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Best gift for mothers is help with daily chores

Publication Date : 12-05-2012


US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney waged a war of words in a bid to court women's votes that soon turned into a heated exchange among mothers. During an interview, Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen attacked Mitt Romney for saying his wife is his advisor on women's economic issues, saying Ann Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life".

Ann Romney fought back on behalf of the millions of other stay-at-home mothers. According to the US Census Bureau, there were 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the United States in 2011, and as expected, Rosen apologised for her remarks the very next day.

However, results based on a Gallup Daily tracking poll of more than 45,000 adult women in the US somewhat support Rosen's comment that most women with children under 18 in the US cannot afford, like Ann Romney did, to choose to stay home and raise their kids.

But just because they are a minority outside the workforce does not mean stay-at-home mothers lack an economic perspective, especially considering they can be the ones working 14 hours a day and seven days a week creating a considerable amount of economic value.

For its 12th Annual Mom Salary Survey, the US-based, a division of human resources consultancy Kenexa, asked more than 8,000 mothers nationwide before Mother's Day what their top 10 most time-consuming jobs are and how much time per week they spend on each. It found that stay-at-home mothers work 94.7 hours a week on tasks such as housekeeping, cooking and the duties of a daycare centre teacher, which taken together would result in an annual salary of US$112,963.

As usual the survey drew a lot of criticism, but the move is aimed at recognising the hard work involved in bringing up kids.

Unlike their US counterparts, Chinese stay-at-home mothers are rarely the subject of discussion. Chinese women were encouraged to join the workforce in the 1950s and 60s under the popular slogan "Women hold up half the sky". This changed the traditional gender division of "men for the field and women for the hearth". A 2010 report by the UN shows that nowadays Chinese women's labour participation rate is about 74 per cent, well above the global average of 52.7 per cent.

But the third national survey on Chinese women's social status in 2010 indicated an increasing number of respondents, both male and female, agree with the traditional view that women should be family-oriented.

Many Chinese mothers do spend several years at home looking after their children before they are old enough to attend kindergarten or school, and according to the decennial survey, mothers in a family with a child under 3 years old undertake the major childcare responsibility.

The down-and-dirty work, however, is easily overlooked. An undergraduate student from Wuhan, Hubei province, wrote a prize-winning thesis in 2009, that estimated stay-at-home mothers in the city could earn 9,600 yuan (US$1,520) a month based on the local wage level if their work was paid.

Zhang Xiaomei, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, wrote an article earlier this year, emphasising that carrying out a valuation of housework is not to spark a war between men and women but to enhance their mutual understanding and respect, and although doing housework does not directly create economic value, it saves a family's money and reduces its dependency on society and thus relieves the burden on public resources.

In 2010, Zhang proposed that housework should be valued and husbands should pay their wives a salary each month for doing housework. Her proposal succeeded in drawing wide attention, although it was not endorsed.

While her ideas have garnered support, especially from stay-at-home mothers, recognising housework as an economically productive activity still has a long way to go to gain popular acceptance.

Still, something can be done on the part of children and husbands. A greeting card, a bouquet of flowers or any special gifts tailored for mothers will work as usual, but helping mothers, either stay-at-home ones or working ones, with housework on a regular basis instead of once a year would be the best Mother's Day gift.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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