Liberating Our Nation’s Grandmas

// 19 May 2010

Women are slowly getting the freedom of choice but have we really stopped to think if it is at anyone’s expense? Are we really solving the problem of female inequality and exploitation or are we simply passing it on to our mothers?

In almost every civilisation economies have thrived off and been supported by women’s free labour. Child care, domestic chores, caring for the elderly and the sick, teaching and cooking are all necessary for a society to function. Today middle class women pass them on to underpaid workers. Now women’s labour finally has a monetary value placed on it we can see how undervalued it is. We export the exploitation to those willing to do it for a minimum wage. Many academics have critiqued the international element of inequality within the women’s movement. As western women become “liberated” their legacy is the exploitation of immigrants who take on their old roles.

Yet are we missing another effect much closer to home? For millions of young mothers their own mother is the first person they will call on for help. Research shows that grandparents are the preferred option for childcare. Not really surprising as they are both free and reliable. The women’s movement has not solved the problem of who takes the place of the woman in the household. Women have to juggle childcare, work and domestic labour or pass the responsibility to their parents if they are not willing to pay someone else to do it. So whilst Grandma may have fought for women’s rights in the 70’s her reward was having to become a housewife again in her old age to “liberate” today’s women. Whilst they are off working granny’s back at home wondering how her retirement turned into a second parenthood.

We all know about the multitasking single mother of three who works, cooks, cleans, pays the bills, looks after the children whilst simultaneously dealing with her own personal problems but who do you think is supports her? This is where the unsung heroine comes to the rescue. So perhaps the question is not how do the nation’s working single mothers cope? The real question is how do the nation’s grandmothers cope? These grandmothers are already dealing with the multiple disadvantages that come with age. They also have to cope with the cumulative disadvantage of gender over the life course through lower life earnings, lower pensions, higher morbidity and usually greater caring responsibilities for older family members, siblings or partners. Now due to the velocity of women entering the workplace and the expense of childcare the grandmother is now the new housewife to top it all off. She doesn’t get paid, she doesn’t get help, she can’t work and she can’t claim benefits. Does this sound at all familiar to those of you who lived through the 70’s?

There is a commonly held view that the traditional nuclear family is breaking down. The happy family of mum, dad, brother and sister no longer fits the reality of the typical British family. Yet another change in family demographics is being overlooked – the multi generational family. Whilst mum and dad are arguing they are leaning ever more on their own parents for support. Research shows that not only are extended families increasing but they are becoming more and more involved in family life. This isn’t only in terms of helping with childcare but equally helping with financial hardship.

The apocalyptic image of our ageing population is a popular one. The view of older people as a burden will be a difficult one to change, yet in reality parents will provide more support to their children at all stages in their life than children will ever pay back to their parents. Even in retirement monetary transfers tend to travel down the family despite the popular image of granny shacked up in a residential home draining the family of funds.

It’s time to liberate the granny!

Comments From You

FeminaErecta // Posted 19 May 2010 at 6:59 pm

I’m sorry, Lucy, but I don’t quite get what you are saying. That women shoudn’t ask their mothers for support? Or that childcare should be cheaper? Or that there should be greater support for single parent families? Or all three!

Jessica // Posted 19 May 2010 at 7:15 pm

While there is much in this article I agree with, I also feel a slight sense of unease.

I like the idea of the grandparents being involved in childcare. I like the idea of the nuclear family being replaced by multi-generational families. I’m already looking for houses in which my partner and I can live with either his parents or mine, and we don’t even have kids yet.

I’m not suggesting that grandparents have a moral responsibility to look after their grandchildren while the parents work, but I wonder who the author thinks should look after children. Surely not the state?

Jessica Smith // Posted 19 May 2010 at 7:41 pm

The problem is that we haven’t actually got equality. If we had equality, all jobs would be shared, including the caring and household side, equally between men and women. As you say in your blog – what we have done is to give women more choices – but we haven’t really made massive progress into equality. Hence our poor old grannies get to fill the gaps. In a world where mums and dads both take parental leave, where mums and dads both feel able to leave work early to pick up the children, where plenty of part-time and flexible jobs are available (and not just at the poorly paid end of the spectrum), and where grandpas also volunteer to help out – then our grannies will start to get a bit of peace and quiet!!

Kerrie Joanne Grain // Posted 19 May 2010 at 8:08 pm

Parents receive financial help towards the cost of nursery fees (working family tax credit, 12.5 hours nursery care per week paid for by local government, commencing the term after a child turns three), individuals receive financial help towards the care of the elderly (‘carer’s allowance’ and so on), so why can’t there be a ‘carer’s allowance’ which can be claimed by grandparents who look after their grandchildren?

Lynne Miles // Posted 19 May 2010 at 9:05 pm

I think this post is really interesting – and welcome to TFW, Lucy!

In response to the first few comments, I didn’t take from this that Lucy was saying grandparents *shouldn’t* be involved in caring for their grandchildren, but that perhaps we’re not thinking critically about where the balance of power, effort, and unrewarded labour is in society.

The fact is that whilst [middle class, western] women’s world has been fundamentally changed by feminism, their male partners’ lives haven’t changed very much at all. Women still take on the overwhelming burden of housework and repetitive childcare. It goes without saying that this won’t be the case in every family unit, but it is the general pattern.

For those women whose partners aren’t pulling their weight in terms of childcare and/or housework, or for single mothers, the options are to work themselves ragged, to shift the burden onto low-paid women (which raises issues of class and race), or to rely on family. But overwhelmingly the dynamic seems to be parcelling out the work amongst women somehow, and there doesn’t seem to be much sharing of the burden across the gender divide, whether paid or not.

Obviously there are lots of ways in which relying on grandparents (grandmothers?) is great, and could be fantastic for all involved, but it’s surely worth taking a while to wonder whether this is a universal good, and particularly from the grandparents’ perspective. And, like Lucy says, it means it remains hidden economically and therefore undervalued by society which may rankle even when all parties involved are happy with their arrangements.

I think it’s a really interesting point, and I’m really glad Lucy brought it up, particularly since I think we far too rarely talk about issues of relevance to older women on this site.

FertileFem // Posted 19 May 2010 at 9:21 pm

“Parents receive financial help towards the cost of nursery fees (working family tax credit, 12.5 hours nursery care per week paid for by local government, commencing the term after a child turns three), individuals receive financial help towards the care of the elderly (‘carer’s allowance’ and so on), so why can’t there be a ‘carer’s allowance’ which can be claimed by grandparents who look after their grandchildren?”

Or, for that matter, at-home parents?

While I agree that the passing onto grandparents of the expectation and need for unpaid labour isn’t ideal, you make no mention of the millions of parents (usually mothers) doing this work for free as well. What about their contributions, which receive little to no remuneration? Not only in relation to childcare and domestic labour but community work like volunteering at local events, running school boards, charity fundraising, etc.. This work is expected to be undertaken mainly by students, at-home parents and pensioners, simply because they are currently doing less paid work in the marketplace so their time is viewed as less valuable and more expendable. The problem of unpaid domestic work is a problem for more than just grandparents.

Liz // Posted 19 May 2010 at 9:58 pm

I’d also like to question the ‘young mothers’ you mention at the start:

“For millions of young mothers their own mother is the first person they will call on for help.”

