May is a special time of year for many mothers, when children and partners take the time to acknowledge how much we owe to the mums in our lives. Of course someone has taken the time to figure out how much Australians spend on Mother’s Day (just over $2 billion including $200 million on flowers). But the cost of motherhood – the emotional, physical and financial investment that women make as mothers – continues to be relatively unquantifiable.
The flowers may have faded, the breakfasts and lunches and chocolates well and truly digested, but this May, along with the federal budget, there have been a few more reasons to think about mothers and what it costs to be one.
Even if we don’t have a clear bottom line about the costs of motherhood, we can definitely look to research for some indications. A recent study found that in families with young children, mothers do a great deal more unpaid work than fathers, even when they are not the ‘stay-at-home parent’. Stay-at-home mums devote 74 hours per week to housework and child care, compared to 47 hours for stay-at-home dads, a difference of 1,404 hours per year. When paid work comes into the picture, paid-working mothers do an extra 104 hours of unpaid housework and childcare per year in addition to their paid work than their dad counterparts.
Physical labour is one thing, but the mental load of motherhood is another, as is beautifully illustrated in a recent visual think piece from Emma. For most mothers, the common expectation that they will be in charge of household management does not shift when women take on additional roles including paid work. And of course, we all know how this translates into financial costs: the gender pay gap, the fight for access to maternity leave and discrimination against mothers in the workplace, to name a few.
Mothers are expected to work for love, not money, but cost is often the bottom line, and motherhood is very much a user-pays system. In the forever shifting landscape of temporary visas for example, motherhood now has a new price-tag. As part of the proposed federal budget this year, the government outlined a new temporary visa – which allows migrant parents to stay in Australia for up to 10 years for $20,000 and the cost of private health insurance. Migrant mums and dads who can afford the visa will not be allowed to conduct paid work. However, there is an expectation that they will make up an unpaid workforce of ‘Granny Nannies’. As Assistant Minister for Immigration Mr. Hawke said, ‘Grandparents will be available and able to, under this visa, care for their grandchildren while the parents work.’
Mothering is priceless and no-one wants to live without it. But economics are deeply gendered and it’s clear that despite the huge contribution to the economy that mothers and grandmothers make, the cost is largely carried by individual women. Social policy that is based on a user-pays ideology only makes women pay even more to be mothers and entrenches women’s disadvantage.
Mothers need to see their work valued. If we could develop social policy that recognises the intrinsic value that mothering brings to society as a whole, we would see more productive, gender equitable and sustainable outcomes. Forget the flowers, all our days would be mother’s days.