In this weekend’s issue of the Observer, Katharine Whitehorn asks ‘What is women’s work? and what counts as ‘work’? It’s a discussion about definitions of ‘work’, qualities we attribute to it, and essentially our values regarding it. And how this has an impact in women’s choices and their reception. Words matter. Otherwise why fight over legislations about who can get ‘married’? What is ‘antisocial’ behaviour? Words have special meanings to us and challenging an individual’s definition of them is a territorial call. Hypotheses are formed before experiments are carried out. Conclusions are made and then evidence is looked for to prove them right. So what do you count as work?
Women have been hard on women for a great number of things, for not rejoining the work force after maternity leave, for working instead of child-raising, for trying to work and child-raise, for dropping their children off at child-care. It seems we all have a score tagged to each of these roles and jobs and some rank higher than others on our personal valuation charts. What are the characteristics of this thing we call ‘work’? Must it be paid? What about volunteer work? Housework? Homework? Work done from home? ‘Just a sec’ honey, I’m working. (reads an email on phone)’ What does that mean…?!
Having worked in a nursery, a primary school, a secondary school, a special school and Dyslexia Centres, I have experienced a variety of responses when conversations bring me and acquaintances to the point of ‘So what do you do?’ And it’s not the stereotype of the follow-up statements about nursery=diapers and sickness, primary= nothing much, secondary=difficult teenages, special school=I know somebody with a disability. It is often very impressive how spot-on people’s observations are. But it seems that it is how long this topic-interest lasts which informs me of that person’s value score for this particular area of work. It’s an extremely Sloman Economics point-of-view mind you.- Interest/ Consumer Tastes is a determinant of demand which contributes to measurable value.
So, I settled on some general characteristics of ‘work’ in order to try and remind myself to always be respectful of others’ work, even if I don’t understand it, because sometimes people don’t understand my work either.
1. Work is constructive. It produces and creates the following sentence structures. A building is constructed. A house is cleaned. Rubbish is bagged up and put in bins. Fridges are filled. Reports are written. Reports are read.
2. Work is purposeful to the worker. It is chosen and intended by the worker. You have a job that you chose for various reasons and it serves multiple layers of purpose. It may serve your interest, your financial interest, your schedule, your family’s interest, your travel preferences. It may serve a lot of other people’s interests and purposes as well but you will only do it because it serves you in some way.
3. Work is satisfying to the worker because of no. 1 and 2.
A parent’s work:
I feel that at this point in my life, my work is more important to me, than any other kind of work I could be doing. And because of my interest in human development, if I had a child, I would probably choose to spend more time doing things with my child than doing other things. And because of this, I used to have the opinion that any parent (male/ female) who chose to eg. work/ study for extensive periods of time away from their family was irresponsible. But as you are probably aware, familial relationships are much more complicated than that. I was making a judgement on one person’s choice of work. But more often than that, there are many many people involved in this choice and often it’s not a choice just about work.
As my partner and I begin to have more and more conversations about having children, I realised (big surprise), that she doesn’t share my view! Yet, I feel I had made it so clear for so many years that surely it must have been agreed. Now it is somehow agreed that a parent-child separation for paid work is okay for a while but several months is too long. How many? How often? We are not yet there. I might have to write a contract. STILL, I have already chosen. I will have a child with this person. It’s completely irrational. I can even predict the disagreements we will have about giving in to tantrums and desserts! So, in the end, I have finally learned and accepted a most obvious truth, that to judge a choice is to assume knowledge of another person’s motives but sometimes motives are mysteries even to their owners.
A child’s Work:
Keeping in mind, it is not possible to completely understand a human being’s motives, do you think a child has motives for his actions? Not just a child, what about a toddler? What about a baby?
Montessori talks about an inner guide, a kind of guide to life children are born with, a natural instinct and sensitivities possessed only by a human child, which directs his actions so as to ensure he acquires all that is necessary for him to be a human, and a human of his time and place.
What drives a child to move his arms and legs at all? What drives a child to hoist himself up holding onto random pieces of furniture in the house? There are so many sounds in our environment but why did he learn to speak words and not honk like a streetcar? or meow like a cat?
We do not know. But whatever it is, it has served us well, has it not? So we must respect it. We must respect the child’s effort to speak, especially when he begins to, because that is what nature has commanded him to do. He must speak! ALOT! and practise and get better and learn more words. He has not spoken in almost 2 years! How else? He has learned to use his legs and off he goes! How else will they get stronger and more coordinated?
City life is difficult. There are times and places where everyone MUST be quiet and MUST sit and that is important because he is to live in this time and place. So make sure there is always plenty of opportunities and safe space for him to move, avenues for him to speak and be heard, objects of use and value that he MAY touch and handle. How else will he learn to make effort to handle things with care if they are all ‘child-proof’ and plastic and always falling on to the floor and just bouncing of it? He is constructing his movement, his intelligence, his language. This is his work. It is purposeful and he cannot stop until it is done and he is satisfied. Great work ethics!