To be perfectly honest, as a young(ish) mother, I can categorically say that I will not be able to pass on the childcare to my mother as she is still working full time, and will be for at least 10 more years, if not more. The women I personally know who have grandparents regularly look after their children are in their 30s, because their parents are older and already retired.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 19 May 2010 at 10:18 pm

Pretty much ‘what Liz said’- my mother is only 47 and already has one grandchild (my brother’s kid)! And, I am in my late twenties, so even if I wait a decade to the end of my fertile years to have kids, my mum (or dad for that matter) won’t have retired.

I do think childcare should be paid though- whether by mothers, grandmothers or workers.

Lauren // Posted 19 May 2010 at 10:40 pm

Hmm this all sounds too much like pointing the blame at the feminists. (Well, not like, it is.)

I know that wasn’t what you were meant to say I’m just sick of us ‘liberated’ women made to feel guilty in every discussion of our liberation.

What your article lacks is an ability to point the finger at men! Those who are continually refusing to help with the housework.

Let me explain: Men are the group right at the top who are exploiting immigrants, who take the place of unavailable grandmothers, the grandmothers who take the place of career women, who take on all the chores a grown man should be doing.

I wouldn’t mind these weary articles (usually found in the Daily Fail where they can be avoided) if the blame was placed squarely where it belongs.

Horry // Posted 19 May 2010 at 10:46 pm

Am I alone in feeling the tone of this piece is quite accusatory towards “today’s women”, and dismissive of the moral value of their “liberation”? Why should how grandmothers who look after children cope be a more “real question” than how single mothers in paid employment cope? Doesn’t this come close to playing women off against each other, with little mention of the role men play in all of this? Personally, I wouldn’t let my mother loose on my children for five minutes. As a liberated woman of today, my “choice” is to merrily “export the exploitation” to the staff at my children’s nursery while I gad about in power suits, drinking apple martinis over working lunches and living the Daily Mail dream… Do you really think we are so dim, that none of us notice the world around us? That paid work itself isn’t some great liberation (providing you’re a woman), that it’s far more complex than that?

And frankly, why should it be down to the women’s movement to “solve the problem of who takes the place of the woman in the household”? If the point is it’s not just our responsibility (and surely that is the point?) then it’s not just our responsibility to find a solution, particularly when we have so much less opportunity to influence the wider social and economic structures around us. I think when you start to talk about the “expense” of women’s liberation, you’ve already stopped supporting it as an inalienable right, and that’s limiting to everyone’s freedom. As long as you suggest mothers in paid employment have created a gap that is only woman-shaped, you’ll continue to reinforce the inequality about which you complain.

Lynne Miles // Posted 19 May 2010 at 10:50 pm

@Lauren – I think it’s OK to talk about this stuff without falling into the trap of ‘blaming feminism’ in a Daily Mail sort of way (and I totally disagree that Lucy was doing this). That some, or even most of the blame goes to men as you say doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a critical discussion of how middle class western women use their own privilege to displace some elements of exploitation onto other women who have less privilege. A blanket refusal to critically assess white middle class feminists’ role in perpetuating other oppressions is part of the reason that non-white working class women can feel that feminism isn’t ‘for’ them (e.g recent discussions around black women rejecting the feminist label/movement). So actually I think not only is it *ok* to talk about these issues, but that we have a responsibility to do so.

aimee // Posted 19 May 2010 at 11:02 pm

I also like the idea of grandparents and indeed other members of an extended family; friends, neighbours etc. being involved in the childcare. Much like they do in places in the Mediterranean. I really like the idea of a community looking after children as opposed to a nuclear unit. Obviously parents should have the main responsibility for childcare but I really do think it would be good if we all looked after eachother’s kids as and when necessary.

Unfortunately my family isn’t like this at all. My dad or my partner’s mum might have the baby every so often for a weekend, by my mum lives far away and I don’t really speak to her. I don’t think the situation described above is the case for a lot of women. Also… isn’t this not allowed any more? Didn’t I read something recently about two women not being allowed to look after eachother’s kids whilst the other was at work because neither were Ofstead registered or something?

Lauren // Posted 20 May 2010 at 2:02 am

I agreed with the point she was making Lynne. I see modern women handing children to grandmothers all the time with no second thought and resent it! I also see that this is a result of elements out of their control. Everything wrong about it has nothing to do with women, or feminists. The women are finding the cheapest source of help possible – much needed help. The only reason help is so vital is because men put women in that ‘lead 7 lives’ situation. For a start ask why men aren’t being blamed for lumping children on their older parents? I mean that would be a start. But instead blame is placed in a roundabout way on women neglecting their stay- at-home- mum role.

It’s the fact that women are still oppressed, and the author didn’t address this, instead going on to talk about decline of the nuclear family (purleasee).

Bell Bajao Fighting Domestic Violence // Posted 20 May 2010 at 7:26 am

Both men and women need to share responsibilities of the household. Feminism has changed the lifestyle of women, but even men have to bring some adjustments in their lives, where taking care of children and sharing domestic chores is concerned. Grandparents love being a part of the lives of their grandchildren, but they should not be taken for granted.

Mephit // Posted 20 May 2010 at 8:56 am

As I understand it, the two police officers who were swapping childcare were stopped from doing it as it was seen in terms of money, and they were told they’d have to register as child-minders. But in October, it was ruled that the law was an ass reall, and such arrangements shouldn’t come under such scrutiny anymore.

Liz // Posted 20 May 2010 at 10:18 am

Although I see what’s being said here, I do agree with Lauren that it sound like another round of blame the feminist (although I understand that wasn’t the point of the article).

The thing that stood out for me most was it being solely about women passing on their children to their grandmothers. Surely, if there is a father, he is equally accountable and while we keep questionning women and letting the men get on with it, I doubt that much is ever going to change.

Liz // Posted 20 May 2010 at 11:03 am

Absolutely what Feminist Avatar and Fertile Fem say: until childcare is credited in the same league as ‘working’ there is always going to be a dissonance between ‘stay at home,’ ‘paid care’ and ‘grandparent care.’ Any which way, someone is being disadvantaged. I understand Lucy’s argument, and obviously writers shouldn’t be expected to cover every single base with a proviso, but when it comes to caring for our children women get extremely passionate. Any which way we turn, we are doing something wrong. THAT is what needs to be changed, rather than shifting the burden of blame onto whoever is the current ‘enemy’. By which I mean ‘men,’ ‘patriarchy,’ ‘middle class women,’ ‘feminists,’ whatever!

Jean // Posted 20 May 2010 at 11:32 am

I am a grandmother and whilst I love looking after my grandchildren I struggle financially and as my health is not so good I have also given up work to do so. It is funny that people say this is blaming the feminists as if grandmothers are not somehow included in the group. I do feel older women are left out there is alot of emphasis on childcare, contraception and objectifying women and older women are never included. Actually childcare affects us in someways more as this article says. The problem is we need to address the core not just pass it on to other cheap sources.

Ros // Posted 20 May 2010 at 12:51 pm

I really don’t see the classist accusations at all. Is there any evidence that middle class women pass on childcare to the grandparents more than working class parents? Or is it just offensive when it’s done by middle class women?

