I recently paid off our credit card and car registration: two bills destined for the overdue pile if it were not for the bonus Family Assistance payment of $600 per child. The money helps. But it won’t have an impact on my children’s development, nor has it swayed me to vote for the Howard government in the coming election.
What I want is time with my children. I want it all the time. Seven days a week. I want to play cars, dig in the sandpit and read Dr. Seuss. This is my fantasy in a world mad with work. From the hugs and adoration I receive when I come home from work, I’m confident this is what my children want too.
There are numerous professionals and policy-makers promoting the importance of parent-child time, and the value of bedtime stories, mud-pie making and cuddling - often. Yet, the Family Assistance package on offer comprises one-off cash incentives and the promise of a quasi-maternity leave payment for new mothers. There is little on offer to support the constant flow of hugs and kisses children need from their parents.
The benefits of a thousand-odd dollars for my kids will be minimal. It will pay annual bills and outstanding debt – like many other Australian families. It has been a discussion topic on my train line and among fellow parents at work. I’ve heard of a mother of three circling her local supermarket with two trolleys, frantically spending her payment on food. Money drives parents to desperation. It plays on the fear that we can never provide enough.
I applaud parents who put their payment into private investment accounts to present to their children on their 18th birthday. But apart from adding to the parental guilt of those of us living at the economic edge, this only promotes a sense that the economic divide is growing. At times I wonder whether my time-over-money decision is the right one. It goes with the territory.
The Howard government is preparing well for the coming election. Still, it is a shame for the future generation that money and tax relief play such a strong hand in politics these days. This is what the Howard government knows, and the opposition should observe. Despite calls for better health care and education, we indulge in selfish tendencies – we want our cake, we eat it and then ask for more. The follow-up payments due in September are exactly what we are looking for.
The one-off payments tug at our wallets more than our hearts. We appreciate the false sense of freedom that disposable income provides: the purchase of a more expensive beer, or that favourite CD we’ve been longing for. We know all too well how to spend. However, in our hunt for the extra dollars, it is our children who will lose.
Increasingly, child care and after-school care are becoming the rule. Both parents are forced to work, to pay ridiculous mortgages, cover increasing household debt and provide for basic needs once regarded as indulgences. Ours is an increasingly expensive lifestyle. Having worked in Children’s Services in local government for several years, I am confident that despite the good work of some service providers, they cannot begin to match the kind of developmental support a parent can provide.
So, my family has chosen a less-travelled route. I work part-time and my wife is a full-time carer who studies from home. I get the opportunity to observe my children and participate in their 24-hour cycle. On Mondays, we play, sleep and explore together, when most parents start their working week. It means finances are tight. We struggle to afford to build on our country block – so, ironically, the recent payment is more than welcome. It will help us get by for a few more months.
Still, I want to get by for more than a few months - just like many parents who would like to spend Monday with their children. But the solution is not more childcare places or incentive payments. The best carers a child can have in the years before school are their parents. As a parent, I want support to care for my children myself. I want policy that practically addresses the work/family balance, allowing for more flexible working arrangements and supporting my family to find the best solution for us. I want my relationship with my children not to be underestimated and under-valued by the institutions that govern me.
I want government to lead the celebration and prioritisation of childhood, rather than driving our culture head-first into hollow and spiritless economic priorities.
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