Quick rant: marriage tax breaks

// 4 February 2010

I got sent an invite to a Policy Exchange Debate entitled ‘Should the State Support Marriage Through the Tax / Benefits System?’. Apparently, ‘the debate about whether the state should support marriage raises many important philosophical and economic issues’.

Really? Because here was me thinking this policy was just a way to discriminate against a whole bunch of people who don’t live their lives and loves in a certain way. Needless to say, I think Cameron’s plans to bolster marriage are bullshit. It’s 2010, do we really want to go back to the good ol’ days when couples stayed together through thick and thin, boredom and unhappiness, violence and abuse, because there was so much social stigma attached to divorce? And the ‘tax breaks for married couples save the kids’ argument is a complete misnomer: Cameron et al never once stop to consider that – just maybe – kids might be better off with separate parents than unhappily married ones. They’re just freaked out by all us socially liberal weirdos who refuse to force ourselves into the oppressive, heterosexist enforced nuclear family box. We might spill out and threaten the cushy little privileged world they’ve built for themselves on the back of women’s domestic slavery. Quick, give’em a tax break, that’ll rein them in! I think not, Mr Cameron.

Oh, and the debate panel is made up entirely of men. I rest my case.

Comments From You

Josie // Posted 4 February 2010 at 9:34 pm

I agree Laura – the whole thing reeks of privilege and makes me vomit. I can’t quite believe that they have the front to suggest this kind of 1950s, ‘Broken Britain’ type of policy and to justify it with ‘won’t anyone think of the children???’ reasoning. I am both an Early Years professional and the product of a hate and resentment-filled marriage (31 years this year! How very ‘stable’. Congratulations, eh?) and I know, like most people who live in the real world, that what matters to children is security, stability and the adults in their lives being civil to each other. If the Tories really give a fig about children’s wellbeing, they would increase child benefit – parents need all the financial help they can get. Marriage has got nothing to do with it.

Horry // Posted 4 February 2010 at 10:03 pm

I very much agree with Laura’s objection to the idea that heteroseual marriage should be promoted anyhow, but from what I understand, the proposed tax breaks don’t actually benefit married couples per se anyhow. They seem to benefit married couples where one person doesn’t have paid employment, usually a woman caring for children, so that the person in paid employment gets their partner’s tax allowance, too. In practice, extra money in a man’s pocket for having a wife who does all the unpaid domestic labour. As if basically promoting gross economic inequality within couples wasn’t bad enough, the proposal seems to benefit high earners at the expense of poorer people. A couple in which one person’s earnings were the same as the combined earnings of another couple could afford to have one person out of paid employment, caring for the children. They’d be richer already due to no need to pay nursery fees etc., yet the conservatives want to give such couples even more support. At this point, it has nothing to do with marriage alone. The people held up as the gold standard, deserving of support at the expense of others, are not simply married couples; they’re married couples who are wealthy enough to have a sole earner and / or who believe ideologically in one person (let’s face it, the woman) not earning (I can see there may be instances where this also benefits poorer couples, where a single income isn’t a choice, but this isn’t what the proposal’s about – on the contrary, it seems to be about bribing people into making “choices” which don’t exist).

Or have I misunderstood the whole thing? It seems so mad and deeply unfair, I keep hoping so.

Kath // Posted 4 February 2010 at 11:16 pm

Well said, Laura. Also, Polly Toynbee asked this question of Cameron and got no response: Why should a man who leaves his wife to remarry continue to avail of the tax break while she continues to struggle on alone with the kids without it? (Obviously genders could be reversed)

Chelsea // Posted 5 February 2010 at 3:11 am

Haha nice post Lau, you have my sympathy!

According to the Daily Mail (sorry!) Cameron was made to chew his own words on marriage policy. Of all the things to have largely on an agenda, he brings in something completely irrelevant and disrespectful to 50% of the voters. Must of realised that with his sad backpeddling.

