Single parents who don’t “work” still contribute
Only a few days ago I was talking about how manageable babies are. They sleep when they’re put down, eat what’s in front of them and you can strap them into the pram and walk and it’s a world of fun. Day care is a drop off at 8am and a pick up before 6pm.
My daughter is now 4 years old and everything is a negotiation. How I cut her sandwiches (I am not going to cut them into circles) how I make her chips (long or round) and the inevitable ‘five minutes more’ at the playground, in front of the telly, on the trampoline…
And we’re at ‘the kindy year’ – the five-day fortnight, sign in at 8.30am and sign out at 2.40pm. Everything gets a little more complicated as they get older.So it makes no sense to me about the changes introduced by the Gillard Government.
Their determination to keep the parental leave payment and cut parenting benefits to those whose children have turned 8, and a reduction in the threshold of earnings to $62, sends a confusing message to the electorate about the value of children.
Why is a baby worth $10,600 in paid parental leave, but an 8 year old is worth nought?
Of course in an homogenised and simple world all women would return to work after a year of having the baby and they would be ready and able to cope with a marriage breakdown in the sad event it happened.
But some women don’t. The trend is that women have one baby, go back to work to qualify for the next leave entitlement and leave the workforce completely.
As children get older, you get mixed up with kindy and school, you can have a fulfilling life outside of the office. Or if you have a special needs child, like a local overseas-trained GP I know, you might opt out completely and your qualifications might lapse.
For whatever reason, two out of three marriages in Australia fail and no matter how much you spent on your wedding, you cannot guarantee that your marriage will last if the other party doesn’t want to be there anymore.
This is why we have women with children who are on supporting parents’ benefits even after their children go to school. The issue is not about getting the welfare dynasty (generations of welfare dependent people) into work, but about supporting parents whose ex-partners are not supporting them.
I don’t want to make this about men’s rights versus women’s rights, but the sad truth is these changes will affect women more than men simply because more women have been the full-time carer.
My personal experience of single mothering is of my grandmother and my friends.
My grandmother has passed away, but like my friends today, she was both father and mother to her children. She took care of everything in the house from the yards to meals and stories at bedtime. There was no sharing the load and no emotional support from the person who created the children with her.
My grandfather was an Army surgeon who died from a heart attack he sustained during the war. She was left to raise three children aged 8, 6, and 3, and she was entitled to a DVA pension for the rest of her life. She was allowed to do this with sympathy and dignity because she was a war widow.
My friend Catherine has three children who were 8, 6 and 4 when her husband left her. They are now 12, 10 and 8 and the supplement she received for the three children has ceased this week. She has worked when she can, part-time at weekends and during the week.
Catherine chose to live outside of Brisbane where it was cheaper to buy a house, and it is largely undeveloped. But she drives into Brisbane to work, and slots work around school and after school activities.
Add to Catherine’s complex logistics, her husband is unreliable. He cancels his weekends with his children at the last minute, he arrives late, and he provides little financial support.
Catherine wants to work – she has two degrees and 20 years of experience up her sleeve ready to be used. But it’s hard for her to get there – simply because she has many things outside of her control.
The law (in Queensland at least) does not allow children aged younger than 12 to be left unsupervised for long periods of time.
For Catherine, she could leave the two younger children in the care of the older one and get away with them not being supervised, at least until they burn the kitchen down making two minute noodles.
But what about women who have children aged younger than 12? Finding a babysitter for days on end, or putting a child into a school holiday program, can cost as much as the hourly rate which low-income earners make.
Many women don’t have an extended family to lean on. Even my neighbour, a professional woman with a very supportive husband and sister around the corner has a two hour gap in her week where she doesn’t know what to do with her kindy-aged daughter – Tuesday afternoons, 2pm – 4pm.
This is not a bleat, or a whine about how hard it is to parent, but a reminder to the women in charge, including Attorney-General Nicola (we’re all women at the top here) Roxon: there is the utopian dream that all women will work and contribute to the economy, and there is the stark reality that sometimes they can’t.
None of us should assume that because a single mother or father hasn’t worked for at least eight years that they are lazy and or ignorant. They haven’t had the support that many married people get simply by being a couple.
And to be quite frank, I’m hearing more sympathetic noises from the fellas at the top, than the women.
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