Politicians who criticize women for “externalizing” parenting need a reality check. It’s here

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During a heated exchange in a party hall of the Child Care Subsidies Coalition, a member of Parliament said that working women “outsource parenting.”

The idea that working mothers fail their children is not new. Derived from the Victorian era, notions of women as moral guardians of the family were a way of showcasing new wealth. Having enough money for women to stay at home was a serious indicator of class status.

But times have changed. Today, the majority of couple families have both parents employed even when the children are infants, toddlers and preschoolers. We’ve ditched corsets and hoop skirts, so why do we continue to view mothers’ jobs as a threat to parenthood?



Read more: It takes a village: why sending your child to daycare is not an “externalization of parenthood”


Mothers: everything to everyone (but especially to children)

Victorian ideologies of separate spheres of work and family life, and separate parenting roles for mothers and fathers, gave way to notions of intensive parenting. Today, parents are expected to provide their children with intensive, one-on-one and expert-guided care. This is one of the elements of “good” parenting as a way to ensure that children are not only well looked after, but also prepared for an increasingly unstable future.

The pressure is on parents to solve the problems of growing inequality, globalization and declining incomes by ensuring that children can read, play the violin, trade stocks and speak Mandarin fluently before they begin. age five. It’s no surprise that mothers feel stressed, pressed for time, and overwhelmed.

The benefits for children of childcare

This pressure is compounded by the idea that placing children in paid child care so that mothers (and fathers) can work amounts to “externalizing” the parental responsibilities of mothers.

Research shows that children’s access to high-quality universal care has huge benefits, including increased language skills and better cognitive and socio-emotional skills. These benefits are long-term, leading to higher educational outcomes, a greater likelihood of earning college degrees, and lower incarceration rates.

Quality child care is close to the silver bullet for improving children’s long-term well-being. It is a public good that continues to give. Yet we stigmatize child care in a different way from other forms of education.



Read more: Having a second child worsens parents’ mental health: new research


Fathers play a vital role in parenthood

When it comes to childcare, the cultural narrative places the responsibility on mothers as solely responsible for the children’s first five years. Like the idea that women are more versatile and that men are “dirt blind”, this is a pernicious myth that puts mothers, fathers and children at a disadvantage.

Fathers today are more involved in the emotional development of children than previous generations. Fathers who are more emotionally nourishing have children who are better able to reach their goals in healthy ways, are more emotionally resilient, and more egalitarian in their partnerships.

Thus, we are doing fathers a disservice by perpetuating the myths that mothers are natural nannies and fathers are incompetent, out of touch and irresponsible.

Some politicians need a reality check

These political comments are also at odds with the views of Australian voters. We conducted an experiment in which we asked over 1,000 respondents whether the use of child care would affect the eligibility of a candidate for prime minister. The experiment changed gender to test if this produced different responses to male or female candidates.

Our sample indicated that women prime ministers would be more eligible if they had full-time help. And they viewed the women and men running for prime minister who outsourced such care as equally competent, capable, likeable and caring.

Our interviewees considered having children and being a good parent to be critical to success as prime minister, but did not punish female candidates for “outsourcing” that care. Importantly, they also did not reward our applicants for having a stay-at-home partner. Thus, national party politicians (such as Matt Carnavan, George Christensen, Gerard Rennick and Terry Young) who support the idea that the Australian public considers paying for childcare to be problematic is not supported by our data.

Perpetuation of gender myths hurts much more than using childcare

Women continue to be held responsible for gender myths that are not supported by science or our experimental study. The more politicians and others perpetuate these false claims, the longer we delay in achieving gender parity and closing income-based gaps in children’s long-term outcomes.


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