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Cherie Blair says it’s ‘dangerous’ for women to stay at home to look after their children, who benefit if their mother works. But the evidence says not

She says women should have a choice: except, it seems, if they choose to disagree with her

By on Monday, 25 June 2012

Cherie Blair poses for photographers at a film premiere last year (PA photo)

Cherie Blair poses for photographers at a film premiere last year (PA photo)

Well, Cherie Blair has sounded off again, in her usual arrogant Left-wing elitist manner: this time giving us an almost archetypal specimen of feminist hostility to traditional marriage. It is also another specimen of hostility to what the Church thinks about marriage, and thus of her own very odd brand of secularised Catholicism-lite (she and her husband, of course, are notoriously great pals of Hans Küng).

Last week, at an international conference of “most powerful women”, organised by Fortune magazine, she explained that mothers who gave up work in order to concentrate on bringing up their children were making “a dangerous mistake”.

“Every woman needs to be self-sufficient”, she said; “and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”

Finally, she claimed, astonishingly, that “what is important is that women have a choice”: though that, doesn’t, apparently, include the choice which many polls have shown most mothers would actually prefer, which is to stay at home to look after their children.

The reason they would prefer that is deep in a mother’s instinct that her child needs her. Perhaps the most poignant moment in a working mother’s day is the point at which (with or without the help of the local taxi service or other after-school child-collecting provision) the child, in her absence, arrives home to find, day by day, an empty house or apartment. The effects of this on many children are well-documented. Here, almost at random from an internet trawl (this example is interestingly from the South African Journal of Education – this is a worldwide problem), is an extract from one study, based both both on original research and on a survey of the existing literature:

The after-school hours alone at home can be very risky for children living in low income, dangerous, or disadvantaged environments. Children being left alone for more than three hours often present with low self esteem, low academic efficacy and high levels of depression. They are often not well adjusted and sometimes present with behavioural problems. Educators have expressed concern about the academic adjustment and achievement of self-care children. In this study we looked at the influence of a latchkey situation on children’s relationships with parents and educators in connection with educational success…

Eberstadt maintains that self-care children who show negative feelings are crying out for more parental time and attention. The author uses the term semi-chronic problems to refer to those negative outcomes such as feelings of depression, academic failure, isolation, and hanging around with the wrong children. In other cases latchkey children may show symptoms such as withdrawal behaviour, aggression, and delinquency.

“Children who spend time on their own at younger ages may be setting the stage for increased time spent with other unsupervised children and involvement in risky behaviours as they get older” (Vandivere et al). Peer pressure, television, and older siblings are influential factors in, for instance, early sexual involvement and drug experimentation (Eberstadt). When children are at home alone, they are likely to invite friends over or go to a friend’s house. Children who are at home alone are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs (Mertens et al). Exposure to high risk neighbourhoods could be the cause of poor developmental outcomes and scholastic achievement (Lord & Mahoney).

And on, and on and on. But we don’t actually need these high-powered academic studies to tell us what every mother knows in her heart: that when Cherie Blair says that having a working mother is good for children, and makes them more independent and self-confident, she is talking the most ineffable drivel. It’s all very well for her to say “what is important is that women have a choice”. That’s easy for her to say. She is a high-powered successful barrister. She is self-employed, which means that when she wanted to be with her growing children, she could be. She never had any trouble getting high-quality child-care (or expensive hairdressers or high-powered cranky lifestyle gurus). And despite her sneer about these yummy mummies wanting to be married to a rich man, she ended up herself being exactly that: and don’t tell me that that too doesn’t give her “choice” as to how at any hour of the day or night she can do exactly what she feels like doing. The fact is that most working women don’t have choice of any kind, especially to do what we know most of them would really prefer, which is to be at home. So, why doesn’t Cherie Blair just keep her irrelevant views to herself — irrelevant, that is, to the real life of most women? For quite simply, as Minette Marrin put it yesterday in the Sunday Times,

The experiences of an extremely rich, jet-setting, self-employed, flexitime QC are largely meaningless … to the large numbers of mothers of young children, who long to stay at home with them but cannot afford to. They are nonsense to people who cannot find flexitime working, much of it done from home, as she says she did. All these mothers face much harsher choices than Mrs Blair ever has, and are hardly likely to be impressed by being told what’s best for them by someone like her. What’s more, it seems not to have occurred to her that many mothers, even though they would not wish to tell her what to do, believe that it is not good for children to have both of their parents working long hours, pursuing demanding careers, and therefore unable to spend much time with them… They may well not approve of her example. There is such a thing as affluent neglect, particularly of young teenagers… Yet this seems to be beyond the imagination of the alpha female.