The piece actually makes a lot of assumptions about parenting that come from an affluent, middle-class, western European perspective. Eg having children later in life. Women who have children in their teens often ask their parents for support, but as their mothers may be younger it isn’t always obvious. Should these women be made to feel guilty too?

Kate // Posted 20 May 2010 at 4:29 pm

Ros, I think the class issue is that for many working class women their mothers won’t be able to afford to sacrifice their own jobs to undertake unpaid childcare. (I say assuming that our country’s ridiculous lack of social mobility means mother and daughter are pretty much in the same class). My mum would love to look after the grandchildren she’s dying for me to produce for her, but we both know that she cannot afford to do that as a single woman, in a low paid job and with no pension, meaning she is not going to retire at 60/65.

It’s a very good point though about younger first-time mothers. In general I think this piece makes a lot of very wrong accusations but I can’t articulate my response to it in a way that’s under 1,000 words. In short though: Extended families are a good thing, and fight the real enemy, which is a lack of shared parenting and affordable, quality childcare for all women.

Sheila // Posted 20 May 2010 at 4:59 pm

I don’t see asking grandparents for help as a modern or feminist issue. Where a woman can still contribute to the economy and earn her own money, she can ask relatives as appropriate for support. Who better in most cases to ask than her own mother who brought her up? (And her father too of course, though men live less long and statistically are more likely not to be around to help). According to one study I read of East End social norms “Nanny” is a term used extensively in working class culture to mean grandmother meaning that a nanny is an older woman who looks after children. I bet most of us called our grandmothers “nanny”. And throughout history there have been selfish daughters who put upon their mothers and are still doing it now, selfless mothers who give up their retirement for love to nurture their grandchildren and support their children (and find it very rewarding). Grandmothers are an amazing support to lots of families who shouldn’t feel guilty for resorting to the bonds of love rather than commerce to look after children. I work full-time at the moment and am likely to until retirement age. When my sons and daughter want childcare, subject to my retirement plans to enjoy myself, I would most definitely and willingly give up my time to help them. In the meantime, I am helped with childcare whilst at work by a woman I pay, a nanny. I give work to another woman and pay and treat her well. If my mother were alive, she’d have helped and she’d have been in the lucky financial position of not needing to ask me to pay her – but I would have done if the money situation had been different. Some people will think that me giving another woman payment to look after my children is my capitalist oppression of someone who clearly earns less than me. But if I didn’t employ her, would she be unemployed and therefore less wealthy and less empowered. I think the issue of women employing women is a very interesting one from a feminist perspective. I have employed a lot of women, I positively want to employ women (and I know that makes me positively discriminatory). I want to do this to give more economic empowerment to women. But going back to the debate about grandmothers, if a grandmother is being exploited, she needs to speak to her daughter. If the grandmother is happy looking after the grandchildren well that saves the bigger family unit a lot of money, from which hopefully everyone in that family will benefit.

Shea // Posted 20 May 2010 at 5:24 pm

A real interesting piece. I echo others though in that the discussion lacks any mention of men in it. It is the fact that women have across the generations assume much more of a male role in working (paid and otherwise). But the reverse has not held true. Men have not for the most part taken on the additional “traditionally female” roles of cleaning, cooking and childcare. It is also men as a group who substantially benefit the most from the current system.

I think there is also a lack of discussion about the mutuality of care that goes on. My mother is in her fifties and has the “burden” of caring for her own mother, my grandmother to contend with. It seems the generation who have lost out the most arent the wartime generation but the baby boomers, who are sandwiched between childcare for their grandchildren and caring for their elderly parents.

There also a mistake – if monetary transfer in retirement runs down the family it is because the older generation has benefitted from a uniquely favourable set of circumstances in the post war years and so have been able to accumulate assets that the present working generations will struggle to.

Real wages have decreased, higher education now costs a significant amount, the employment market is much less favourable than at any time in the previous fifty years. The irony in all this is that although my own mother has worked all her life in paid employment, she will retire with a much less generous pension than the one recieved by my own grandmother who did no (paid) work after getting married in her twenties!

Its not “feminism” thats to blame, it is successive governments who have blindly followed neo-liberalism, which intrinsically favours men, much more than women and still undervalue the work women do.

Alex T // Posted 20 May 2010 at 9:07 pm

A very interesting piece. I was wondering, though, what figures there are available to back it up? Of all the families I know (and I’m a primary school teacher and a mother), I can’t think of anyone except my own uncle who uses a grandparent for childcare. How widespread is the issue? It might be difficult to find out, I’m sure, due to the informal nature of these arrangements, but it would still be interesting to know.

I also genuinely wonder how oppressed these granparents feel themselves to be. When my childcare arrangements fell through just as I returned to work, my dad – note: a man – picked up the phone, drove 130 miles and looked after my 10 week-old son for the last two days of his holiday (he’s a teacher too). My mum is self-employed, so re-arranged her work and took over for the remainder of the week. My point is that they live too far away to be of any help regularly, but jumped at the chance to look after their grandson when they were able to. (In fact, my mum was really annoyed when I changed my mind about leaving him with them for the weekend when I went to Ireland for a wedding last month, and took him with me!)

And for the record, our childcare costs are absolutely crippling, which is something I feel the piece rather glossed over. I’m sure many parents make the choice to involve grandparents simply to make ends meet.

Kerrie grain // Posted 21 May 2010 at 1:12 am


I agree wholeheartedly, I’d just not taken it that far in my thought process. But yeah, I hear what you’re saying!

Troon // Posted 21 May 2010 at 11:45 am

After two gorgeous days of cuddles, amazing developments (eldest spelt daddy and Mummy using fridge magnets, youngest walked a few steps-sorry, felt like a brag) I exported the exploitation of looking after my kids today, and am still in shock at the way the eldest went to the car screaming for me and demanding to stay at home. I thought that was quite grim, but can at least take heart I escape censure on a feminist website. Why? Because I’m not a mother, single or otherwise, but a male parent. Way to go F-word!

Sorry, but people above are too polite (only scanned through) writing of “slight unease”. This article may not be ‘blaming’, but it does basically seem to assume that the issue needs addressing not only because grannies are women but because it is women doing the ‘exporting’ (as if childcare were for women only). The same assumption runs through the picture it paints, with no actual evidence offered. I can think of seven children (five families) I meet on the ‘baby circuit’ who are looked after by their grandparents. And they are all looked after by their grandparents plural, both male and female. In fact, the older generation have an equity in terms of sharing this task that makes us younguns wince with anger and envy. So, just for clarification, how many grandparents are looking after kids? And how many grandmothers specifically, or do we just assume that because this is childcare they must be the same?

One final plea, can we stop using stay-at-home to describe those undertaking childcare? It’s an entirely false description, which just encapsulates the non-ideal of the isolated, non-seen non-societally useful woman, and makes it so much harder to combat. I don’t define my work by where the Daily Mail wishes it takes place, so why should I define my childcaring similarly?

Lynne Miles // Posted 21 May 2010 at 12:15 pm

I take the point about the missing discussion of male roles (although I don’t think it’s entirely out of place to remind people that this is a blog which means short pieces, not full exploratory essays, and there’s always more you could say about a certain aspect of a story … as I think some commenters know first-hand).

Nevertheless I do find it interesting that the only person who has declared themselves to be an actual grandparent doing caring says that she also has reservations and asks why more feminists aren’t including her perspective.