Join the facebook group: I bet I can find a million people who DON’T want David Cameron as our PM’. Surprised how popular it is (then again, with stupid policies like this, is it small wonder?)

It’s depressing when a government tries to make domestic slavery, sticking with abusive husbands (who probably want nothing to do with the kids, just the wife to push around) cool again. Made me realise, when sexism is so directly pushed by the government how relevant to our lives politics really is, how things could be a LOT worse with Tories in power.

I agree Laura, this posh schoolboy banter- made- policy about the domestic cushi lifestyle is ignorant of a reality – women are significantly much happier outside of marriage, and again living alone. Women often have jobs where officially catering for a man who will often expect her to do his housework for no reason, as well as the kids and looking after herself and a necessary career, becomes problematic and depressing. If the average husband did 50/50 with the kids, as well as the house it’d be worthwile….. wait, let’s not dream. Otherwise it’s a huge compromise for us getting nothing out of what in most heteronormative situations – stands to be this accepted abuse of privilege and power to sit there and not even know how to make a bed (my dad at 40 lol), or wash up after using half the available crockery to make a fry up. It really is ridiculous, and high time policies were made to tackle this attitude, instead of reinforce it to shit on half of us.

Wow it gives us a cookie every time we put up with a friendly beating and smile to brave it. All for the kids who hate the father though, right? Who won’t go cos he gets an extra offical pat on the back by the government itself for being a live-in burden to a woman.

Anyway I second what Harriet Harman said – it’s a policy which favours philandering men on their third wife by forty; over the legitimately single mothers abused and living in a hell. Haha what would you expect from Cameron though?

gadgetgal // Posted 5 February 2010 at 7:54 am

Just thought I’d give you this link:


It gives a run-down of why this is a stupid idea for financial and political reasons as well as moral reasons – I especially like the last section where he points out one inherent flaw in redistribution (because it’s not more money, it’s taking money from someone else):

“A transferable tax allowance is a straight subsidy of single-earner couples compared with two-earner couples. So those in favour of it must also be in favour of reducing the potential labour force. It really is something when a political party is insistent on getting more disabled and sick people back into work, so that they can pay taxes to allow rich mothers to stay at home.”

If you go to this debate are you allowed to actually take part or do you have to just listen? Because it could be good to go to if you can point out the many, many, many, MANY flaws in the plan – oh, there are so many, you’ll need it to stretch out over a couple of days just to list them all!

Bekah // Posted 5 February 2010 at 10:07 am

If tax breaks for married couples come in, my partner and I will be eligable if we get married.

If I can bring myself to sign the little bit of paper saying that it is ok for me to love my partner but now I have to promise to feel that way forever, then we’ll take the money and donate it to Refuge, making it easier for other people to leave unhappy relationships.

Then I will be writing to David Cameron to let him know that we got married purely for the money which has gone somewhere he should have been sending it in the first place, and that we’ll divorce whenever the hell we want to and that little bit of paper he thinks will save society means nothing.

Amy Clare // Posted 5 February 2010 at 11:30 am

I agree with you whole heartedly Laura. I think it’s disgraceful (although not surprising) that they are planning this. Exactly what purpose does bribing people to get married serve? From “I love you, will you marry me?” to “I could do with some extra cash, will you marry me?” Brilliant one, Cameron.

Policies like this just expose the lie that the Tories are the party of ‘small government’. They say they don’t want a ‘nanny state’ or to interfere in people’s lives, and then they offer an incentive for people to behave in the way *they* think people ought to behave. What is that, if not nannying?

There can be no good consequences to this policy. It will encourage people to stay in unhappy or abusive marriages because they have come to rely on the tax break to make ends meet. It will encourage couples who don’t want to get married to get married. And you’re right, separate but happy parents are far better for children’s wellbeing than together but unhappy (or fighting, shouting, hitting) ones.

