The Politics of Mothering


It’s not just any women that bring voters into the world. It’s mothers.

When I first read one of Vanessa Olorenshaw’s HuffPost articles I thought: she took the words right out of my mouth.

Her campaign hinges on this bold observation: that mothers who choose not to work have become persona non grata in UK politics.

In fact, Vanessa has managed to say words which have not even made it to my mouth. It is like she took my half-formed thoughts and shaped them into whole sentences. Why have I been so unable to express myself? Why have I not dared to think these things?

Even in the safe haven of my own head, the taboo holds sway. Even this pleased-to-stay-at-home-mother – whose own mother and mother-in-law “stayed at home” for (respectively) all and most of their mothering days – just could not quite put her finger on the problem.

And then, one day after I commented laughingly to a friend how marvellous it would be to be paid to stay at home and raise our kids, I came home and discovered Vanessa’s pamphlet. It makes the case for this exact scenario (and everything that would pave the way for it) and it’s deadly serious.

I was saddened to discover that I am in the minority of mothers who feel that there is unrivalled value in caring for our children. That is to say, that Grandma is a wonderful second-best, and child-minders are alright, but you just can’t replace a mother. I am apparently also in the minority who feel strongly that our 2- and 3-year-olds don’t need more childcare; they need their mums.

In researching the history of Child Benefit, I discovered scores of Mumsnetters declaring that no mother deserves state support towards feeding her children if she doesn’t do any paid work. I find it deeply dispiriting that the one benefit originally introduced to be paid only to mothers and for each child (no matter how many or the family’s income), is now payable to any named carer on a limited and means-tested basis, and that mothers are cheering on the change.

Vanessa writes:

“And the voice of children? What voice? Brave is the commentator who seeks to argue that loving, responsive care in the early years is important to a child’s development, future
emotional security, or future prospects as a whole. There appears to be a selective process undertaken at the heart of Government and policymaking to ignore studies which point towards maternal, or parental, care, in favour of championing those which promote institutionalised care. Equally, those studies which suggest that as many as a third of
working mothers would rather be at home with their family (running to millions of mothers) are downplayed or misinterpreted.

… The average age of first time motherhood in the UK is now 30 … Given that her childbearing and childrearing experience will form but a very short chapter in her life, the political obsession with continuous workforce participation – work, work, work, – risks denying her potentially the one period in her life when she might actually enjoy a rich, important worthwhile occupation of being a mother at home.

…Women who are mothers are expected to engage in the workforce in a liberalist and capitalist tradition of individual interest where market forces reign supreme – there is no room for love and care, let alone awareness of interdependency common to all our lives. There seems to be no place for maternal care. No place for improved, supported services investing in family life. No room for home educating families. No public investment in community projects and services to provide enrichment and support for families. Close those Libraries and Children’s Centres. Withdraw funding from voluntary groups. Childcare for the kids is where it’s at folks, and employment is all that awaits you regardless of your desire to care for your children during the family chapter of your life or the interests of your children.”

~ Excerpt from Chapter 2: Maternal Politics

Read the whole pamphlet The Politics of Mothering for free here, or buy it from Amazon.

Vanessa Olorenshaw writes for HuffPost, and on her own blog, where she appraises the child benefit problem.


  1. May 5, 2015    

    thank you so much for sharing this. I am deeply fascinated by the outsourcing of family life and the sale of the role of mother so this sounds right up my street.
    thanks so much for linking to #weekendbookclub

  2. May 7, 2015    

    I am a SAHM and as such I do not understand how other people could be in a position to look after my child. I chose to have children and therefore I think I should look after them. #weekendbookclub

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There's no place like home. Home is where the heart is. An Englishman's home is his castle. And so on. Cheesy cliches aside, we are nonetheless aiming for a renaissance of the home.

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