Mums are in a fierce debate about daycare. The response from dads? Crickets.

Triggered is the best word to describe the sentiments echoing through many mothers across Australia this week. Especially, mothers who entrust their children to daycare. It was hard not to get fired up upon reading Virginia Tapscott's piece in The Australian which she wrote that leaving your toddler with qualified and caring educators would leave them 'grieving the absence of their primary caregiver'.

To be fair to Virginia, her piece cited children screaming for their parents, and yet it was the mama bears who came out in droves to passionately defend their parenting choices. And the reaction from fathers? Crickets.

Watch: A spoken word video staring Laura Bryne articulating the contradiction of pressures that mothers face in their daily lives. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

I think it's safe to assume very few fathers went to bed last night worrying about their child's emotional development at daycare yesterday. My partner starts snoring before his head has even hit the pillow. I'm still lying there awake an hour later, on my fourth play-by-play of a tantrum that turned into me yelling then apologising "Mummy's sorry for shouting at you to put your shoes on," and making a mental note of how I can do things better the next day, for fear of screwing up my children. I'm not alone in this. Every friend I know is in their worried-Mum era, stressing about how each and every choice we make is affecting our children.


And it's because our patriarchal society is set up to see women fail. From the moment we are born we are told this lie that we aren't "enough". Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not good enough at sport. Not smart enough for certain jobs. When you become a mother, this pressure is magnified. And it feels like every choice you make for your child is scrutinised, as you also question yourself: am I a good enough mother? It's rare for a man to wonder if he's a good enough father.

Fathering is celebrated and respected. When my partner takes our daughter to the playground, I receive messages from other mums about how "lucky" I am that he's so "hands-on". Such adulation for mothers is absent.

Unpaid mothering is a massive $345 billion sector, arguably Australia's largest industry. And yet mothers are highly undervalued by society, the government, even other parents. I've lost count of the number of times I've felt judged as a mother (yes, I used the controversial expression). I'm in the privileged position that I'm a freelancer which allows me to work around naps and activities. I can take on as much or as little as I like. This means I am with my kids majority of the time. I've encountered the notion I'm "just a mum" countless times with it suggesting I'm "not working". And yet when I took my then four-month-old son to a work conference, I was told by another woman there that I should be at home "cherishing every moment".

And if you step outside society's predefined mothering box and dare to work full time, then you hear even worse: "You're letting someone else raise your kids."

One of my friends chooses to have a nanny for her three children rather than use childcare and she's even been shamed for that, with school mums questioning "Who was that strange woman who dropped your six-year-old to a birthday party?" It almost feels like there is no point in trying because we will never win.


My generation was promised we could have it all. One in three Gen Y's have a tertiary education. A record 42 per cent of ASX investors are women. We've even been able to get our own passport without our husband's permission since 1983 – that's when my mum was pregnant with my sister. She was expected to be a stay-at-home mum – and she was. My birth certificate has her occupation listed as "homemaker". Most of our mothers did.

But that was when the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" rang true. Mothers and children would catch up almost every day, whilst the men worked. Back in the cavemen days, this was called hunting and gathering – yes, I admit it's a simplified explanation about gender roles, but men have always left the family and gone off to work. Historically, they've never needed to question who will look after their children, or how their child is coping away from them. And that's echoed today whether their child is left with their mother, or a childcare educator.

And this evolutionary idea is still seen today: just 3.8 per cent of fathers in Australia are the stay-at-home parent. The vast majority of father return to work in the first weeks after their child is born. Meanwhile, 69 per cent of mothers will wait to start working until their child reaches one year old.

And that's where paid childcare can step in, with centres becoming like a second family for lots of kids. Some mothers need to work for financial reasons. Some are single parents. Some mothers strive to maintain their careers. Some simply want a break.

Listen to this episode of Mamamia Out Loud where Mia, Holly and Jessie talk about Virginia Tapscott's childcare piece. Post continues after audio.


There isn't a mother who hasn't thought at one point "Am I doing the right thing leaving my child here?" This is why it stings to read an article that states "Parents think a toddler has settled in at daycare when really the child has learned that crying for help is no use." No one cares more about a child's emotional well-being than their mother. We don't need to be told our kids are better off with us. We know this.

But what about the mother's emotional well-being? Most women I know are better mums because they have time away from the relentless demands of parenting. For some children, this means they are better off with a mother who's mentally fulfilled while earning an income and supported by childcare, who can then come home and be a fully engaged parent.

So, what's the alternative? Have all mothers stay at home until their children are 18? And then watch as we become unemployable in our fifties with a skills gap and no superannuation. Or worse, you end up divorced once the kids leave home.

I agree with Virginia - stay-at-home mums are underrepresented. However, instead of exacerbating mother's guilt, we should be talking about strategies to support women who want to work in paid care outside the home and those who want to work in unpaid work at home. I'm no expert but I understand universal childcare is intended to make things more flexible for families, leading to a restructure of the typical workplace that narrows the wage gap between men and women. Giving not just mothers, but fathers more choice.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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