They’re not interested in people’s wellbeing though. They’re interested in their own paternalistic view of what is ‘good for society’ and if the masses need a carrot/stick to see what’s good for society then so be it. Never mind that society is *made up of human beings* who should be allowed to live their lives as they like (so long as they’re not hurting anyone) and not be penalised for it.

It also makes no sense logically – could any of the Tory party explain why single or co-habiting people ought to pay more tax than married people? Are they earning more money? Er, nope. Are they spending less money? Nope. In the case of single people, the opposite is often the case. The cost of living is *not* higher for married couples than it is for singles/cohabitees. It is higher for those people who have children, but that’s what child benefit and working tax credits are for. The Tories spout hot air about ‘recognising people’s commitment’, however: a) you can be whole heartedly committed to someone without marrying them; and b) why should ‘uncommitted’ people have to pay more tax anyway?

It’s clear that this particular Tory policy is merely a punishment for not living your life the way the Tory party want you to live it.

I am as committed to my partner as I am ever going to get – a commitment that comes from my heart and mind – but we have no plans to marry because we see the tradition as fundamentally sexist. I can’t help but feel that the Tories want to quash such ideological opposition to marriage, and the mooted alternatives to it (for example making civil partnerships available to het couples too). It’s a fear of liberalism, a fear of ‘alternative’-minded people. A fear of difference, manifested in a paternalistic ‘we know what’s right for you’ arrogance. Which is right-wing thinking in a nutshell.

It’s not inevitable that they’ll get in, despite what the media is constantly telling us. Use your vote and keep ’em out!

Argh! Rant over.

sianmarie // Posted 5 February 2010 at 12:44 pm

well said!

Liz // Posted 5 February 2010 at 12:50 pm

Fair remarks, on another point, thanks Cameron, I’ve lived with my partner in our own house for nearly 3 years, we have a nearly 3 year old daughter. How many other couples live like this? I know plenty. How many are married? Not the majority. Why? Not least because they have better things to spend their money on – like their mortgages and kids. Thanks a lot for discriminating against not just non-typical families, but also the ones who won’t get married for financial reasons. Typical Tories not even considering lower income families (I concede the whole argument about how much getting married ‘costs’, and how much of that cost is avoidable, is a completely different matter).

Cycleboy // Posted 5 February 2010 at 1:37 pm

If there is a good reason for a tax allowance (and I’m stepping lightly over that debate) then the old-fashioned transferable allowance ought to be the way to go. I had a female colleague who supported her house-husband and got his tax allowance.

However, my own take on this would be that it should be for parents of children – assuming that’s who the politicians are really concerned about – and marital status should be irrelevant.

Kez // Posted 5 February 2010 at 3:08 pm

Cycleboy – “However, my own take on this would be that it should be for parents of children – assuming that’s who the politicians are really concerned about – and marital status should be irrelevant.”

I think it’s safe to assume that the people David Cameron is primarily concerned about are (a) his potential voters, and (b) the Tory rank and file.

I don’t get this policy, anyway. Cameron wants to “encourage marriage” because (he thinks) Marriage Is A Good Thing, and that type of rhetoric appeals to many of his voters. But surely, marriages which are only entered into, or remained in, because of a fairly minor financial benefit are rather pointless. How is that meant to be any better, whichever way you look at it, than happily cohabiting, or for that matter being single, with or without children? And how is an unhappily married couple staying together purely because of the tax break (assuming this would ever actually happen) ever meant to be a good thing?