Megan // Posted 21 May 2010 at 1:29 pm

I do think this article raises and interesting point but misses the positive outcomes that can occur from a multi generational family. My grandparents definitely helped pick up the slack in caring for us in terms of school holidays when my Mum was working, but so did my uncle. Now they have adult grandchildren they can rely who return the favour by helping and caring for them.

Troon // Posted 21 May 2010 at 2:17 pm

@Lynne Mills

Thank you for that (in the circumstances) very mild reminder not to criticise for what isn’t said. My very real apologies to Lucy Inmonger if she feels misrepresented. But, to clarify what she is saying, could she tell us if she feels her points would be affected in anyway if she were to redraft with an emphasis on ‘parents struggling’ rather than ‘women being liberated’, and what is the evidence this ‘shift’ to grandparent care exists and affects older women disproportionately?

To what was said, I think my worry is that recognising what grandparents did as ‘paid childcare’ would increase the already considerable pressure on parents to allow their grandparents greater access to their children. And, whilst that is lovely if you’re a single Mum and your own parent is a ‘hero’, it’s less good if your Mum or Dad is abusive. This clearly doesn’t apply to those commentating above, but equally reminding ourselves of their role and feelings doesn’t provide an answer to how children and parents would be protected if encouraged to use unregulated childcare in which a minority of providers will be vicious, harm-producing anachronisms, especially if those grandparents saw that control as a means of making money.

PS: To clarify, I meant ’employment’ not the much more ambiguous ‘work’ in my last post.

Lucy // Posted 21 May 2010 at 3:39 pm

The bottom line is older women are not well represented by the feminist movement and childcare is not valued to the extent it should be by society. So whilst mothers already have to cope with a bad hand, grandparents supporting them feel it even more due to the double disadvantage of age and gender. On top of that they also lack a political voice. Of course what we want is for public policy to be more family orientated so that men and women can share responsibility or that childcare was recognised for its real worth and people weren’t penalised through low wages or unemployment for doing it. I know I will want my mother to look after my children if I cannot but really I want the reasons why I cannot to be solved through flexible working and family friendly workplaces. This way when my mum takes the kids it’s because she has asked to not because I have asked her. I don’t want to fall into the trap of “blaming” men. They feel the same pressure to conform to the male breadwinner model as women do to the domesticated mother. What I would like to see is policies that support shared responsibility of childcare. However as we do not have that yet it is not fair for childcare as a gender issue to focus on the role of the mother when grandmothers also feel the pressure. More and more women are going into employment but are not been supported they are just adding it onto other responsibilities and therefore grandmothers are disproportionately affected as important actors in informal childcare.

Of course I am not saying grandparents should not take care of their grandchildren it is fantastic that they are involved but it would be nice if was not a need. Many grandparents find it difficult to ask for a break as they know they are relied on but may suffer from financial hardship and health problems. Women are given more choices – the choice to work for example – but are still expected to do all the other more “traditional” female roles and it is often grandparents that are left to pick up the pieces. 26% of grandparents live on low incomes. 1 in 3 families rely on grandparents for some care and up to 2 out of 3 single parents rely on grandparents for childcare.

These pressures are caused by gender inequality – if we had gender equality women would not have to rely on others to take on roles they cannot fulfil. It is ridiculous to suggest it is “the fault” of the feminist movement. It is a repercussion, of which there are many, because female equality is an inherently difficult thing to achieve as core aspects of our society relies on it. Prior to widespread female employment grandparents did not have to play a big role in childcare. It is a new issue but it is never talked about. Just because feminism is a good thing doesn’t mean it can’t be better, more efficient or more inclusive. We spend so much time talking about women of childbearing age and young women that older women are often completely left out of the picture. I think we need to realise feminism isn’t having a whole lot of success at the moment. Inequalities are merely being shifted around to different areas rather than addressing the fundamental roots . Not addressing the issue gives the government less of a reason to address inequalities surrounding childcare. If grandparents just take over the mother’s role and don’t complain how can we moving forwards? We are simply delaying the inequality until retirement. Perhaps it’s time to stop being so defensive?

Horry // Posted 21 May 2010 at 5:01 pm

Lucy, a start on addressing “the fundamental roots” of inequality could have been made in the original blog piece. The fact is, feminists exhaust themselves clamouring for precisely the (partial) solutions of flexible working and family-friendly policies you suggest, yet this then gets criticised by people such as yourself as putting the feminist focus unduly on women of childbearing age … when we should be doing what, precisely? Beating our chests about the plight of our mothers, because at least this indulgent self-accusation counts as paying them some attention, even if it takes us away from doing something that would actually help them too? Moaning about how feminism “could be better” rather than creating the conditions which make it better? And no, the latter doesn’t involve pointless mea culpas about shifting exploitation around – it involves an active involvement in demanding shared work, something which would actually start to eradicate exploitative power structures, even if to you that does indeed look like “blaming men”. I guess if you’re so committed to avoiding what you flippantly refer to as the “trap” of blaming men (even though most men I know don’t see it that way at all), it may indeed look like feminism is in a cul-de-sac and not having much success. But please, people aren’t being pointlessly defensive – they’re defending something of real value, something which will no doubt benefit you too.

Sheila // Posted 21 May 2010 at 5:45 pm

I am not sure about Horry’s point about shared parenting being the ultimate, like equality of responsibility is best for children. I got out of a violent marriage and I’m happy to have sole responsibility for my children as much as possible, though the court ordered that they can still see their father. “Sharing” responsibility for children equally among the sexes has to come after men accept responsibility for domestic violence. I do absolutely agree with you though, Horry, when you talk about the endless mea culpas on these sorts of issues. I don’t feel guilty that I am in employment and have children and therefore rely on others to care for my children part of the time. I feel that I’m a good role model. Provided there is no exploitation, mutual reliance is beneficial to all. Let’s be grateful for the support we get from other women rather than beating ourselves up about it. I do have to say one thing though. I wish so much that the mothers whose work is home-based would show more support for those of us who work. When crisis strikes, it’s the employed women of my own age who help each other out, not the ones who aren’t in paid employment. Why is that? Across generations, not employed women will help each other, but the ones I know who are my own age are so damning of employed women that they won’t lift a finger.

Horry // Posted 21 May 2010 at 7:18 pm


I do agree with you that shared parenting isn’t a cover-all solution since fathers (like grandparents and even mothers) aren’t a homogenous group. I do think, though, that there is a value in the wider assumption that childcare is not the responsibility of women alone – if, however childcare is arranged, women such as you and I cease to be viewed as “working mothers” (while our male counterparts are simply viewed as colleagues or fathers within circumscribed contexts) it would, I think, make a difference. I also suspect if the pressure of responsibility were felt in a far more immediate way by male politicians and power-brokers, we may get more institutional support. But yes, at the moment all this gets twisted by Fathers4Justice thugs, and I agree it’s currently the wrong way round (the focus being on men’s “rights” to see their children, not matter what the power relationship or motivation or value… I just hope it doesn’t go that way with grandparents too!).

liz // Posted 21 May 2010 at 10:15 pm

Lucy, please, please don’t make off-hand comments about the ‘choice to work’. We all know full well that some women have no choice about whether they work or not.

