies interested in making more profit, in working more parents too hard.
Said bluntly, patterns of greed have overtaken many of the institutions that have been built to serve the common good in our societies. These institutions have always carried patterns of oppression, like racism and sexism, surely. But their stated mission has been one of public service. Where capitalism is advanced, public services that have anchored a community, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, public safety organisations, and transportation systems tend to deteriorate. Eventually, the systems are declared ‘broken’, and private corporations are invited to take them over and create profits from them. The family has also been overtaken. Many if not most families must pay to have their children cared for by others, for what is on average a very small but essential gain in income. The simple logic of creating the economic stability so that parents can choose how much time they want to devote to the nurture of their own young children goes unsupported, because profit-making comes before the interests of parents and children.
Parents’ liberation is the struggle for recognition of the importance of the work of nurturing children. Parents’ liberation is the struggle to win the time to love and play and learn. Parents’ liberation is the struggle for freedom from the patterns of racism, classism, and greed, which separate, exhaust, and discourage us so that we have little energy for work toward the common good. Parents Liberation is a struggle for justice and good lives for ourselves and our children.
Our work as parents is seeing that people reach adulthood well-loved and powerfully intelligent. It’s revolutionary to the core. In places where capitalism is advanced and unchecked, parenting is a countercultural activity. The values promoted in the culture all draw attention toward consumption, away from the warm, direct, inherent human caring done by parents, friends, neighbours, and community groups. We work toward the common good as we play with our children, as we sort the laundry, as we listen to them cry because their favourite toy broke, and as we sit with them doing homework. We parents do the caring that knits people together. We want to love our families well. We make it possible for our children to learn and love now, and long into the future. We are important! And it’s important that we understand that we must oppose a well-advertised ethic if we want to stay close to our partners, our children, our neighbours, and our friends. It’s important that we speak out about the importance of loving children, of having time and energy for family life, of earning enough in one 40-hour work-week to provide decent support for our families.
Few of us understood that having children would be this wonderful and this difficult. Few of us thought we would have to become activists to defend what’s right for ourselves and our children. The leadership of parents is essential to the building of a better life for families and young people. Your leadership, starting from where you are today, is important. You, together with others you care about, can fight for the common good because you have that mother’s or father’s knowledge of how precious human life is, and how much work it takes to support each person born. People-making is our passion, and profit-making will have to move to a place of unimportance once we parents are organised and confident that what’s good for parents and children will be good for all of us.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem