Paying for child and house care

I remember vividly many revelations as I got 'into' feminism in my student days. I remember learning about how the closer teaching got to mothering, the less it was paid. At that time, secondary school teachers got paid more than primary school teachers and the pay in under five centres was pitiful. I knew women who really wanted to work in the preschool sector but trained for teaching older children because the pay wasn't really liveable. Not to support a family anyway.

I've read journalism probing some of the issues around educated middle class women employing someone else to clean their toilet. I cleaned myself as a student for a good employer and appreciated the work.

I babysat for various families from 14 onwards and in my twenties pulled out of working for one family who wanted extensive day care for two very small children in their home for two thirds of the then minimum wage.

I don't have to pay for my friend C to clean. I don't have to pay for her or anyone else to babysit. I could clean my house myself. My husband and children could clean it. I could manage without going out to work and thus not pay for any childcare. We could choose not to go out at night without the children.

I could use babysitting swaps and often my friends and I do just that. It's a brilliant way of ensuring really high quality childcare from experienced parents who know my children well and also cementing community networks. We don't need to rely on a cash economy to leave the house without children.

But let's look at the situation where people do pay for house and care work. There are a lot of people out there, and in my face to face experience they are women, who consider themselves feminists and lefties and yet who treat people who do intimate work for them like shit. Earlier this week we decided to go out for a treat, just us two adults in this house who are married to each other and who spend most of our time with the short people. We'd been given a voucher for a restaurant and were looking forward to it. I asked C if I she would babysit for us instead of cleaning that week. The babysitting would come to more time and money but I knew that I couldn't justify both. (I wouldn't have cancelled C's cleaning money if the babysitting wasn't also going to her)

I collected C from her house and on the way I told her that I was increasing my hours at work from February so from then I would have weekly cleaning for her instead of fortnightly if she wanted it. C was pleased and I was shocked when she explained why work from me is so valuable to her. I knew she had extensive family responsibilities and extremely scant financial resources. But what about the other women and their choices to treat her so shabbily? What about the woman who twice recently hasn't been home when C has gone to clean and thus C hasn't been able to work but has had to fork out for petrol to drive the 20+km round trip? What about the woman who asked C to clean twice a week but on short notice often cancels the work and that week left the house locked and C had another wasted petrol trip for no work.

I don't consider I pay a lot for babysitting in my own home of an evening - not quite the minimum wage in fact. This is in a small town where wages are low across the board. I expect I would be paying more again in a larger town or city. I provide dinner and transport. But I am shocked by one acquaintance who thinks I pay way too much and wants me to keep quiet round her neck of the woods. She pays less than $8 per hour for care of 3 children for casual babysitting.

These are not big multinational corporate ogres. These are ordinary women, in other respects very nice people.

I know I would risk my life for my children. I know I despise cleaning. Is it really too much to ask that we all value these jobs enough to provide respectable and reliable pay? I write this not because I think I found three women who are unique but because I suspect it of being a common attitude of alleged sisterhood but actual disrespect.

Comments

cesca said…
This is very thought provoking. I'd never really thought about it all from this perspective before!

I babysat for many years as a teen and earnt pittance (but it was good money to me then, $2 an hour!).

I use to pay a friend $7 an hour cash to watch both of my children while I worked. As I only earnt $11 an hour after tax, it irked me that my friend earnt more for me going to work than I did. But I guess I rationalised that I was getting something out of my work, even if it wasn't really money, so it was a win-win situation for us both.

As for cleaners, I often lust after having a cleaner, but I just can't justify paying someone more than I earn per hour to clean my house when I could do it.

Hell, I'm getting confused just thinking through all my money, feminist and guilt issues now!
Christy said…
Sometimes I think that if everyone could just be nice to each other it would be lovely! That is not nice that people have to put up with that kind of behaviour. Unions for cash jobs?!? For interest - we pay $15/hour for babysitting, whether at night or during day, that seems to be the going rate round here. Cleaning our house costs us $25/hour. Commercial cleaners for the accommodation costs more - about $40 an hour but they do use their own gear and supplies and we also paying for the fact that they will come at a moments notice.

Thanks for your kind comment on my blog, as ever I've enjoyed reading yours throughout the year, have a very merry Christmas.
Cesca I think you can do what you did with respect and I'm sure you did. If we could only pay for childcare if we were rich, then that would knock so many women out of the opportunity to work outside the home which is sucky. If your friend turned up to look after your kids and you forgot to tell her you had the day off and then still didn't pay her, that is sucky no matter what you earn.

Cleaning costs me half what my husband spends on ciggies per pay fortnight... (which is an unhelpful digression but true).

Christy, rates on Waiheke are much higher than here. I pay just over $10 per hour for babysitting and $15/hr for cleaning (plus eggs)

Having a cleaner is kind of like a dirty secret - I certainly haven't told my mother who would be disgusted nor have I mentioned it at work. I do think of it as a great 'buy local' action though.
nova_j said…
hello! delayed reaction sorry, but it occured to me that it's not just limited to 'household duties' by any means, across the board it seems that the less we'd like to do a job, the less it gets paid.. if you look at a lot of the minimum wage jobs they're the ones that most people would loathe to do - working "on the ground" in waste management, in takeaways, supermarkets, mind-numbing factory jobs, school caretakers, and of course, cleaners or all ilks. it drives me INSANE how much some people earn, yes, years spent studying or gaining experience should be taken into account, but how much more than a decent livable wage do you really need??!

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