Lauren // Posted 22 May 2010 at 2:22 pm

Just want to say again, I think it’s pathetic how sometimes grandmas get handed childcare thoughtlessly, I think it IS an issue, as I pesonally know my own mum who looks after my brother’s toddler three days a week. It’s because there’s an affection there and if a grandma ‘stays at home’, the modern working woman sees it as the older woman’s package that she should be raising kids too.

I mean let’s not forget with crappy evopsych, grandmothers were meant to be a natural secondary care source for grandchildren anyway (if you believe that!).

I think it’s an issue of exploitation which quite makes me angry..what made me angrier was this article. I don’t think it’s about pulling all the stops to please everyone. If the author is pulling any stops, it’s so as not to offend men (as per usual) and instead lumping all the blame on feminists/modern women (as per usual).

I really agreed with the point before I read the article – but not with the tone of the rest. You write about a single mother juggling a career and six kids with near disgust, when asking ‘who do you think supports her?’ That tone’s a bit off, imo.

Kristin // Posted 22 May 2010 at 2:34 pm

Who are all these wicked, exploitative “middle class western women” (who then also become ‘white’ middle class western women, in Lynne Miles’ first comment above) who employ all these underpaid workers?! I’ve never met any. Maybe I’m not moving in sufficiently exalted circles.

And for Lynne to dismiss the concerns of some commenters (which I share) about the lack of mention of what responsibilities the white middle class men might just have in doing their share of domestic work and childcare by saying this is a short blog with no time for exploratory essays is in this case (hello, feminist website!!!)just disingenuous.

I might as well read the Daily Mail.

Lauren // Posted 22 May 2010 at 4:16 pm

Nicely put Kristen! ;P

… it’s the *tone* we object to. Women are victims enough, of any colour, without the addage of ‘responsibility without authority’ (i.e. the definition of bullying). In this case, taking away our authority as the feminists everybody loves to hate, but giving us the responsibility of the world – sandwiched looking after kids and grandparents, and being made to feel generally guilty and responsible for every damn ill of the world (the joy of being a modern woman).. Excuse me.. off to read ‘I Blame the Patriarchy’ , the blame stays where it belongs.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 22 May 2010 at 5:01 pm

I have to say that I find the criticising of paying other women to do ‘women’s work’ (housecleaning/ mothering) is often inherently problematic. We pay people do things for us all the time- and usually we pay them badly. We couldn’t survive without farmers growing our food, exploited immigrants picking, washing, packaging our food, underpaid factory workers transforming so much of our food into product- whether that is flour to make the bread or the bread itself. Yet, when we ask people to clean our houses or look after out children, suddenly we are ‘exploiting’ poor women.

And, yes, we probably are- but we do this every day in a wide variety of contexts- we cannot survive in the modern capitalist economy without relying on the work of others. And, we have a bogus economic system that values some jobs more than others, so people who do equally valuable (and frankly essential) jobs are often paid poorly.

Now, this is not an argument to pay the women who work for us badly, or not at all as the case may be,- but to ask, why is it that when women transfer ‘their’ responsibilites to other people, they are ‘exploitative’ and when men or women in other contexts do it, then it’s just part of the economy?

And, for reasons of historical accuracy, I would like to point out that exporting childcare- whether to grandparents, siblings too young to work, or to paid workers (usually women) is by no means a modern phenomenon. In fact, the only modern piece of this puzzle is that for about a hundred years middle-class women’s work in the household was defined as ‘non-economic’- and that this is changing is actually a move back to the historical status quo.

Ruth // Posted 22 May 2010 at 9:32 pm

Really, really don’t like this article at all.

I mean, where to start?

Not every family unit is made up of children with a man and a woman for parents. For example, some children have *two women* for parents and some children have a single mother. But reading the comments, you know, the “why isn’t the man doing his fair share” kind of thing, you wouldn’t think that any other kind of family unit existed.

And I wonder if the author has thought even for a moment that actually, some grandparents *offer* to look after their grandchild/dren (or that, sometimes, it’s the child’s *paternal* grandparent/s who are looking after the child, not the mother’s mother).

The tone of the article made it sound like mothers who want to (because, as we all know, there is absolutely and totally a free choice for mothers as to whether or not they do paid work, yeah, right) do paid work outside of the home are just blithely “dumping” their children on their poor, put upon mother without even thinking about her.

Also, why do so many feminists assume that “liberation” means “not looking after children”? Or even “liberation *from* children/childcare”? This is one of the main reasons I no longer define as a feminist; I find too many feminists (and often those who are childfree – the author didn’t state whether or not she was but I wonder) seem to think that no woman could ever possibly *choose* to spend time at home with her child (or in this case grandchild).

(And for the record? I am a single mother who does paid work part time while my ex-husband’s mother looks after my child, after offering to do this in the first place, and making it very clear she wanted to continue even after me and my child’s father had split up. I wish there was a way to give her the portion of tax credits I would receive should I want to put my child in a nursery, but there isn’t, so it’s more on an informal/expenses basis, although again, that is an offer she has made to me.)

This could have been a good article. Some facts and figures to show that grandmothers *are* increasingly providing childcare, discussion about who is supporting them, an idea of how the government could give financial support to these carers (I like the idea of a childcare allowance to be spent on grandparental care, or nursery care, or to support stay at home parenting), discussion as to why this is happening (I wonder if the writer has thought that actually, it might partly be because parents feel safer/happier leaving their child in the care of someone whose parenting skills they have knowledge of, rather than sending them to a nursery where they can’t always be quite as sure) and maybe a bit about how messed up the entire nuclear family model and the fact we expect all parents to do paid work full time is.

But no, it just came across as yet another mother-blaming article from a feminist.

Sheila // Posted 23 May 2010 at 3:07 pm

Well said, the last few posts especially Feminist Avatar and Ruth. We have got to stop beating ourselves and other women up. Most childcare arrangements are not exploitive and they are successful. The exploitation comes in the way that women (including single ones) who have to work outside the home are paying for this care out of lower wages than their male counterparts who aren’t even paying childcare at all (except the honourable few – Troon spare us the long post, we all know you’re the exception). I feel people (women included) look down their noses at me because I have to pay for childcare (being a single mother). This hurt is compounded by the fact that my own mother would have loved to help look after my children if she’d lived long enough.

Maeve // Posted 23 May 2010 at 3:51 pm

“I don’t want to fall into the trap of blaming men”.

Right, Lucy. Feminists always have to go about explaining how they don’t blame men. Sometimes they even blame women just to prove how much they don’t blame men.

And did the “traditional nuclear family” ever even exist?! Apart from in dimit tv ads?

I agree with Ruth, this could have been a good article.

Angelina Ballerina // Posted 23 May 2010 at 3:59 pm

Great article. Coherent, logical arguments, well thought out. Not making any assumptions about anything. Emphasis on all the “choices” women have. Best of all, do not under any circumstances blame any menz.

What’s Lucy’s next piece going to be? I’m guessing, “Why does Feminism Alientate So Many Women?”

Looking forward to it.

Amy Clare // Posted 23 May 2010 at 5:43 pm

I think this is an interesting and thought provoking post, and I think the majority of commenters are being very harsh and unfair toward it (and, by extension, toward its author).

