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Penny Booth: Going Dutch - sharing the news this week

Date:9 AUG 2010

Going Dutch - sharing the news this week

Penny BoothIt really strikes home when you see how family friendly policies CAN work; in The Netherlands the housing areas are built now with people in mind: there are play areas that ban dogs (owners walk their dogs, dogs should not wander just where they please), doggy toilets are found every few streets and cleared every week. There are dog runs provided for dogs to race round as dogs do, and dog fouling bins are emptied regularly. Every few streets there are public bins and play facilities for children. Public transport (with space on buses and trains for several pushchairs, not just one or two) is frequent, reasonably priced and takes precedence over the car. Of course, being The Netherlands, bikes are everywhere (easier when it is flat, I know), and public stands are found near all public transport, bike lanes and places to park the bikes upon arrival are conveniently located. You've guessed it, yes, just been there visiting, but if they can do it in The Netherlands, why can't we do it in the UK? If provisions are not meant for people, then just who is supposed to benefit?

Talking of policies... research (reported in Sunday Times, 9 August, 2010, page 5 of the News Review) appears to suggest that early returns to work for new mothers may result in benefits for the children (accustomed to care by others, socialisation, etc), but that the research done previously has ignored aspects of lifestyle which have an influence over the prospects of those children. Returning to work research suggests that ‘no harm' is done to the children of mothers going back to work within weeks/months of the birth, and having their children in day care. Most adverse outcomes are found with children who went into day care early in their first year, so including all first year-returning mothers seems to skew the results - that's what they think, anyway. Lack of maternity/paternity leave and flexible working arrangements particularly for lower-paid and more vulnerable groups of workers, is frightening. Yes, it's available, but just you try getting that word ‘flexible' into practice at work.

Part time work offers compromises, allowing primary carers (usually women) the opportunity to earn, keep a career moving a little, and providing often much-needed financial support for the family. So how is it that the pension system seems premised on the basis of full time work, partnering, and reliance on staying together? How many of the ‘first-time mother' generation worked part time in the eighties and early nineties, whose pensions count for little as they now approach their mid-fifties? When they went back to work full time in the mid-nineties they found that full time work allowed decent pension contributions, and that the law had changed to allow part time workers to pay pro-rata into occupational pensions, but what happened to all those caring years?

It is good to hear that people think perfection in motherhood is impossible to achieve, so stop worrying!  Would be nice to think it extended to ‘parenting', too. ‘Having it all' seems to be a phrase of the eighties, but it probably is not confined to those of us whose children were born in that heady decade of big-everything (remember the hair?). We do seem to encourage mothers back to work so quickly but I do not consider it necessarily a good idea. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating forcing stay-at-home if that is not what the parents want, or it is simply financially impossible, but why should it not be a (better) choice? Perhaps we need to look carefully at not just what is immediately good for parents/children/the economy, but the longer term effects of this non-choice in bringing up children. It is a choice to have children, and yes, why should others pay for them? Good question. The reason we all need to contribute is that the children are your future doctors, dustbin empty-ers and service-providers, as well as thinkers, educators and tax-payers. Ensuring they are looked after properly and allowing that to happen in the best way for us all is not just about day care and returning mothers to full time work.

Penny Booth is running the Great North Run for Age UK on 19 September, 2010. This is a half marathon and should she manage to complete the 13.1 miles then please coinsider giving a donation to Age Uk via www.justgiving.com/PennyBooth

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.