Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children And Their Working Mothers…

There are some things that really make me appreciate having a feminist partner. Like his now well-developed habit of turning to me, deadpan, and exclaiming “OMG! Shoez!”. And, more specifically for this post, his habit of telling me when something particularly bizarre has made it into his personal radar. Like this story.

J: Have you seen the news story about how working mothers are destroying children?

Me: Um.. no, I’ve been watching snow all day.

J: It was on TV earlier and I just wanted to stand up and shout “WHAT?!!!”. *pause* Well, actually, I did shout “WHAT?!!!”. I just didn’t stand up.


So, in honour of the story meriting standing up to shout, I thought I’d dissect it a little.

First off, the full report can be found here. I started looking at it thinking that the BBC had cherry-picked the most news-worthy snippets. And, in a way, they have. Most of the report summaries seemed sensible and reasonable in content, and for six out of the seven categories (friends, lifestyle, values, schooling, mental health and inequalities) there was little to object to. Perhaps a seemingly spurious statistic in the friends category – that “for women [the age at which they had their first sexual experience] dropped from 21 in 1953 to 16 in 1998” – could have been omitted, or at least balanced with the corresponding statistic for men, but otherwise, I saw nothing that really bothered me.

But then comes the summary on family.

Frankly, compared with the other summaries, I found it to be poorly written, and nowhere near as coherent. A condensed version of each paragraph of the main summary could be:

  • More women with babies of 9-12 months work outside the home, compared to 25 years ago.
  • Women’s economic independence has led to a higher rate of divorce/ separation.
  • “Children, whose parents separate are 50% more likely to fail at school, suffer behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.”
  • Parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad; but children are less likely to be aggressive/ depressed “the more they see their separated father”
  • “it is a real worry that in Britain around 28% of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after separation”
  • *statistics on the prevalance of parental separation*
  • “So to reduce the level of conflict in family life, parents must give more priority to their relationship. This would do more for children than anything else.”

Got that?

Women with money = more divorce = more depressed children and therefore “parents must give priority to their relationship”. Even though “parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad”.

The whole thing is just bizarre. Especially since in the long version of the family report, they cite statistics from Refuge that say that half of all cases of domestic violence occur in households with children. What they don’t mention is the statistics that then say that “in over 50% of known domestic violence cases, children were also directly abused”. It is not inconceivable, then, to assume that at least some of that 28% of children without contact with their fathers have very, very good reasons for it. It would be pretty strange for a woman to extricate herself and her children from an abusive relationship, only to then voluntarily allow that man contact with the children. And, similarly, is it not reasonable that those children who have been abused by their fathers, and are not in contact with them, might indeed be more likely to display symptoms of depression?

I am not impressed.

I’m not impressed with the BBC for deliberately sensationalising a report that was, in general, very good. And I’m not impressed with the report itself, for giving the BBC the opportunity. And what’s really depressing is that, while the BBC have picked up on it, the Daily Mail haven’t. I’d have staked a fortune on it being the other way round.

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4 Comments on “Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children And Their Working Mothers…”

  1. Kirsten says:

    What I would like to see is a comparison between how well the children of women who choose to become single parents do, in comparison to those forced by circumstances to do so.

    I suspect a lot of the difference between children in two parent and single parent families is down to the experience of the traumatic event of bereavement or divorce. It would possibly explain why children with step-families have the same level of behavioural problems – becoming a part of a two-parent family would not erase the past trauma.

  2. Kirsten says:

    Ignore that first sentence, what I meant was – What I would like to see is a study on how well the children of women who choose to become single parents do, in comparison to those forced by circumstances to do so.

  3. Rachel says:

    I would edit your comments into the one you meant to say, but I like looking at your monster!
    And yes, good point.

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