I didn’t read this article as blaming women or feminists at all. Given that this is a feminist website, the view that the patriarchy is ultimately to blame for women’s inequality is somewhat of a given, isn’t it? Can’t we take that for granted? I mean, in a blog piece with a 700 word limit, does the author really have to preface her piece with a disclaimer stating that patriarchy causes gender equality, that men don’t do enough childcare, and other things obvious to feminists? Why take the assumption that Lucy is out to guilt-trip feminists (I presume she *is* one herself), rather than simply examine an issue that she is interested in? An issue affecting older women, a group much neglected by feminism and so really, a group we should be approaching and engaging with all the more? (I’ve noticed this piece does have a comment from someone who’s actually a grandmother, however all but Lynne have ignored her.)

Recognising the drift of unpaid work toward grandmothers should make us turn to our older female relatives and say hang on, we’re both being conned here. We think things are changing but they’re actually not. It should galvanise us even more toward ending gender inequality and demanding fairer parenting legislation for us *and* our mothers and grandmothers.

My aunt, who is 65, is a grandmother and does lots of childcare for her three grandchildren. She loves them dearly and enjoys their company but, and this is the point, she isn’t being paid for her work. In the 60s and 70s she brought up three children of her own (single handedly as my uncle did nowt), and wasn’t paid for that work either. In her life, she has done a ‘double shift’ of unpaid childcare. This is a scandal. Her daughter, my cousin, feels more able to ask her mother to take the kids than she does to ask her husband to pull his weight. Our society makes it easy for mothers under pressure to put on other women, rather than having it out with any men in their lives who should be sharing the burden. Isn’t this type of situation something feminists should be talking about?

And to all those who are accusing Lucy of ignoring various family types or working arrangements and so on – as Lynne pointed out, it’s a short blog piece. As I learned from my time as a guest blogger, there simply isn’t enough space to write caveat after caveat making sure every possible reader feels included and that no sentence could possibly be misinterpreted, or thorough examinations of all the possible situations, arguments, critiques. You have to hope that your readers will cut you some slack and realise that, but sadly, they very often don’t. As evidenced here.

coldharbour // Posted 23 May 2010 at 6:58 pm

On a related note about negating mothers autonomy I just saw this in the news.

Lauren // Posted 24 May 2010 at 12:46 am

Amy Clare, as pointed out it was the tone… and clearly not just one commenter felt it was a bit off (everyone here).

It was a bad way to tackle a worrying issue, lamenting liberation and the loss of the ‘nuclear family’ (which never existed outside middle classes). That’s Daily Mail territory.. Not saying these are the views of the F word, but if I wrote a radfem piece and hated on women tools of the patriarchy – I’d expect commenters to have differing opinions. You can’t expect everyone to play along nice; and as someone discrediting liberation I don’t think she deserves an ‘easy ride’.

I feel free speech is questioned when I’m not able to call out an article which blames a future me if I ever so seek to look for help when I have a 9-7 career, six kids, dog, a feast for masses to prepare and a filthy house. This load for women is modern life, a necessary reality — not some whimsical choice! There isn’t a charming man with a salary for two waiting to take every woman into the horizon. Too much Jane Austen.. Women at forty (e.g) are either dumped by their disinterested husbands who go for younger, or have a balding husband in sandals and an everton shirt who sits around and doubles the workload!

As a feminist we have this almost otherworldly responsibility, just for daring to comment on a feminist site we’re expected to ‘consider’ more than mother thereasa ever did! With this responsibility, feminists have an equal lack of general respect, as evident within the movement from other feminists as outside of it.

Btw Feminist Avatar made the most important point of everyone here. I.e People are exploited in every field of the economy. This is only labelled ‘exploitative’ when it’s women passing over their traditional housework and childcare. There’s almost a derision to this passing up of these responsibilities… i read ‘patriarchy at work’ in such articles.

If Lucy wanted a discussion of the issue, she got it! We’d welcome a neutral article about grandmothers doing so much childwork… I’d welcome most Dail Mail issues if they were put across neutrally and progressively.

Amy Clare // Posted 24 May 2010 at 10:45 am


“as pointed out it was the tone… and clearly not just one commenter felt it was a bit off (everyone here).”

Well, everyone except myself and Lynne. I genuinely don’t see the problem – I thought there was nothing wrong with the tone of the piece.

Where did Lucy ‘lament’ liberation and the loss of the nuclear family? She says that the nuclear family is no longer typical, but I can’t see where she says that this is a bad thing. I also can’t see where she says that women ought not to be liberated. In fact the last sentence reads: “It’s time to liberate the granny!” Are grandmothers not women? I don’t understand the problem.

I genuinely can’t believe that this article has been read as ‘hating on women’ and compared to the Daily Mail. It’s just… bizarre.

It’s also quite clear that no-one’s free speech is under threat, as all the negative comments on this piece have been published for all to read – that much is obvious, isn’t it? I’m also entitled to say that I disagree with those comments and I find them harsh and unfair, am I not? How am I threatening free speech, by disagreeing?

“As a feminist we have this almost otherworldly responsibility, just for daring to comment on a feminist site we’re expected to ‘consider’ more than mother thereasa ever did! With this responsibility, feminists have an equal lack of general respect, as evident within the movement from other feminists as outside of it.”

I just find this comment odd. You and many other commenters have thoroughly laid into Lucy and her piece, jumping to the conclusion that she is ‘hating’ on women and then attacking that strawfeminist with all your might. The minute someone says, hang on, this is a bit unfair, it’s “oh we’re expected to be Mother Theresa!” That’s a bit over the top, imo.

This comment thread isn’t so much a ‘discussion’ as a barrage of bile directed at Lucy and her post. I agree with Lynne’s point above, it’s vital that feminists think about other oppressions that they might be (unconsciously) enabling. Shouting people down when they attempt to raise these issues is counterproductive in the long term.

The ‘future you’ may be a mother, but an even further-away ‘future you’ may be a grandmother.

Troon // Posted 24 May 2010 at 10:55 am


I’m still very unsure that this does describe the world (is this a new phenomenon, is it really a ‘middle class white’ one, and is it disproportionately affecting older women rather than just the older generation?), but I’m more confused about what you would wish done about this. If the point is more than that feminist mothers reading this should think on the ‘exploitation’ they are being held accountable for, what are the possible solutions in your view?

Lynne Miles // Posted 24 May 2010 at 11:00 am

@Lauren nobody is threatening your free speech. You’re here, espousing your opinion in public on the internet (not that I buy into the argument that comment moderation is a violation of free speech anyway – see this really good post for more explanation of that). If people challenge your view when it’s freely expressed that hardly counts as suppressing it.

Kristin // Posted 24 May 2010 at 11:59 am

Amy Clare and Lynne Miles – if you “genuinely don’t see the problem” with this piece and choose to dismiss the dissenting comments as a “barrage of bile” directed against the writer, then fine. Your blog, your choice. I’m sure there won’t be as many comments for you to be dismayed by in future.

Juliet // Posted 24 May 2010 at 12:06 pm

…’everyone except myself and Lynne’ (thought the tone of the piece was off).

Doesn’t that tell you something, Amy Clare? I think it would tell me something.

Sheila // Posted 24 May 2010 at 1:07 pm

Yet another interesting blog degenerates into the sort of in-fighting and bitchiness that has kept women second class for centuries. The reason you don’t have many posts from grandmothers is because you alienate mature women with this mud slinging. I’m 45. About to become irrelevant, I guess.

