It seems to me that the last month has consisted of at least five all in one. With the sense of a rolling snowball on it’s descent, the end of year exams loom and then before you know it, it’s farewells and valedictories for junior school for my number three, (only two years left to go now for my number four) reports and valedictories and thinking about matric (for my number two) and then the thrill of passing first year university (my eldest) amongst all the confusion of varsity education in this age of transformation and #fees must fall.
Where’s the common thread in all this?
Children. Children and their education and their futures. As an ordinary parent treading my own tracks through the maze of life to ensure that, at the very least, my children won’t be burdened with exorbitant therapy costs , or at least too many bad choices , my instinctive sense is really that I can only be present: present and available to help them to charter this course.
This is the centre of my core: everything else pales into insignificance.
To this extent, with each year that comes to a close I do two things:
- Survey the road travelled , measure the mileage and assess it’s worth
- Decide how or whether I should change the course for the year ahead
Parenting in the 21st century has taken on proportions that I never imagined when I myself was a teen. ‘Married with kids’ meant something like carrying a handbag with all your precious goodies inside it, holding it close to your body while getting on with your own life. Short-sighted I admit. Now I’m beginning to understand it differently: those goodies (aka the kids) need to be constantly checked as they move around in your handbag, seemingly heavier on some days, totally unobtrusive on others. Sometimes, like lipstick lids, they fall off and have to be put back on tightly; like lipstick, they change shape and form and leave smudges and marks wherever they land. Sometimes they even slip out when you don’t notice and you have to put them back.
But all the time, you hold your handbag tight. It is the first thing that you grab in the morning, the last thing you place somewhere safe at night.
When I went to school in the 70’s and 80’s, mothers were unseen. They fetched and dropped. Today’s parents are an indispensable part of school life: they help to serve in the tuck shop and lunch shops and arrange weekly flowers; they help with charity drives and fundraising initiatives; organize birthday and Christmas presents for teachers, spend mornings with children piled in their cars on school outings, organize school farewells for weeks in advance, sourcing products and setting up dizzy, decorative halls- all for the sake of their children. With the exception of a handful, fathers are mostly absent in all of this, though can be found lurking on school governing bodies and boards which have evening or early morning meetings rather, fitting in better with their ‘working’ day.
And that’s just the school part, not the parenting part.
Now, you can either opt in or opt out of all of this. But you cannot pretend that it happens by itself because SOMEONE is doing it.
So, why are they doing it and for who?
For the sake of our kids and I mean ‘ours’ in a collective sense because we’re all in this together, believe it or not. Because we are gregarious, social beings all lumped together in close proximity, social behaviour and conditioning is a given if we all to enjoy ourselves and our relative freedoms. My children’s behaviours and beliefs will impact upon you and your children so I have an obligation to see to it that they fit into the structure, not so?
School can only take it so far.
But for some bizarre reason, the concept of CARE in society barely exists. It counts for nothing, it has no value whatsoever. Care is something that happens behind the screen of advancement and uplifting of women in the workplace. To get to ‘equal’ in business and leadership and governance and in the professions assumes more conference time, more social networking time and more conversation than most other agendas in civil society. Gender equality or discrimination is discussed on every platform, in every boardroom, and pops up on my daily reading. (Okay, in South Africa we also have our legacy of apartheid and transformation but this is separate topic, not for discussion here).
But each and every one of these projects and platforms omits so glaringly and so essentially the second leg of the argument for it begs a profound and simple question:
‘WHO, if half of the mothers are in leadership roles sitting on boards and in the boardrooms are looking after the children? And, are we as society recognizing this value?’
Oh yes, of course, a carer.
You can jump up and down and protest violently or you can silently take off your clothes and make a stand but this is the truth- as it stands. The job of a carer has always been and will continue to be the job of a woman: primarily and instinctively and genetically and traditionally. And therefore, before we beat ourselves up about slow progress and transformation in gender studies, we need to all agree, that as it stands, for the simple reason that women give birth and feed their young with their own bodies (yes, you can feed with a bottle and yes, gay men make great mothers) the quest for gender equality stats, in the workplace is a nonsense, until such time as you recognize that care is a concept which is equally worthy, valuable and deserving of its own agenda.
It’s time for a new conversation South Africa. It’s time to talk of the value of care…care for our children, care for our youth, care for each other.
Are you with me on this?