Friday, May 23, 2008

Parenting, working and so-called choices

Sometimes I do feel as if I’m repeating myself, but this past week the old issue of working mums versus Stay At Home Mums (SAHMs, if you are down with internet lingo) has reared it’s head again.
Apparantly now fewer mums than ever before in history are staying at home to raise their children. Less than one in eight - a major national newspaper tells us - are in the SAHM camp.
The rest of us are out doing the 9-5, or the 9 -1, or the 2-4 or whatever. That means of course we have a generation of latch key children growing up who are being raised by their teachers, their Wiis and a hodge podge of child care professionals. These children, also, obviously (and believe my my tongue is so firmly lodged in my cheek right now I look like I’m chewing a golf ball) are growing up feeling unloved, neglected and without even have the very skills to get them through a day at nursery school. (Five year olds still in nappies? Blame the mums (not the dads mind...) for not ‘taking the time’ to toilet train their little darlings. Child unable to use a fork and knife - mummy’s fault for being in work earning money to buy the knife and fork in the first place).
As you can probably tell my cage has been well and truly rattled on this one - and there are two reasons why this old, played out, anti-working mummy claptrap annoys me so much.
The first is that there are very few mothers out there with a choice as to whether or not they work. In reality to be a SAHM these days you either have to be on benefits (not ideal), or marry (or live with) an extremely wealthy partner (not all that likely).
It is no longer the case that mummy goes out to work for some extra pocket money, to pay for the family holiday or treats for the kids. These days with the whole credit crunch/ rising costs of everything from eggs to oil means that mums work to meet the basic bills.
And yes, we are are crippled with guilt for putting bread on the table and a roof over our wains’ heads.
But unless the government starts to value a woman’s role as a mother (or a man’s role as a father, come to think of it) and start pouring money into paying mothers to raise their own children things aren’t going to change. It seems all the government wants to do is pour money into subsidised childcare and then commission reports on how we are damaging our children by sending them into childcare in the first instance. The logic baffles me.
The icing on the cake however is that it seems that things are going to get worse rather than get better. There are plans, in the not too distant future, to cut benefits for parents with children at school to encourage them back into the workforce. Whatever way you look at it, the government may want a 1950s ideal of mammies raising their children and instilling in them 101 different virtues and values but they have yet to put their money where their mouths are.
The second reason all this annoys the bejaysus out of me is that is is simply not true. Us working mothers are not slacking on our parenting skills. A working mother will put her own needs to the very bottom of the list to make sure that her child has all the attention, love and support he or she will need.
We are the ones who do housework into the middle of the night so that we get to spend our few precious evening hours with our children doing “quality time” activities.
We’ve taken annual leave to do the potty training week. We’ve dashed out in our lunch break to see a school play, or give reassurance to a fretful child. We use our annual holidays to care for sick children, and when the weekend’s arrive we cram in as much as possible even if we are knackered from a week’s work.
If anything the modern working mother tries doubly hard at everything so that no-one can cast apersions on her parenting skills because she isn’t there all the time.
Now to put all this in perspective. Let’s look at the figures again. Seven out of every eight mothers now works. The vast majority of us are out there earning a crust - and yet we are still made to feel as if we are in some evil, selfish little minority.
It was said to me recently that no-one can make you feel guilty but yourself. If I get het up over the issue of working mothers being painted as evil creatures it is, apparantly, because somewhere in my subconscious I must believe I am doing the wrong thing.
What utter poppycock. (I would use a stronger word, but am very aware this is a family newspaper and want to retain my job even if it means spending less time with the boy).
What person out there, being barraged by reams and reams of information about how their choices are potentially damaging the one person in the world most utterly precious to them, could not feel weighed down by a certain portion of guilt? Especially if your “choice” isn’t really a choice in the first place.
That’s not even to mention there are many, many women out there who enjoy work - who know they can balance parenthood with holding down a career. Yes, it might be tiring, and you might wish for an extra week off somewhere, but it is not impossible to combine the two.
What this all comes down too, as with so many of the great debates of the moment, is respecting each other’s choices and putting in place mechanisms so that we all do genuinely have the chance to make the best choice for us and our families.
And it would be worth remembering - all you anti-working parent pundits out there - the old adage that any decent parent will have taught you - if can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.


Sarah said...

I haven't noticed the same guilt trip laid at the feet of French women. Many French mummies work, and to help them, we have play centres on Wednesdays when kids are not at school, play centres during the holidays open for fun and games from 7.30am to 6.30pm for a small fee as they are subsidised by local town halls.

It's considered normal for woman to work and normal to help provide good childcare. France likes children, the UK and Ireland obviously do not which is why mothers are made to feel guilty for having kids in the first place let alone what follows.

sampriestley said...

this debate annoys me as well, but for different reasons. I'm a SAHM, I haven't married a wealthy man and I'm not on benefits, but we chose this way beacuse a, I couldn't afford the childcare on the wage I was on- it just wouldn't have been worth working for and b, our parents all worked so we had no one to look after the kids. I've never regretted it. We have made sacrifices, but being there for all the firsts and the school trip and stuff is something I just couldn't buy. What does annoy me is that as a minority I am constantly having to put up with working mums implying I sit at home all day and do nothing!

Claire said...

Well, quite, Sam. You didn't have a choice, but you didn't regret it.
You are happy so why should anyone else feel they have a right to pass judgement?
And sitting at home doing nothing all day? Chance would be a fine thing!

Kirsty said...

I felt horribly guilty when I had to return to work when my first child was born. Financially, we had no choice.

Now I'm wiser and more confident and I refuse to let anyone make me feel guilty for my choices. I was raised by 2 parents who worked and am a fine and functioning adult. If I could afford to not have to take paid employment, I would take some sort of unpaid work as I am not cut out to be a full time SAHM. It drove me nuts both times I was on maternity leave and I couldn't wait to get back into the working world.
My children would be worse off if I stayed at home full time as I would be miserable.

There has to be a balance and parents and children may have to compromise. Only those in a family can decide what's right for them.

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