Sheila // Posted 24 May 2010 at 1:12 pm

Sorry and another thought:

” Women at forty (e.g) are either dumped by their disinterested husbands who go for younger, or have a balding husband in sandals and an everton shirt who sits around and doubles the workload!” Lauren! I guess you’re not 40 yet. 40 is the time to pity the naive victim your ex turned to after you left him, dump the balding bloke in the everton shirt and get a life. I’ve had more life and more fun since I did the socially responsible thing and got divorced having turned 40 than I ever had before.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 24 May 2010 at 1:34 pm

At the risk of wading in where I shouldn’t really go- I don’t think it was really the ‘tone’ that people had a problem with. I think that the problem was that the article was based on a number of assumptions- that mclass women’s work is a choice; that mclass women have non-working mothers to be exploited; that using grandparents for childcare is a middle class problem created by ‘liberation’ (or perhaps it can only be criticised in a mclass context); that grandparents caring for children is exploitation (why shouldn’t they play a part in childrearing? does responsbility for their family stop with a single generation), and so on. The tone of the piece, which for me, was that we need to do a feminist analysis of the nuclear v. extended family and women’s role within the household economy, I fully support.

I think that a lot of the ire that was created here is that many of the assumptions made in the article- which in fairness were probably only used ot get over a larger point- are exactly the same ones we hear everyday to criticise mothers who work- it’s a choice; it’s exploits other women; it disrupts the traditional family. And, how tired are we of having to say, women’s work is not a choice- if it’s not a choice for men, why is it for women? And, the nuclear family never existed in the manner imagined by politicians- read a history book etc. And, that this myth that people can be independent of the rest of society is a bullshit, masculinist narrative that places an inordinate burden on women to ‘do it all’ or be criticised when they ask for help. In this way, the article hit a lot of nerves.

And, in that vein, perhaps we commentators should also watch ‘our tone’- because surely on a feminist website, we should give some benefit of the doubt to the intentions of the author, even as we engage with their ideas?

Amy Clare // Posted 24 May 2010 at 2:08 pm


“…’everyone except myself and Lynne’ (thought the tone of the piece was off).

Doesn’t that tell you something, Amy Clare? I think it would tell me something.”

No, it doesn’t tell me anything, because I don’t believe that the majority view is always the right view.


“I’m sure there won’t be as many comments for you to be dismayed by in future.”

What are you saying? That because a couple of people disagreed with you about one blog post, you’re going to stop commenting on The F Word? How about looking at things from the author’s point of view – many more people have disagreed with her than with you.

Sheila is right. Wouldn’t it have been more sisterly to give Lucy the benefit of the doubt and not just assume she is out to blame and shame women and feminists for the ills of the older generation?

gadgetgal // Posted 24 May 2010 at 3:38 pm

I like the comments made by Feminist Avatar, especially the one about the (incorrect) assumptions made in the article, and I also agree with her “that we need to do a feminist analysis of the nuclear v. extended family and women’s role within the household economy”. I don’t think that this piece did that particularly well, in part due to the assumptions made about middle class women and work that everyone has pointed out in the comments, but also because it left out a big part of the problem which then made it a very one-sided argument – we’re not living in the same world now that our mothers and grandmothers lived in. In some ways that has been a good thing (more flexible work places, more equality in most aspects of life, greater access to higher education), but in other ways that has made things much more difficult. Here is a link to an interesting BBC article that breaks down some of the tougher expectations and finances between the baby boomers and younger adults today:

I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that the baby boomers destroyed everything but it gives interesting examples of the different economic situation we face now:

“The majority of boomer wealth comes from the sale of houses. As first time buyers in the early 70s, they would have borrowed three times their annual income to purchase a two-up-two-down for £60,000 in today’s money. They’re selling them on for £160,000 in 2010. Young adults need to borrow 6.5 times their salary to afford those prices.”

“As young adults, baby boomers had a fantastic start in life, with free education, paid apprenticeships and work contracts that lasted an average of 10.4 years. Today’s youngsters become adults with an average of £20,000 in student debt and struggle to find jobs that last an average of 15 months.”

And this is just the middle class economic situation alone, we haven’t even touched on how this affects people across the board, from all backgrounds, and in other aspects of life like the environment and wider society!

To put it another way (less facts and figures) in my own personal life I’m struggling to even find a job after having been recently made redundant. Any job I’ll be likely to get will be very little money and short-term contracts (if anything at all). My parents and my husbands parents have never had this – most of them have reached retirement age after life-times in the same jobs, have tidy pensions to top up their large bank accounts, some of them can now buy those second homes they’ve always wanted, and that’s great – but if pressure gets put on me to reproduce under the circumstances I’m in just now I have to say I would absolutely EXPECT their support, simply because part of the reason my future and whether or not I’ll be able to actually have a family have been so drastically reduced is because of what they’ve managed to receive out of life. And I refuse to feel any kind of guilt about that, it’s something I have no control over, and I figure that a bit of free childcare isn’t actually a lot to ask when part of the reason they’ve done so well was essentially at my expense! Not deliberately, I know, but it’s happened all the same.

Of course this doesn’t cover the feminist aspects of it, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look into the differences in expectations between grandmothers and grandfathers (an important point), but I think the omission of all this from the article made it come across a little like a modern-working-woman bashing rather than the call to look at feminism and the generation gap.

Jeff // Posted 24 May 2010 at 4:37 pm

“Women at forty (e.g) are either dumped by their disinterested husbands who go for younger, or have a balding husband in sandals and an everton shirt who sits around and doubles the workload! ”

So much is wrong with this sentence that words fail me.

Kristin // Posted 24 May 2010 at 4:56 pm

Hi Amy Clare,

I simply meant that there won’t be as many comments in future, because if people perceive articles here to be woman bashing they’ll stop reading TFW. I didn’t necessarily mean I myself was going to stop reading it or commenting if people disagree with me. It is a beacon of light and I am delighted it exists, even if writers from time to time write stuff I take issue with. Or think could have been put across better.

Feminist Avatar’s post above puts it brilliantly. But as regards the author’s p.o.v/ intentions – we don’t know the author and we can’t know her intentions. We can only read her words. And they did, to me, seem like more woman bashing and making a lot of stereotyping assumptions. I would like to read more posts on this issue by women who are grandmothers. But, as Sheila points out, maybe many older women feel alienated, so they don’t bother to read or post comments.

Shea // Posted 24 May 2010 at 5:04 pm

@ gadgetgal – spot on. I agree with every word & the link was very insightful.

There is also the point to be made that this and the next generation of workers (including women and working mothers) will be supporting the baby boomers and older generation in their pensions through working and paying higher tax and NI contributions.

There is a gaping chasm of inequality in inter-generational wealth distribution which will increase and probably intensify as the budget cuts begin.

Kez // Posted 24 May 2010 at 5:10 pm

That sentence (about women at forty) actually made me laugh – and I’m over 40 – because it’s such a silly stereotype. I particularly like the use of “40” as, presumably, some sort of shorthand for “ageing women losing their looks and sex appeal”. LOL, as you young folk say.

