Well, the poor blog has been neglected over the past month or so, and there is good reason for that–I’ve been busy (I know, but I mean, more than usual) doing a short course in business so that I can better market myself as an editor and possibly publish others’ books somewhere down the line. It’s been very interesting and I’ve not only met some other inspiring people, but I’ve also learnt a lot about small business and some of the ways in which I can hopefully make mine work.
All of this means, of course, that with other work (house- and editing) and the food preparation and parenting, I’ve had little time for much else. The Handsome Sidekick has been doing more of the hands-on caring for Fourth Offspring while I’ve been out of the house, and as I was driving back from my last class, it occurred to me just how easy it is to take for granted, the unpaid and underpaid work done by carers. More to the point, it’s easy to forget just how little could be achieved, if those carers weren’t around.
For me to go out and do anything out of the house without my Offspring, means someone else has to care for them. I can pay others to do that, but that also brings with it the necessity of researching the right daycare or school, and is not as simple as simply leaving my child at the door–I must be invested in what they’re learning, who is teaching them, and the values of the institution in which they’re spending a good amount of time. I must be content with the fact that when I’m not caring for them, someone else is having a hand in guiding their ethics. Essentially, someone else is having a say in how they’re being brought up.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good for children to interact with a broad cross-section of the community, or they would live a very sheltered life, and would rarely question any of their own or others’ beliefs. But it is odd that there is a lot of pressure on parents to leave their children with others–who are poorly paid, if they are paid at all–while they go out and work. This is because we value paid work for goods or services more highly than we do caring for others.
Fourth Offspring complained to me on Friday night, after a long day of daycare and a long week where we saw far less of each other than is usual: ‘I miss you. And I wanted you to come and get me.’ So it’s not just about looking after basic needs. It’s about making connections, ensuring that people who are the most vulnerable are getting the love and the human touch they need, from those who are very important to them. We know how important it is for children to have a strong support network, in particular a stable family environment, and we often argue that the lack thereof can contribute to difficulties for teenagers and young adults. But while we lament those, we also don’t seem to understand the simple ways in which we can prevent it. Government initiatives and social support groups aside, as a community, we still devalue the need for consistent care from parents. This is further highlighted by the push by governments to have parents out working, rather than merely ‘working’ in the role as parent. Take, for example, the way in which parental leave has become a political football, not only here, but also in the United States.
It’s not just in the childcare sector, of course. Carers for the disabled and the elderly are also often taken for granted, since accessibility can be limited for those who are disabled, and this reduces their visibility. So it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and this means that budgets at a state and federal level are able to ignore the carer sector, without too much public outcry.
I’m left wondering, however, how we would function as a society, if–all of a sudden– those who currently care for children, the disabled, and the elderly, stopped doing that. What if they all went out and ‘got a job’ (because caring is not a ‘real job’, obviously). What would we do then? How would our public and private sectors cope with the fact that they would need to suddenly find millions of people to care for those who can’t adequately look after themselves? What a huge financial and logistical impact that would have. For a short period, there would surely be chaos, and there’s no doubt that this would have a drastic and detrimental effect on productivity.
But for most carers, just like teachers and nurses, they’re so emotionally invested in the welfare of those for whom they care, that this wouldn’t ever be an option. Despite facing burnout, and living on very low incomes, carers know that their work is invaluable. In fact, for many, it’s not a financial incentive that they’re after–I certainly don’t feel like I should be paid thousands every month to look after my children. But I would like some recognition that what I’m doing while caring for them is a worthy way to spend my time, and theirs.