Shea // Posted 5 February 2010 at 3:37 pm

Actually I think the tax break should be for whoever needs it most. If you have a successful single mother earning £100k a year then its obvious that she doesn’t need a tax break. The majority of people living on the minimum wage could do with one. Because realistically the state only hands back what it takes from them in working tax credits (because employers don’t pay well enough, and this represents a govt subsidy of them). Anyone on £14K a year or less should have double the tax allowance in order for them to have a decent standard of living and to help raise them out of poverty. Whether they are married, single, co-habiting, straight, gay, bi or transexual is a complete irrelevance. If the Tories weren’t stuck in their 19th century moral backwater they would see this. If they want to help families stay together (married or not) they should do everything possible to cushion them from the free market forces, rather than exposing them with their neo-liberal bullsh*t. Secure employment, better employment rights, a more equal distribution of wealth and greater social mobility through the provision of decent education regardless of where you live, would be a start.

Polemic over.

p.s part of me wonders whether this is a ruse to get more women back in the home as housewives (nothing wrong with that, its a valid choice) and thereby “massage” the unemployment figures by increasing the jobs available.

Thoughts anyone?

polly // Posted 5 February 2010 at 10:00 pm

I don’t see any problem where one of a couple has caring responsibilities and the entire household is dependent therefore on the other’s salary with this being recognised. But instead of just giving two tax allowances, why not pay a non means tested allowance directly to the unwaged partner?

But why give tax breaks to people just for being in a state sanctioned couple? Cameron’s proposals would also apply to lesbian and gay couples with civil partnerships, so they’re not heterosexist as such, but they’re still pushing a certain social model as superior. Apart from the fact that it is usually more affluent people who are married/in civil partnerships anyway, so they’re hardly likely to need another tax break.

gadgetgal // Posted 5 February 2010 at 10:59 pm

@Shea – well spotted! Never even thought of that! But if they are doing it to mess about with the unemployment figures then it’s still not going to work – I’m married but neither one of us earns enough even with tax breaks to have one of us stay at home. In fact with rises in utilities bills that are going to happen over the next couple of years it would probably wipe the money saved out anyway.

I checked the census from 2001 – it said there were nearly 9 million married households in the UK, there are probably more now. But Save the Children came out with figures last month saying there are at least 1.7 million children living in poverty right now in the UK too. I’m presuming they’re working these tax credits out by setting a budget, it would sort of end up like like a pot of money there that they’ve set aside for the married couples (basically money they’ve decided they’re not going to collect from us) – why not carry on collecting it from us and then redirect that entire sum to those children instead? Not only would it be going where it’s needed the most, it would actually make more of a dent because there are less of them than there are married households, so you could give each of them more. I think spreading around little bits of money to so many people doesn’t do a great deal because it doesn’t end up enough to make a real change to anyone – it would be better to direct larger amounts to those most in need.

Problem is not many people would vote for that one, they’d probably rather have the extra £2 in their pockets at the end of the week…

Olivia // Posted 6 February 2010 at 2:43 am

“p.s part of me wonders whether this is a ruse to get more women back in the home as housewives (nothing wrong with that, its a valid choice) and thereby “massage” the unemployment figures by increasing the jobs available.

Thoughts anyone?”

That to me was obvious before anything else. It is probably more about raising the population of housewives (women who work for nothing) than two parents being available to raise kids together. JMO, don’t attack me for it – but I also think being a housewife is no valid life choice. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be educated about what a patriarchy is and how it shits on such women. Again, not looking to be attacked by every liberal feminist going. Funny how this is the only place free speech is not permitted (as a radical ‘i.e hated’ feminist). I don’t think being a housewife is a valid life choice. It assumes living off the back of a man because you’re a woman is completely normal; not to mention a housewife works for free and lives life as an ornament – a lack of self, living vicariously through another. Just saying what I think as someone oppressed, not having read much feminist literature on the subject.

I want kids, but the opportunities to raise them successfully by myself. I don’t want to define my life by a man, whether he chooses to stay with me or not, and making my life about the things I can do to keep hold. Men are responsible for a significant amount of divorces. It’s the single mothers who will be most in need of tax – not the office 20 year old Bob decides to marry later.

