If Julia had kids would they be screwed up?
So our new Prime Minister is a working woman with no kids. What of it?
Just as Gillard’s de-facto status brings into the public forum discussions about the institution of marriage, (and if you missed Bettina Arndt’s extraordinary polemic yesterday, it’s here), so too her choice to be child-free shifts the focus to working mothers.
Unfortunately, the discourse surrounding the working mother/child-free woman debate has - as these kinds of discussions often do - the potential to degenerate into a polarised argument.
Visiting scholar at the ANU School of Social Sciences and blogger, Dr Melissa McEwen, nailed it on her Godard’s Letterboxes blog post, ‘An Open Letter to The Australian Media’.
“Career-versus-children is not a binary scenario. Let us not advance the idea that childlessness is a pre-requisite for career success, or that the only reason you would not have children is because you want a career. There are many successful women with careers who have children, and there are plenty of unsuccessful ones who don’t. People choose to have or not to have children for many reasons, and sometimes it is not a choice. Let us not create another binary which limits women and men and their opportunities. Also, not having children does not make you hostile, unsympathetic or un-empathetic towards families. And let’s face it, many of the advisors, colleagues and public servants who will surround her and advise her and support her will have families. So let’s not jump on the she-is-being-anti-family-because-she-doesn’t-have-one line if the opportunity arises.”
When Gillard appeared on Australian Story in 2006 she spoke about her choice to remain child-free. She said, “When I thought about these things I guess I thought either-or. You’re working at this intense high level or you’re having kids. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t a perfectly fine way of doing it differently. So when you watch the women around you, and Michelle’s (O’Byrne) one of them you know, Kirsten Livermore, Anna Burke, Tanya Plibersek, there are a number who are just putting together looking after kids and having great Parliamentary careers. I’m in awe of it, but for me I don’t think I could have done it like that. I can understand it all at an intellectual level and I do admire it but I think I just emotionally would have found that all very tough.”
Gillard’s response is measured, well-considered and supportive of both choices. Yet, as a working mum, simply raising the issue makes me question the choices I have made. I have that ‘either-or’ conundrum playing on high rotation as part of my own interior monologue - when I run late for the school pick up, or miss an assembly, when I bring work home, when I check emails while making dinner…or the myriad other ways I feel I drop the ball because I am spread too thin between the worlds of work and parenting. I wonder if I should have chosen one or the other. I wonder if I am doing a bad job as a mum. I wonder: Am I screwing up my kids?
And so I find myself (once more) in the realm of mother guilt. Not a nice place to be.
Thankfully though, through the happenstance of online community sharing, I have been awakened to a new wave of parenting - the Free Range Kids.
As a card carrying member of this group once said to me, “There are actually very few ways you can screw up your kids.” I thought he was simply pushing his agenda. Turns out, he might be right.
The Wall Street Journal published a piece recently which looked at several studies in order to reveal some interesting findings about the impact of parenting on economics, happiness, and the way our kids turn out.
In this piece Bryan Caplan surmises that, “Decades worth of twin and adoption research says (that) parents have a lot more room to safely maneuver than they realize, because the long-run effects of parenting on children’s outcomes are much smaller than they look.”
Caplan says behavioral geneticists have found that, “The effect of upbringing on morals is quite superficial. Parents have a strong effect on which religion and political party their kids identify with, but little on their adult behavior or outlook. Some, but not all, twin and adoption studies find that parents have a modest effect on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, juvenile delinquency, and when daughters (but not sons) start having sex.”
Wow, that’s heady stuff. Enough to make a hapless working helicopter parent loosen the apron strings a little. Maybe my kids will be okay after all, even if I miss their athletics carnival because of a deadline.
While I wholeheartedly support our new PM’s lifestyle choices - and have long supported all who choose to be child-free - it’s also a comfort to think that for those of us who have hedged our bets the news isn’t all bad.
As Caplan concludes, “Once you realize that your kids’ future largely rests in their own hands, you can give yourself a guilt-free break.”
Jayne is also the editor of Sunny Days Magazine.
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