Still, Lauren conjures up a lovely image of the slothful, balding husband festering on the sofa in his Everton shirt, even though I don’t actually know anyone in my age group who fits this stereotype.

polly // Posted 24 May 2010 at 8:31 pm

I’m just wondering when every woman became heterosexual and where my husband (balding or not) got to. Anyway, I do think there is a good underlying point here, to be fair to the author.

There is definitely an assumption made that those who have children and do paid work will always have some (unpaid female) person around who is available for childcare.

Women’s work (paid or unpaid) ISN’T a choice in most cases, but it’s treated as though it is by society at large. And grandparents – especially grandmothers – can feel obliged to fill the gap if they see their children under pressure at work. (and this happens with grandparents who do paid work as well, because not everyone works 9-5 office hours). For instance in a meeting at my work recently we were discussing part time workers having to come in for training on days they wouldn’t normally work. Obviously they can’t usually get an extra day at nursery/a childminder, so it was suggested that they could have an allowance to pay a relative to help out. Which assumes such a relative is available in the first place. The more sensible solution – not forcing people to come in for training on days they don’t normally work – wasn’t considered.

Although I’m quite sure there are plenty of grandads who do childcare as well (I know of a few) the assumption that there are going to be relatives around to help those with children work flexibly should be discouraged. Other solutions need to be sought, and employers should be under an obligation to help employees with caring responsibilities.

sianmarie // Posted 24 May 2010 at 8:49 pm

gadgetgal – sorry to hear you’ve been made redundant, i know it’s a derail but i was made redundant last year and although it feels bleak when you’re constantly looking for jobs there is a light at the end of the tunnel so good luck in your search!

sheila – well said!

i think it’s fine for people to disagree or agree wit Lucy’s post isn’t it? i wasn’t particularly offended by it, annoyed by some assumptions, but maybe that’s because it is an issue i am learning about (being childless) and am interested to hear more about.

i like how on the f word i read things i disagree with, comments i disagree with because i think its great that we can share and debate these issues and hopefully come to opinions and consensu within ourselves. that’s all part of moving forward, challenging one another and questioning motives/ideas. i feel like it’s a ‘safe space’ to have these debates and i have learnt a lot from reading debates where i haven’t known a great deal about the subject before, or perhaps had a very set view which i may have changed after more exposure to the issues. that’s my tuppence worth anyway.

i think we do need to look at how we value caring work more, be that from a mother or a grandmother, how do we value caring work in society and what the pressures are on mothers. i don’t think it should be about judging the choice women make, when the way our society is structured (women having to work, women generally doing the majority of childcare) the idea of choice is a bit of a false one anyway.

Horry // Posted 24 May 2010 at 9:22 pm

“the sort of in-fighting and bitchiness that has kept women second class for centuries”

Surely that is the most sexist, woman-blaming comment of the lot here? I really don’t think passionate disagreement means women are to blame for the discrimination they’ve suffered for so long. What next? If only we could debate rationally, like the men, instead of getting all shrill and hysterical? If only we were as good as those logical, manly heroes over at CiF?

To be honest, while I value this debate, I have felt uncomfortable about the comments here (including my own, once I’d sent them in!), not because I disagree with most people here, but because there are so many issues embedded here, so keenly felt, perhaps subjects for separate threads (the evil middle-class feminist cliché? the search for real childcare support? the role of men? the question of whether women’s work should be valued more and/or further disassociated from women alone?). The notion that childcare should be valued, even if your mum’s doing it for you – I don’t think any feminists here have an argument with that. But maybe the F-word could have comment threads which start with an issue or question rather than a blog piece, then no one has to lay themselves on the line or feel attacked (maybe that wouldn’t work, but it’s just a thought).

Having said that, there are ways in which I have found this debate really reassuring. Accusations of exploitation, exclusivity and decadence are so casually tossed at my own and the previous generation of feminists, I think it’s valuable to see them being challenged so powerfully here. One of the major achievements of wealthy, privileged and certainly blinkered old-school feminists such as Betty Friedan and Marilyn French (whom it’s presumably okay to like now as they got old and died rather than remain “liberated”) was to highlight the ways in which the mundane minutiae of women’s lives are not trivial and frivolous, and to show that it’s not okay to be denigrated and dismissed as long as you have one or two markers of What Women Want (a baby, a new kitchen, a Bridget-Jonesy job, or even just fleeting youth). I think all this is lost when you start portraying a whole generation of women as prisoners turned jailers simply because they’re not (always) being exploited in the same manner as the previous generation was. And really, I am glad so few are falling for the lie that multitasking is empowering and that the first one to say otherwise is a loser.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 May 2010 at 10:11 pm


too true. could hit quite a nerve with people without older relatives for whatever reason too. but its nice to see that they made an allowance to pay for childcare, rather than making it the parents’ problem entirely. its important that even if many people dont expect to be paid for looking after their relatives, that its seen as an important and valuable job, at least WORTHY of pay

gadgetgal // Posted 25 May 2010 at 10:35 am

sianmarie – cheers for that, it is getting a bit depressing lately, hence less commenting here, since I’m pretty much down about everything at the mo! :(

And I agree with you about the idea of debate here – I’m glad I don’t agree with everything that’s written because even if I don’t it still gets me to think about things I think I know all about again, and maybe even see a different point of view. It means my own point of view becomes a bit more balanced, because things are rarely either black or white (cue song…).

And being unemployed I need to keep the grey matter active, and reading something that fires me up is the best way to do that!

So well done Lucy – I may not agree with everything you’ve written but you’ve made me think, which is exactly what this blog should be doing!

Troon // Posted 25 May 2010 at 5:05 pm


Loved your post, as always a brilliant blend of inclusiveness and forcefulness. Glad someone was willing to push the envelope a little and point out other aspects to the inter-generational conflicts.

I know it won’t be any comfort in your present situation, but may I say how sorry I am to hear you are feeling so down. From the moment I first encountered this site your comments and virtual presence have made me happier about the world, simply because such an amazing ‘virtual’ woman exists in it.

MsChin // Posted 25 May 2010 at 10:28 pm

When my kids were small, my mum was still working, as she’d always done, so there was no chance of unpaid childcare. When she retired, she had to care for my dad.

Today, my disabled friend not only looks after her grandchildren but is now taking on caring for her elderly mother. It’s killing her but she feels the moral responsibility of it all very keenly.

Some things haven’t changed much for working class women, despite all our efforts.

Miki // Posted 3 December 2010 at 12:27 pm

As a young working/studying mother I very much rely on my mum AND my ganny for help. However, I dont agree with my liberation being at their expense. Infact they tell me I’m doing them a favour as it gives them something to do and makes them feel wanted! With both of them having been housewives all their lives, they’re lost now that they’re on their own most of the time. I do agree that it seems unfare to have to be a ‘parent’ of some desciption all over again. But most granparents are happy to help. Some people enjoy staying at home with the kids and I dont think its fair to say that its a burden to all of them. Of course i thoroughly appreciate their help.While both of them were happy to spend their married lives as housewives, I want to have a career as well as the extras that come with being a woman and being a mother. I am grateful to them for helping me achieve this, but I dont feel its at their expence. They chose to live their lives that way and that was their decison. They didnt want careers, they wanted a family.

I agree with a lot that is said, but at the same time I dont think I should feel guilty for wanting to live the life that so many women have fought for.

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