Toby Scarlett // Posted 6 February 2010 at 2:03 pm

This makes me so sad – there is so little to back up cameron’s policies. My parents will celebrate their 25th anniversary this year, despite living in separate countries. They see themselves as more of a money-making powerhouse than as a couple, and freely admit that their marriage is not about love, but security. I worry these policies will create more unhappy ‘powerhouse’ couples. At 18, I still have nightmares about their brutal arguments and the screaming matches. I worry that instead of providing a safe environment for children, Cameron’s tax breaks will clamp a vice around these couples and keep them together for nothing but monetary benefit, to the detriment of the children.

Laura // Posted 6 February 2010 at 4:13 pm

Olivia – I don’t think being a ‘housewife’ necessarily involves all the negatives you describe. I think it’s perfectly possible for a couple to choose to have one of them working in paid employment and the other doing their share of work by looking after the house and children, and that’s totally valid providing the unpaid housework and childcare is recognised as work and is freely chosen. The issues for me lie more with the fact that the gender pay gap, current parental leave laws and cultural norms mean that it often “makes more sense” for the woman to do the unpaid work, and this means the choice to do so may be less free and fair.

Stay-at-home parenting aside, if one’s partner were generous enough to spend her/his earnings looking after two people (in a non-paternalistic way, and without any traditional, patriarchal expectations placed on the non-working person) it could enable one to do so much voluntary work and pursue all kinds of other hobbies and projects, one wouldn’t have to be a useless, oppressed ‘ornament’. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with this personally, but that doesn’t make it an invalid life choice.

Liz // Posted 6 February 2010 at 4:29 pm


that kind of opinion is extremely limiting. I hope you come to see that in the future. I think you also need to make a distinction about whether you are talking about housewives or stay at home mothers, because many are one and the same and you would definitely cause a huge amount of offence if you are calling stay-at-home parenting something that isn’t a valid life choice.

Kez // Posted 6 February 2010 at 4:50 pm

Personally I regard the word “housewife” as a derogatory term and regard Olivia’s description of someone who “lives life as an ornament” and has “a lack of self” as insulting to many women. I’ve never dreamed of calling myself a housewife. I have, however, been a full-time mother of young children – both as a single parent and as half of a couple – before in both cases financial necessity forced me back to work. I don’t regard that (being at home with children) as “living off the back of a man”, but as sharing the responsibilities in a way that suited us.

I’ve never defined my life by a man. I’ve raised a child (now an 18-year-old young adult) successfully on my own, and am raising another child as part of a couple. I know I can be self-sufficient because I have been for a huge proportion of my life. Right now I do depend, in part, upon my husband’s income – because I choose to work part-time in order to spend more time with my young daughter. I don’t know why this, or as not working outside the home at all, should be seen as a non-valid life choice. Nor do I need educating about “what the patriarchy is”.

“Funny how this is the only place free speech is not permitted.” Well, clearly it is permitted, Olivia, as you’ve just had it. Not everyone may agree with you, but hey, that’s what free speech is all about, right?

Liz // Posted 6 February 2010 at 5:09 pm


exactly, I was trying not to become personal, but it’s true – I’m lucky enough that I have my partner working to support our family. It has enabled me to complete an undergraduate degree, take on (paid) part-time work for a charity, look after our daughter and apply for a post-graduate qualification. I certainly don’t feel like I’m working for free or exist as an ornament. I would do the same for him, and fully intend to swap with him, when I finish my qualifications and the opportunity arises.

People can call it paternalistic and privileged if they like, but it works for us. There are better things to take offence with, like the things Laura mentions

LonerGrrrl // Posted 6 February 2010 at 7:13 pm

I think Olivia does have a point- there’s a herstory of housewifery in my family which has brought depression & unhappiness for those women. The way I see it, if a woman wants to stay at home and care for her children, that’s fair enough, but I think it’s important she also has her own ‘thing’ going on, with time to pursue her own interests (which is hard if you’re taking sole responsibility for the cleaning & kids, hence the need for men/wider society to take some of the burden off). It’s this lack of a life outside the home, and hence a lack of individual identity, I’ve noticed the women in my family suffer from.