It is all to do with the nature and purpose of the family, especially, Mrs Blair, of the Catholic family. In the words of the present Holy Father, “Father and mother have said a complete ‘yes’ in the sight of God… Likewise, for the inner relationship of the family to be complete, they also need to say a ‘yes’ of acceptance to the children to whom they have given birth … each of which has his or her own personality and character. In this way, children will grow up in a climate of acceptance and love”.

But how are they to do that, Mrs Blair, if they know their child-minder better than they do their own mother?

  • Multitaskinglitigator

    Just reread this. Can I just ask exactly how Mr Oddie knows that most worknig mothers “would really prefer …. to be at home”. Is there some reseach on this point? Not saying he’s wrong just that I’m not aware of any evidence other than conjecture

  • Catherine

    I would like to ask Cherie Blair if she and Tony were on an average income whether they would consider it worthwhile having child care. The child carers available to them may not even have a GCSE in English. Given Cherie’s high standards, she would certainly balk at the idea and yet she doesn’t understand that unless you are a CEO or Silk, Nanny McPhees are pretty thin on the ground for most of us. The reason I stayed at home was that I hoped that my children’s early years would be spent learning to love learning! Of course, I do see some very effective grandparents stepping in to help with childcare and that is wonderful if they are happy to do it. However, as the daughter of a widow with health problems, the roles are reversed.

  • Recusant

    Glad to see that you recognise the husband/wife relationship is unique and in no way equal to the husband/husband or wife/wife relationship

  • londoner

    Some couples may work long hours and hardly see their children due to wishing to keep up an extravagant lifestyle but there are 20,000 families in the UK, according to a recent survey reported last week, who despite both working, are one unexpectedly large bill away from disaster. They have no savings, cannot afford holidays and eat unhealthy cheap food. This is hardly greed, selfishness and wickedness!Unfortunately, women cannot have it all and Cherie Blair pointed out that the relatively few successful women who also have a happy family life, have supportive husbands who do their share of the childcare and household chores.

  • londoner

    How exactly have double income households driven up the cost of living? The world is desperately overcrowded and millions are starving – the birthrate NEEDS to come down. If in some countries it is too low to replace the elderly, then immigration from poorer countries gives others a chance to earn a living.

  • londoner

    You cannot make a blanket statement that mothers not staying at home has caused family break-ups! Where is your proof? I was a stay-at-home Mum and became depressed at the lack of mental stimulation and at not using my talents.Some women may find it fulfilling to cook, clean and wipe bottoms but we are not all the same! Children with professional mothers are proud of them and do not see them as second-class members of society.There are many reasons for the problems of our society – stop laying them all at the door of women who don’t fancy a life of drudgery looking after the traditional grotesquely large brood of old-fashioned Catholic families!
    As far as divorce is concerned, many people in my opinion, break up due to selfishness – putting their own happiness before that of their families. But how many women (and a few men) have suffered over the centuries in abusing relationships from which there was no escape? It is not healthy for children to live in a miserable atmosphere. Then we have the dreadful influence of the media, the stress of modern-day life etc etc. I do not think it likely that if all working mothers downed tools and stayed at home, all would be right with the world! Whole organisations would collapse, men like most commenting here, would again have the upper hand and control every aspect of women’s lives. Sorry – we are not going there ever again so get used to it, you fossils!

  • londoner

    There’s nothing wrong with women staying at home if they can afford it and find it fulfilling. Generations of women, though, have fought and even died for the right to choose, instead of having men, and especially churchmen, controlling their lives and destinies. If you had a daughter would you rather she had 10 children or became a surgeon, saving lives? Or indeed anything else she wanted to become. There seems little difference between the Catholc and Muslim attitude to women. Not surprisingly, since the Abrahamic religions all originated in the Middle East where misogynist attitudes still persist and make women’s lives miserable.

