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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > The motherhood trap

The motherhood trap

We expect mothers to be perfect but society doesn’t make it easy, says Stephanie Boland

Motherhood, wrote Adrienne Rich in her groundbreaking 1976 polemic, Of Woman Born, is “the suffering of ambivalence.” A poet and radical feminist, Rich had already had three children— and outlived her husband—by the time she began writing her exploration of what it meant to be a mother. At a time when to publicly admit to dissatisfaction or frustration with motherhood was almost treasonous, Rich insisted that we should recognise its difficulties, as well as joys. For her, it is both about the relationship a woman has to her children and also the institution of motherhood, “which aims at ensuring that potential… shall remain under male control.”

If the possibilities afforded to mothers—especially in the workplace—have progressed since Rich’s day, then new difficulties have emerged. TUC research shows that childcare costs have risen up to seven times faster than wages since 2008. A single parent working full-time spends, on average, 40 per cent of their salary on childcare. For many families, it makes more sense for one parent to leave work; for most, this will be the mother. Increasing numbers of women find themselves taking a career break just as they gain seniority. With maternity pay entitlement still low and take up of shared parental leave stuck below 10 per cent, more and more women thinking about starting a family are calculating the true cost of child-rearing and not liking the result.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.