Though I also don’t think working for the 9-5 rat race makes you any more liberated or self-fulfilled… to stop myself from going off on a tangent, it’ll all probably only be resolved if women just smash the whole system to build it back up again, this time with our interests in mind.

And I agree the Tories’ plans for tax breaks for married couples is a discriminatory, old-fashioned proposal. And I wholeheartedly echo Amy Clare when she says we need to use our votes to keep them out- that’s the main reason I’ll be voting in May!

Laura // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:18 pm

Yes, I agree with that, Lonergrrrl. You only have to look at the high levels of anti-depressant addiction among women taking on the “selfless” housewife role in the 50s/60s/70s to see that being nothing but an unpaid, live-in servant can have devastating effects. I’d recommend The Women’s Room for a brilliant portrait of how the 1950s style housewife role crushed many women’s spirits and sense of identity.

So I guess it depends on how you’re defining ‘housewife’ really.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:39 pm

The work that needs to be done to keep a household and care for kids is so often unappreciated (interestingly connected to the foreign domestic workers post) regardless of whether the person (usually a woman) doing it is a wife or other worker.

I see a very really difference between the ‘housewife’ role where some women are basically seen as a free live-in worker with added perks in the bedroom, and an understanding partnership between two individuals where one stays at home. It may well make sense for one person to stay at home and look after the kids, and they may be female, without it being exactly the same as the former situation.

Though I think the context and society renders that person more likely to be female, and places them in an economically vulnerable position. I do think it’s important to not be dismissive towards women who choose to take on either role. We need analytical of the way these roles are shaped by society, and their own words. Even if some of them do fight against feminism. Because in part, they are right to feel that some women are hostile towards them and react in kind. The patriarchy does play us off against each other: ‘housewife’ vs. ‘career woman’, ‘smart’ vs. ‘beautiful’, ‘prude’ vs. ‘slut’. We’d be better off if we didn’t play along.

I do hate the kind of situation where the main earning partner (often male) expects the other to stay at home and raise the kids, regardless of their own aspirations, in order so that they themselves can blaze a dashing career. ‘But you’d never get as far, anyway’ they say. So what? And isn’t that taking advantage of the fact that the system is harder on women in order to take advantage of them? I think pressuring someone else to put your wishes first always is stepping from healthy ‘individual in a partnership’ compromise territory into selfish ‘my wishes always come first’ territory.

Mother // Posted 7 February 2010 at 12:04 am

A lot of the debate here about the value women perceive of stay at home mothers versus ones who go out to work hinges on choice. Back in the 1950s when the Women’s Room was based, women didn’t have the choice based on social norms to work. If you worked, you didn’t conform. Now we have ostensibly more choice. Some women can choose to work, and some can choose to stay at home. Most women I know who work, do so out of economic necessity. I cannot believe that westernised women living in the UK currently mainly don’t have the choice to work if they want to (apart from disability or factors affecting unemployment). It is now socially acceptable (in the main) to either stay at home or work. Working mothers still seem to get more criticism as a group for being supposedly neglectful parents (whereas working fathers are seen as breadwinners doing the right thing to leave the home to work). Stay at home mothers do get criticised as we’ve seen on this thread for their apparent indolence and luxury. I am knackered. I am a single mother of three children. I have spent the day with them, done homework, music practice, gardening, and shopping and cooking, and sewing, answered e-mails from my boss and colleagues, written business letters after children’s bedtime, and now I’m blogging in my wind down time. I have no choice. I must work or live on benefits and lose everything I’ve worked for all my life. I cannot bear the debates that assume women choose to work from some sort of selfish self-fulfillment sort of wish. I’m a regular bloke in my working attitude. I enjoy the office sometimes, mostly around pay day. I’m not asking for a tax break. But I don’t want my ex husband and his new wife (who stays at home) to get one either. Where’s the social policy in that? Why should I subsidise her staying at home? I wish this debate about stay at home versus working would stop. The hardest working woman I ever knew was my mother, and she stayed at home. I don’t want to subsidise other people’s lifestyle choices through my tax. I am happy to subsidise people who are less well off and struggling, or ill or otherwise in need. That’s the thing that baffles me. If marriage is meant to be this wonderful state of bliss that David Cameron wants to promote, why do married couples need a state hand-out? Why not subsidise dating agencies so that all we lonely no-hopers can all get hitched? I think I should marry an asylum seeker then stay at home.

