Redefining Work: The Undervalued Role of Parenting in a Capitalist Society

Redefining Work: The Undervalued Role of Parenting in a Capitalist Society

In the eyes of capitalism, children are an unfortunate burden. Not only do they not participate in paid work, but they are a drain on resources. The best place for them, is out of the way. Or even better, reconceptualised as a product that can be traded. From the earliest of our days, our belief system is woven with capitalist values. Real work is something that you are paid to do. Your value and contribution to society is measured in terms of the work that you are paid for. The more pay, the greater your status and value. It doesn’t particularly matter what it is that you are doing, the key part is that money is changing hands. Then, all of a sudden you have a baby, and are working harder and for longer hours than ever before. Only no one is paying you a single penny for it.

The Window of Approved Caring

To start off with, that isn’t a problem. It’s expected. There is a window of time where our capitalistic bosses allow us as parents to care for our babies. If you are lucky that window of time is two weeks if you are a dad, and up to a year if you are a mum. Then, it stops. Hope you had a nice time and all, but back to the real stuff now, you know, ‘actual work’. And the babies? Do their needs suddenly become less, in line with your availability to be the one to meet them? Well no, not at all. They need you just as much as they did before. Now though you can start paying someone else to look after them. Congratulations capitalism, you’ve got babies making money for you.

What if you don’t go back?

But what of the parents that don’t go back to paid work? What happens to them? Two things happen:
  1. They are convinced more than ever that their hard and loving work as the primary carer for their child(ren) is of immeasurable value.
  2. They are marginalised more than ever by their internalised capitalism and the internalised capitalism of others.
It is quite a trippy place to be. I mean, you literally become an island of insignificance. Whilst working your ass off, and doing something so essential, capitalism gas lights you to the max by saying it means and is worth nothing. Is it just that we don’t place a high value on the well being of children in our society, that we don’t see them as real people deserving of respect and quality human care? There is that. The low status of babies and children also impacts the status of other people who spend their time with them – nursery workers and teachers for example. But even those people experience greater respect and recognition than parents caring for their children themselves. Those people are getting PAID for their work, which makes them valuable. Parents are just doing it for free. Which makes them either mugs, deviants, some kind of anti-feminist time travellers from the 1950s, or just plain lazy. It’s a stigma reserved for those perceived as ‘dependents’ in our society.

But What do you Even Do All Day?

Parents that care for their children themselves, not only have to be incredibly self motivated and resourceful to navigate a society that has no place for them, they also have to coach themselves into positive self-esteem in order to combat the internalised capitalism that tells them at every available moment that they are doing literally nothing of value. So, we reach out to each other. We form online support groups. We get together to validate and love each other. And when we do that, we quietly and creatively destabilise the foundation of capitalism (patriarchy’s bedfellow). We say that despite all the odds, the financial, social and personal compromises, despite what our socialisation into a capitalistic belief system would have us believe, we still ACTUALLY believe that what we do is IMMENSELY valuable work, more than worthy of our time and dedication. We say that, even though they can’t pay us for it and make it ‘real work’, our children are deserving of us. And because of this, despite what others might believe and what we might sometimes find ourselves thinking, we are able to get on with what is probably the most important and socially active work we will ever do. Written by Sophie Christophy Read more from about Sophie’s creative thinking for a fairer world at her personal blog Republished with permission from - first published March 24, 2016