  • londoner

    Catholics are anti-Christian!

  • londoner

    You raise some important and interesting points. Having been a commuter for several years when young, I wouldn’t wish to return to that way of life. More people do work from home, but it can be lonely and isolating (I’ve tried it, too, being determined to be there for my children when they got home from school. Don’t underestimate the human need for interaction with others. It is good to have a routine, colleagues and goals.

    Are you implying that we should return to the old system (which didn’t end, amazingly, until the 1970s) of higher wages for men than women? As if women didn’t still struggle with the legacy of their treatment as second-class citizens in so many ways, it would be outrageous to even suggest such a retrograde step! Men can perfectly well look after children, too, you know! The answer must be shared child-care and men at last doing their fair share of other chores so both parents have  chance at self-fulfillment and a chance to bond with their children.

    From my experience the only answer is compromise and parents being proper partners. Few women (even Catholic women, I would hope!) would wish to revert to the ’50s way of life, when fathers were distant figures and mothers were drudges.

  • JessicaHof

    If I had a daughter I would rather she fulfilled her desires, and if that was to save lives, great, and if it was to help create new lives, also great. If you really can’t tell the difference between Muslim attitudes to women and Catholic ones, visit a mosque, then a church, and begin to educate yourself.

  • londoner

    Who is criticising women who want to rear families? Providing they have not been brainwashed into feeling guilty at considering anything else! We cannot afford to waste so much talent –  the great female surgeons, architects, artists, bankers, politicians etc. How many female Mozarts or Einsteins might there have been in the past if talent hadn’t been stifled?

  • londoner

    Nonsense! The Pope lives in utter luxury and in fabulously extravagant surroundings. The Vatican Bank, which as we know has a shockingly corrupt history, has billions in the vaults. Local churches in little Spanish villages were paid for by poor Catholics and their vaults full of treasures (I’ve seen them for myself) and while the clergy lived comfortably and exacted heavy dues from the poorest, what did the poor get in return? They were offered a better life to come so they’d put up with the poverty of the present one.

  • londoner

    What a hilarious and ridiculous comment! You are talking about the Catholic church which has always supported right-wing, capitalist governments, protected dictators and amassed huge reserves of gold?

  • londoner

    Well said! A sensible comment at last. But are you Catholic?

  • londoner

    So why  do you make no comment about men who don’t see their children or put their children’s care first?

  • londoner

    You mean a single MALE wage-earner, of course! What if a man wants to stay at home with the children (it does happen!) and the wife wants a career? You all seem totally brain-washed by the traditional Catholic (and Muslim) view of a woman’s place being in the home.

  • londoner

    A sure sign of prejudice rather than fact, is when people make assertions such as ‘mothers would really prefer…to be at home’, without siting any sources, facts or figures!

  • Burt

    …bloody’ell..i feel like i’m back in the sixties..with all this claptrap!”

  • londoner

    The very biased and dishonest article that got everybody hot under the collar, only gave part of Blair’s argument and got all the old Catholic fogies upset at the idea that some women might want and need to use their brains instead of/as well as changing nappies and having a meal on the table for the ‘head of the household’ when he got in from his important work!

  • londoner

    I think you must agree that in poor countries, women work as well as bringing up children or often their children would starve. Women work in the fields with babies on their backs, sell produce they have grown at markets and do handicrafts. They have very hard lives but it is often the case that earning their own money, gives them some independence from men who would put them down. If they are deserted they are not helpless and desperate!

  • Reginagl

    I happen to come from one of those very large old-fashioned Catholic families which you mistakenly label as ‘grotesque’.  This ignorant comment makes me feel sorry for you.  Perhaps If you cleaned some of the grime off your spectacles you might begin to see some of the loving sacrifice, including generosity and courage that goes into living counter-culturally in larger family units. Such gifts remain with the children for life and to my mind are better than any expensive gift that can be purchased through extra disposable second incomes. 
     Successfully navigating life’s vicissitudes within a big family isn’t for everyone, but why judge so harshly something that you don’t understand?    ‘All that’s gold doesn’t glitter’ you know.

  • MultitaskingLitigator

    yes. And so is my husband and so are our kids..