Mothers are not special?

I’d like to share this thought-provoking article I came across:

By Teo You Yenn from TODAY, 6 May 2013

Mums aren’t super, they’re just ordinary

Mothers are not special.

They do not have superhuman powers to create more hours in a day. They cannot free themselves of societal constraints to act as independent saviours. They do not raise children in social vacuums.

Pop culture and public policies conspire to frame mothers as extraordinary, as people – indeed, women – who possess special qualities such that they can be relied on to do things other people are not expected to.

The focus in public policy, for example, is on mothers as dominant players in children’s lives. There are lengthy maternity leave, versus insignificant paternity leave, and a range of tax reliefs only for working mothers. These compel us to think of and experience the caregiving of children as something that mothers are uniquely positioned to do.

Men who want to and do play roles as caregivers are unsupported and unrecognised; women as grandmothers, teachers, and paid caregivers are symbolically relegated to being secondary and inferior substitutes.

The expectations, presumptions, and institutionalised norms for mothers to be special and unique are irrational, unjust and harmful to society.

They create undue limitations on women as mothers, while depriving men as fathers both symbolic and material access to be genuine caregivers to children. They send the message to our youth – both young women and men – that the only sort of family life they can expect is one where they have to suppress some aspect of their varied capabilities and aspirations to fit into narrow gendered boxes. They obscure various differences that exist between women as mothers – socioeconomic circumstances and marital status, for example – and therefore their varying advantages and struggles in relation to the ideal of “supermoms”.

Finally, in framing mothers as ideal caregivers, they undercut the important roles played by various non-parent adults – teachers, babysitters, grandparents – in children’s lives.


It is entirely within the realm of possibility to alter public policy orientations in ways that would disrupt these unhealthy dynamics. The first step is for policy to focus broadly on children’s needs rather than narrowly on mothers’ roles.

The economist Nancy Folbre has argued compellingly for viewing children as public goods. Whether or not we have children and however we feel individually about wanting them, Professor Folbre points out, children grow up to become participating members of society. Their health, knowledge, and civic orientations invariably shape the society we grow old in.

As such, it is our collective interest and shared responsibility to enable children’s care and growth. Mothers should not be the only ones with either the responsibility or privilege to raise children. Instead, a whole range of adults – fathers, teachers, grandparents, babysitters – should be acknowledged and supported as legitimate and important caregivers.

In countries such as Sweden and Norway, the implementation of this child-centred approach has been in the form of publicly-funded leave for parents regardless of gender and marital status. There is also publicly-funded support for a range of institutional and home-based care for children regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic and employment status.

The outcome has been more egalitarian divisions of labour within the home; a greater range of life paths and arrangements around work and family; more equality of opportunity among children and less pronounced societal inequality; and greater respect for domestic, care and pedagogical labour. The universality of support also breeds a stronger sense of citizens as having collective responsibilities and obligations in the well-being of their shared future. As it turns out, when support for caregiving extends beyond the narrow lens of mothers as being and doing everything, everyone can lead better lives.

In Singapore, we as a society know that mothers have limited capacities like everyone else in dealing with the various demands and challenges in everyday life. Increasingly, we also appear to know that not all mothers have the same resources and advantages to fulfil children’s needs.

Public policy needs to catch up with these sentiments.

This Mother’s Day, let us celebrate motherhood by recognising the ordinariness of mothers. We can change our social conditions such that mothers do not have to be super in order to be good.

About the author:
Teo You Yenn is Assistant Professor in Sociology at the Nanyang Technological University, board member at the Association of Women for Action and Research, and author of the book Neoliberal Morality in Singapore: How family policies make state and society.


“What works for working mums”

Seen in The Sunday Times, THINK, 5 August 2012

What works for working mums by Jane Ng

“And while it is true that flexi-work arrangements may not work for every job, as SNEF (Singapore National Employers Federation) hads noted, the probelm is that employers may resist the idea even for jobs that do allow for flexibility.

So some mothers will leave the workforce.

And once reduced to a single-income family, cost will be a key consideration if they think about having another baby.

Some parents have called for bigger tax reliefs, free pre-school and changes to the education system to help them consider having more children. If Singapore wants to encourage women to hold down jobs and have babies, more must be down on several fronts.

Having flexible work arrangements will help. May mums do want to keep their jobs because aside from the money, they enjoy what they do, and their careers give them satisfaction. Their jobs also give them a break from being mums.

If employers could only appreciate this, more would consider offering some women full-time pay for flexible hours, worked out to suit the needs of their family.

It might mean allowing a women to work partly during the day and partly at night, depending on whether her children are at home, at school or asleep. Other mums may prefer to work part-time, or during hours that suit them.

All this calls for employers to understand the family circumstances of their women employees, be willing to work out suitable arrangements and trust them to keep up their end of the bargain.

The flexibility I have means I get to cook for my family, have dinner with them and be there when the kids are home. And I haven’t had to stop doing a job I’ve enjoyed for 10 years.

It’s more than any working mums can ask for. But maybe more of us should ask for it.”


Government or not?

Seen in The Straits Times, INSIGHT, Saturday 28 July 2012

“Dr Khoo Kim Choo, who runs the Preschool for¬†Multiple¬†Intelligences along Newton Road, is also for the Government running kindergartens, at least the K2 level. That would standardise the curriculum and ensure all children have a smooth transition to primary school.

When there was a similar call to nationalise preschool education three years ago, then Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said there was no universally accepted model for kindergarten teaching. Imposing one would deprive parents of choice.

He also argued that bringing preschools into the formal school system runs the risk of an over-emphasis on academics.

The Government had a similar reasoning back in 1999 when it conducted a review of preschool education. Dr Aline Wong, then Senior Minister for Education, said the Government would not take over the sector but would look into ways to encourage kindergartens and childcare centres to improve the quality of their programmes.”

Dr Khoo and Ms Ho Yin Fong, academic director of the National Trades Union Congress-run Seed Institute, say they are not calling for all children to go to state-run kindergartens.

‘The Government could provide good preschools for the majority of the children. But it could also allow and support private operators who have a proven record of providing high-quality education. This way, parents will still have a choice,’ says Dr Khoo.”