Thursday, September 04, 2008

Not rewards, but benefits

From TODAY, Voices
Thursday September 4, 2008

The vital role full-time mothers play should not be underestimated

Sarah Sum-Campbell

I REFER to “Simply a matter of choice” (Sept 3), “Balancing job and Junior” (Sept 1) and “Hail the mothers who stay home” (Aug 29).

Regarding full-time mothers becoming childcare teachers, a childcare teacher’s job should be one that is highly-skilled, with the teacher having gone through many years of training. In Japan, for example, the younger the children, the more years of training teachers go through before having access to them. The rationale is that one should practically be able to throw a book at an undergraduate for the student to learn on his own, but to explain complicated concepts in the simplest and most concrete terms to a very young child takes much training. That accounts for one of the reasons many of my friends and I decided to teach our young children ourselves.

As for incentives for stay-at-home mothers (Sahms), highly-educated women who have chosen to give up jobs they excelled at and the financial perks which come with them should ponder their decisions carefully, as there is nothing in place to help them. I am not saying that Sahms should be rewarded. Rather, I am lamenting the unfair distribution of child benefits in preference of mothers who choose to work outside of their homes.

When I lived in Europe, I saw many friends there easily make the decision to take a couple of years off to look after their young children.

I know exactly what Ms Yeo Eng Wah means about women’s groups worrying that some Sahms might be left poor and helpless in their old age, or if something untoward happens to the family’s breadwinner. In Austria and France for example, subsidies for children are not means-tested — they are given equally to every child born there. This way, parents are free to use the substantial sum given to them every month for one of them to stay home to look after their child, or pay an institution to do so. That, to me, is fair distribution of what is after all, taxpayers’ money. Mothers in Austria are also given 18 years of free and high-quality healthcare from the time of their baby’s conception. This is so they are able to take care of their children.

And, like Ms Subana Hall wrote, there are mothers who “regret the decision to give up their careers, and resent their children for it”. That is a common phenomenon, just as there are many career women who feel guilty leaving their little ones in childcare centres or with their parents. When confronted with difficult choices, some would always wonder about the “what ifs”. Life is very much what we bring to it and what we perceive gives us the greatest meaning, joy or success.

My Sahm friends and I would never have been able to do so without very supportive and understanding spouses. We don’t just live with that; we bask in the sunshine of our time with our little ones.

The writer holds a postgraduate diploma in Child Studies from the School of Law at King’s College London. She has worked for many years in international schools, and at an international organisation in Vienna.
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