It’s that modern day dilemma that many a mum faces, to stay at home with her children or go to work. So why when faced with what can be an already difficult decision are we made to feel guilty if we do and guilty if we don’t? And why is it often other women who make us feel this way?
The internet is full of forums dedicated to both working and stay at home mums and I have often seen full on slanging matches between women who appear to be forcing their opinions on the matter on each other, it seems to be their way or the highway. Surely we should unite as parents and support each others decisions, after all shouldn’t women be able to chose what works best for them and their family without being lambasted for doing so?
The press doesn’t help, with articles stating “Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with stay at home mothers.” or “Mothers who work full time spend just three minutes a day alone with their sons helping them with homework.” Incase you’re wondering working mums spend seven minutes with their daughters. Not to mention that old phrase “latchkey kids”. I’m sure they say many a hurtful thing about stay at home mums too, especially when it comes to articles on their “contribution to society”, when most stay at home mums will tell you that their contribution to society is in raising a healthy, well adjusted individual and that is something that should be valued equally as any monetary contribution to society.
What annoys me about these articles is that it’s always working mums or stay at home mums who are blamed for kids being fat/thin/struggling at school/turning into a little monster. What about the dads? Surely they have some responsibility for shaping the life of their child too? Clearly the media still thinks we are living in the 1950’s when it comes to this subject.
Then there is competition from other mothers, whether it’s online or in the playground. There is a certain female one-upmanship that comes with being a mother, whether it is work or otherwise and it’s rife. The working mum that looks down on her stay at home counterpart as not having a “proper job” or the stay at home mum who rams the fact that she believes that she couldn’t possibly entrust the care of her little darlings to another person down working mums throat, when she probably already feels pangs of guilt about not always being able to be there for her child as much as she likes to. Obviously these are sweeping statements and not everyone is like this, these are just a few of the gems I have overheard in the playground to be met with knowing nods or glares of outrage from said mothers.
I am a working mum, something I initially struggled with after having to go back to work full time for financial reasons just 3 months after my daughter was born (I’m also a single mum so I should probably be the most hated women in Britain, oh and I was 19 when I fell pregnant – lets alert the church elders!). I felt like I was missing out on so much of her growing up and it made me seriously depressed, but I was also realistic enough to realise that if I didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to keep a roof over our heads either so out of necessity I worked full time until she was four. In my case I would have liked to have had a choice about whether I returned to work or not, but that was more to do with the fact that I didn’t have a partner to support us financially rather than any other factors. Once my daughter reached school age I was finally in a position to be able to reduce my hours in order that I could work part time and take her to and from school every day and I love every minute of it (well other than when she’s throwing a tantrum)
I don’t think I could be a stay at home mum, not for longer than a few months to a year anyway. I need to work. It’s something I do for me because even though I moan about office politics or having a bad day at the office I like to have a little part of me that isn’t someones mummy, someone who is respected for their ideas and contributions in the work place and in the case of my job to other peoples lives, I actually make a difference. (yes I could be making a difference to my daughter but she’s at school so what other than cleaning her room yet again am I expected to do when she isn’t there?) I also couldn’t be a stay at home mum because I feel that it would lead me to being more isolated than I am already and would inturn see my depression returning and for both my daughters sake and my own, that’s something I am not prepared to let happen. I am also the first to admit that I just don’t have the patience to spend all day every day with my child no matter how much I love her – evil mummy alert! But I also admire the women that do, I don’t know how they do it and it is just the same as having a full time job looking after children all day and what mothers do is underestimated by society and even their own partners. I have often heard people say that because a woman is at home with her children all day she doesn’t “do” anything – lets see them try it on for size and I’m sure their opinions will change in an instant!
While I don’t think that stay at home mums get a fair deal, I don’t think us working mums do either, after all we work and still have to go home, look after the children, (including feeding them with the odd frozen meal when you’re just too knackered to cook from scratch – see I’m going to make my child obese from all those piles of chicken dippers she’s consuming!) do the housework and anything else that just so happens to crop up. All the while some of us don’t even want to be at work and are doing so out of necessity and the slightest comment can leave us asking if we are a terrible mother for leaving our child at the nursery, or being five minutes late to pick them up from school which I am guilty of and am often met by a child, arms crossed and scowling, asking me in earshot of all the other parents “And where do you think you have been?”
I don’t think I am damaging my daughter in any way by working. She is a very social child and also very intelligent for her age and I believe this is due to the time she spent in nursery as a baby and toddler. Yes I may get told off when I’m late picking her up but my working has made her understand from an early age that you have to work hard to get what you want in life and also the value of money, something I am glad that she already understands. Working mums also get it in the neck from colleagues who resent them taking time off with their sick children or less than understanding bosses, not to mention trying to find childcare, or even a job that fits in with your monetary needs and childcare, so it’s not all roses even if you do choose to work.
So what do you think, should mums work or stay at home with their children? Do working mums and stay at home mums get a fair deal from others and in the press? What can we do to change the stereotypes and be more supportive of each other?