Liz // Posted 7 February 2010 at 10:06 am

Oh Anne Onne, I love hearing from you, you always put things so perfectly :)

olivia // Posted 7 February 2010 at 3:15 pm

Maybe I don’t have that much experience of a modern housewife – but my mother, being a housewife, my father being a lovely bloke otherwise, tends to treat her like a piece of crap when he expects the washing up to be done. I just think there will always naturally be a ‘slave- like’ and a master tone in the bloke element. Of course your experience might be different (and as a feminist probably is)!

Again, free speech permits me as an oppressed individual to say this life just isn’t for me. Maybe the treatment of housewives by men (women) helps me not want to be a stay-at-home mum in future, even though it could be practical. Most women I know want to work 4 weeks after having a kid, they don’t like the feeling of being at home. They prefer getting back to work. Probably because of feeling weird themselves at home. So guessing the majority of working women feel the same, minus the rhetoric. Exactly, fundamentally it’s choice and necessity, feeling pressured neither side.

Kez // Posted 7 February 2010 at 4:54 pm

“Most women I know want to work 4 weeks after having a kid, they don’t like the feeling of being at home. ”

You must know a very different set of people to me, then. I know very few (none, actually) women who want to go back to work four weeks after giving birth, and in fact there are very few women who actually do this. You’re not on your own at home doing nothing, you’re at home looking after a baby, which is a very, very different thing. Of course, you’re entitled to say this is how you feel at the moment, but do bear in mind that your feelings may change when you are actually in that situation. Or they may not. Either way, it’s fine – nobody would be entitled to criticise you or call your choice an invalid one.

Anne Onne // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:33 pm

I think it worth adding that poor women have probably always worked. The luxury of women not working used to be something more limited to women from better-off backgrounds.

There may be many reasons for not staying at home, from not enjoying the primary caregiver role, not wanting to be primary caregiver because it doesn’t seem equal, not wanting to lose out at work, not having the luxury to take much time out in case they lose the job, not being able to afford not working, really enjoying work, etc. They’re all valid, regardless of the reasons behind them. Likewise there are many reasons women may choose to stay at home.

I find it really frustrating that so often women are called out for being ‘bad mothers’ when the fathers (who may or may not even be present) are completely ignored in the conversation.

@ Liz: Thanks :) I admit I rely on comments from everyone here to remind me there are lots of kind, thoughtful people out there with lots of important, interesting things to say. I cannot overstate the kind of debt I owe to sites like The F Word, so if I can add anything to the mix, I’m happy. I have to admit, though, I don’t always agree with myself. ;)

Mother // Posted 7 February 2010 at 8:31 pm

Totally with you on the wanting to get back to work thing. Don’t be forced into feeling guilty if babycare is relentless, isolating and thankless for you. I had maternity leaves of four, five and six months. My self-esteem definitely suffered the worst over the longest period away from work and in isolation and where with the best will in the world women sink to discussing the contents of baby’s nappies. Yes, I could have been unlucky during my maternity leaves. But apart from the juggling and tiredness, going back to work was great. No generalisations from either side of this please. But don’t make women who don’t find babycare as rewarding as working into social lepers.

