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Debate: Should mothers stay at home to raise their children?

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Background and context

In the age of apparent equality women are increasingly encouraged to ‘have it all’, balancing career, children and marriage to be seen as successful. However many feel this is bad for children who are then cared for by a childminder, nursery or member of the extended family (often grandparents). In many countries mothers (and indeed fathers) have a legal right to maternity (or paternity leave). For UK women this comprises 26 weeks paid leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave, in Sweden leave is offered to either parent until the child is 18 months old. Other options exist, protecting the right to ask for part-time work or flexible hours. However for many families, especially where the mother is the major breadwinner, it is financially impossible for her to stop work without considerable state support. However many studies also point to the years before a child starts school as the most important in its educational and emotional development. Many believe that for this reason the mother should be at home at least until her children start school in order to afford them the best start in life.

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Argument #1

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Yes

As early childhood is the most formative period of development for a child it is important that a mother has as much time to devote to her children as possible. By staying at home mothers could ensure that the next generation had the best start in life, hopefully averting future problems and providing a benefit to society as a whole.


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No

Mothers should have much freedom as anyone else in society to decide what is best for them and their children. If they would rather work and make alternative arrangements for the care of their child, then that should be considered equally valid. It could cause depression if women are forced to give up work they enjoy to care for their children.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Because the whole of society benefits from giving children the best possible start in life, the government should do more to allow more women to make a positive choice to stay at home. State benefit payments to parents should be much more generous, and the pensions system could be altered to avoid penalising women who make this valuable choice. State social services, such as health visitors and early years education teams, should be better funded and more widely available to help support mothers in the home.

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No

Many women actually have no choice about whether to work or stay at home full time. Either because of poverty or because they are single parents, or both, women find they must work to earn enough money to provide for their family. Regardless of the supposed benefits to children of having a mother at home in their early years, studies have found clear evidence to show that childhood poverty has a lasting negative impact upon children. Expecting mothers to stay at home will also make them more dependent upon their partners, making it harder for women to escape from abusive relationships.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Many childcare options are poor quality with one adult looking after many children at once. This can leave young children bored and uninterested slowing their rate of development. Those on low pay are forced to rely on these options to take care of their children even when they are of low quality or they would prefer to stay at home. Supporting all mothers to stay at home would prevent this problem.

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No

Many forms of childcare can be beneficial and complimentary to the care provided by parents. For many centuries it has been traditional for extended families to participate in raising families and older generations such as grandparents have had hands on experience with young children before. Childcare professionals have similar experience and have often taken courses on child development that make them more knowledgeable than a first time parent. Similarly playing with other children is just as important for improving children’s social skills as contact with their parents. Nurseries and childminders can be good places to expose children to other children.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Many religions and culture view a women’s place as being in the home. Within this sphere they are respected as of paramount. Facilitating women to stay at home with their children respects these beliefs and helps to foster the culture of respect towards women’s special role that underpins them.

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No

Focusing on the mother neglects the responsibilities of the father, other family members and the state in raising the child. Even when state aid to stay at home is offered to either parent, traditional cultures can enforce this role on the mother, reducing any chances that a job may provide to increase the personal freedom of women from restrictive cultures. Women who do not have children will also suffer, as prejudice that defines motherhood as the most important role for women will also deny them equal opportunities in other areas.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Mothers who stay at home with their children are more likely to have time to be involved with their community. Volunteers are needed in many spheres of education such as PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations), classroom assistants or organisers of school trips and mothers who stay home are able to become more fully involved in these aspects of community life.

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No

Encouraging mothers to work increases the number of people in the workforce thereby increasing the productivity of the country. This also helps to create jobs in the childcare sector, generating employment for more people.

See also

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