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What to do with the ankle biters?

By Glynne Sutcliffe - posted Friday, 5 September 2008

Given the existence of a problem, government, once it has been forced into acknowledging that the problem does indeed exist, very often devises a solution that makes the problem worse. We may be about to witness something like this with the designation of the energetic, intelligent, beautiful and charming Maxine McKew, MP, as Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childcare and Education.

It may be that even the title of this newly created position could be regarded as a facet of the way government is prone to deepening an acknowledged problem, rather than thinking through the basics and dealing with the problem at its source. The result is that both the problem and the answer are equally institutionalised. The problem hasn’t gone away, there is just an institutionalised way of dealing with it.

There is a certain dynamic process that generates this kind of outcome. The tipping point seems to occur when the problem, whatever it is, reaches a magnitude where it suddenly becomes not merely a matter of distress to some people, but a job opportunity for others. Government is then persuaded to allocate funding to pay salaries for the answer-providing job seekers. Voila! The problem is entrenched! Two groups of people are supposedly now happy citizens - those who had the problem, and those who have provided a (sort of) solution.


So what is the problem? Well, basically, it is the children - the little ones, the ankle biters, the rug rats. Or, as the education bureaucrats would prefer to have it, the problem is to understand what to do with Our Children, the Future. The sensitive among my readers will pick up on a certain proprietorial tone here, embedded in sanctimony. Our Children, who are The Future of Our Community. Very resonant!

Once upon a time children belonged to their families. Now they belong to everyone - “everyone” in this context meaning Our Community. (Those who are less enthusiastic and who refer to Our Community as The State, speak darkly of “the appropriation of children by the state” as a social evil institutionalised at a level that prevents even the recognition that, like redistributive taxation, it is a profound, wicked and socially destructive theft.)

Children began to be a problem when women walked out on them, choosing employment acknowledged with a weekly, fortnightly or monthly pay cheque, rather than “drudgery” at home.

There were two main problems with staying at home. While housework may sometimes be drudgery, it isn’t something that needs 40 hours a week of drudgery. So it probably wasn’t the quantum of work at home that made it unattractive. Its relentlessness may have had something to do with it. But what was more problematic was the isolation of staying at home with small children and no adult company, except company that could be organised around visiting or outings. Very often these were playground or playgroup outings that allowed women as mothers to congregate, but deprived them of social contact with other adults with diverse interests and backgrounds.

Add to this the total absence of discretionary purchasing power, except for money that could be filched from the household budget.

Meantime husbands were seemingly developing rather more glamorous, professional, career lines, or, at the very least, having more company and more excitement built into the warp and weft of their everyday lives. Envy bit hard into female souls. With paid work would come money and power, fun and freedom, self-realisation and a socially acknowledged existence. Who wouldn’t have walked out?


Well actually, new Jewish mothers on the early kibbutzes refused to work any longer in the fields, and got themselves allocated jobs in the dining rooms and kitchens, so as to be near the nurseries and their new-borns. For this they earned the obloquy of the early women’s movement, who saw them as betraying the movement’s hard won “right to work”, and giving ammunition to the Neanderthals who proclaimed that a women’s place was at home, and her proper work to be found in mothering and caring. Jewish mothers were known head-cases anyway, so everyone (in this case taking everyone to mean movement women, nulliparous women, unmarried women, lesbians, politicians and employers) could afford to ignore this odd behaviour.

We should pass over quickly the fact that once the majority of women were receiving regular pay cheques not only were they were “liberated” from their husbands, and from any economic incentive to smooth over domestic spats. They also inevitably became, with their families, reliant on their pay cheques as part of the budget - to pay, for instance, for the house, or the furniture, or the car, or even just for the groceries.

For prices followed that rule familiar to economists, of rising to mop up all available cash. With two earning adults there was a higher per household income. So of course prices rose, and locked women into working for money irrespective of children. So either children didn’t get conceived, or if they were conceived they were as often as not aborted.

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About the Author

Glynne Sutcliffe MA (Chicago) BA (Hons Hist) Dip Ed (Melb) is a Director of the Early Reading Play School in South Australia.

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