Olivia // Posted 7 February 2010 at 11:38 pm

Kez, I would have to say we know different people. Alone, or alone with a baby can be terrifying for someone who the experience is like a whirlwind for. Getting back to work is settling into reality for a lot of women.

Yep, this is how I feel at the moment. But it’s harder to say whether working women or housewives are more the victims in this scenario – career women get slated all the time by the media and misogynists, as do housewives by the wider working society. I think it’s better we reach our own conclusions, coping as we do, with what’s possible and makes us feel the best about ourselves. Meanwhile campaigning for things like equal pay, higher paid part- time work for mothers, to get in the way of policies like the marriage tax break – which we all agree has been farted out in a Tory lunch break.

Horry // Posted 7 February 2010 at 11:46 pm

@ Mother

Great comment, I feel exactly the same way! I’m about to return to work after my second maternity leave of 9 months. I was ready to go back much earlier but having two children in nursery is going to be extortionate (and obviously the law won’t let me swap with my partner yet). At the moment I’m struggling with the total lack of space caring for a toddler and a baby involves, while also dealing with “sympathetic” (ie judgemental) comments about what a shame it is I “have to” go back to work. And yet if I point out that I actually value the social and economic independence work creates, there’s this assumption that work is some great treat for “working mothers” like me, whereas it’s still this terrible sacrifice for our male counterparts (as though my salary is somehow reserved for Manolo Blahniks rather than the rent). It’s maddening, and the conservative proposals will make the pointless judgements about personal decisions even worse…

Troon // Posted 8 February 2010 at 3:31 pm

Olivia’s earlier post about what it was to be a ‘housewife’ and responses to it which talk of choice and the need not to attack others for those choices, made me think harder about how the situation she describes might arise for me and whether it is at all escapable from.

I’ve become very aware that at the moment I need to validate performing some tasks that are done by all people whether married, in couples or single (cooking, cleaning, DIY) in very different ways to how I used to. Previously I felt I wanted to eat, or that the room would be nice when painted, now I think of these tasks as making life easier for my partner or the kids. Even childcare becomes validated in these ways, especially at its most monotonous (when my ninny of a nine-month old cried for the third time last night I cuddled him to sleep not, as often, because I enjoy the closeness and dislike seeing him upset, but because I knew his Mum was at the end of her tether and needed an undisturbed night). These feelings seem to come the better parts of me and from love for my partner, but I’m well aware that they are making me less centred on myself in giving value to my life, and I am nicely cushioned by my gender, my job and the fact they are not directly asking me to do them.

I know that were I not to work permanently, and to take these tasks upon myself, I would inevitably end up going further and further down this path, until eventually I was, as Olivia put it, living ‘my life vicariously’. This is why I am always sceptical about people ‘choosing’ to stay at home, since they seem to represent myself but further down the line, individuals who are choosing because they have had to use others’ happiness as an excuse to give value to life and to stay sane, and now value it more than they did before they embarked on such domestic roles. I would not like to attack anyone for that choice, there are parts of me that find it attractive, but I would value someone being honest about the timelines and processes involved in order to critique them. The tax break encourages (albeit minimally) people to start down a path which (if me or my own mother is anything to go by) becomes a self-perpetuating choice to stay at home, with all the risks of willing negation of selfhood that implies.

Mother // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:10 am


Good luck going back to work. It’s a sad fact that we can’t win: neither working women nor stay at home ones will escape some form of criticism and sometimes from each other, which is abhorrent. And what is worse is that for many the compromises are not matters of choice but made on the basis of social cohersion, money and the cost of childcare versus the cost of not working. But having said that I feel freer than I have in years with my three children without the support or hindrance of a spouse, able to financially support them and myself, and freedom is a lovely thing.

Freedom to take full responsibility and be knackered of course, but so much better than being dependent. For me. Others may not mind being dependent or co-dependent, though I doubt that there are that many relationships that are truly 50/50 co-dependent so some inequalities have to be accepted to avoid being a lonesome old fart like me.

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