Up until the 1970’s, life as a woman was quite simple (if not very equal, but that is another debate). In the main, you got married, you had a child and you stayed at home to raise them and take care of the home while your husband went out to work.
With the wonderful rise of women’s rights and equality in the workplace, this all began to change and women no longer felt that their only role in life was to stay home, raise children and scrub the front step with Ajax.
These days, we mostly have the choice in staying at home or going to work. Or do we?
Lifestyles have changed in the past 50 years. We want things that before were only really in reach of the wealthier stands of society; yearly holidays abroad, our own homes, new cars, the latest gadgets and private education for our children – the list is endless. This all puts pressure on parents to have to work to be able to afford things that used to be luxuries but are now seen as the norm.
Women are also forging ahead in careers in far greater numbers than they were 50 years ago, and along with that comes the want to carry on with our careers after we have children and not to have to sacrifice our ambitions to be a housewife and mother. For example, after spending years at University studying law and working your way up through your 20’s and early 30’s to build a reputation, the thought of giving it all up to bring up a baby while running a home can feel like a step backwards into the dark ages. For some women, becoming a stay at home mother would feel like they were losing their identity and the respect of their peers.
However, with the price of childcare rocketing in recent years – a full time place for a baby at a West London Nursery can cost anything up to £1600 per month – some women find themselves working just to pay the nursery bills to keep their carrier for the day when their child is in full time education and the wrap around childcare costs are significantly cheaper.
Sometimes, this can price women out of returning to work.
Of course there are many childcare options and some families are lucky enough to have grandparents who are willing to help with childcare or are able to find another family to do a nanny share to split the cost.
But then there is the bigger debate – what about women who want to stay at home until their children are at school, or in some cases, indefinitely? What if there was no option of returning to work as their salary was just not high enough to afford any type of childcare comfortably?
In my years as a parent (a stay at home parent, for what it’s worth), I have met mothers from all types of backgrounds and all walks of life. I have known the high flying academics who find a day care nursery or nanny and chose to return to work after only six weeks of giving birth, the mothers who would love to stay at home, but who return to work after nine months of maternity leave as they have no choice if they want to continue paying the mortgage, and the mothers who never intend to go back to work after having their first child.
Then there were the ones who felt they had no choice but to go back to work if they wanted to keep on their chosen career path. One friend of mine would have loved to have taken a few years out after the birth of her twins, but in her words, if she had done that, there would have been no job to return to; the industry she worked in would have moved on and her skills would have been obsolete.
Every woman I have met has undoubtedly made the right decision for herself and her family. But making the right decision for you doesn’t appease other people’s opinions, especially the opinions of other women.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for the sisterhood. I know an awful lot of women who support each other and respect that we all have our own agendas in life and we all have to do what we think is best. But then there are a few people who cannot see past their own lives and feel the need to comment on the decisions of others.
Therefore, I present to you, in the red corner THE WORKING MUM and in the blue corner, THE STAY AT HOME MUM. Hold onto your seats folks, this can get messy.
When I had my first child, I was lucky enough to be working as a freelance writer, meaning that I was always in my house typing. When I had my son, the only thing that changed was that I took on a lot less work. (This wasn’t planned – like many first time mothers I assumed that my baby would fit into my life and not much would change. I look back and laugh at myself now, obviously). I was effectively a stay at home mum, something that continues to this day, thirteen years and one more child later. For some reason, this greatly annoys a lot of other mothers I have met over the years.
I’ve had all the comments you can think of from “but don’t you want to achieve something for yourself” to “you must get really bored”. It really got to me with my first child, but now with my second it’s like water off a ducks back.
Usually, for women like me, things are fine with other mothers at playgroups etc., until the children reach around 12 months. That’s when the divide between the stay at home mums and the working mums reaches it peak and the gloves come off.
At this time, most of the working mums are either about to return to work, or have returned to work in the previous months and all the talk of childcare, nannies and getting back to doing something for themselves can get a little draining; as a stay at home mum, you just can’t join in. This in itself can make a stay at home mother doubt herself as there is a huge feeling of giving up part of yourself when you chose to stay at home.
You begin to question yourself and ask yourself if being shouted at by a two foot tall dictator (in other words, your darling toddler) all day is all you are capable of? After all, there are no accolades for cleaning the bathroom, no awards for cooking the dinner and no one is going to give you a promotion or pay rise for managing to bring down the budget of the weekly shop by creating a meal planning spreadsheet and shopping at Lidl.
Working mums can feel the wrath of others too.
I know some stay at home mums who look down on their working counterparts, seeing them as inferior mothers for wanting a career and life for themselves instead of giving themselves over to their families.
An acquaintance of mine, a junior Doctor, felt that she had no choice other than to go back to work five months after the birth of her daughter. Her partner’s income was not enough for the three of them to live off, and luckily, with a mix of grandparents and daycare, she felt happy that her baby would be safe and secure while she was at work. Also, she felt that she had spend six years at university and a further four years training for a job she loved and she didn’t want to give that up.
This did not go down well with some of the ‘mummy friends’ she had made while pregnant and on maternity leave, most of whom where planning on being stay at home mothers. She found herself ostracised from the group and the recipient of some rather nasty comments, which really undermined her confidence as a mother.
It is a shame that in this day and age there are some who can’t just agree to disagree on the stay at home mother verses working mother debate. Surely a society that idealises equality can also idealise choice, especially when the choices we make are ultimately what we feel are the best long term choices for our children.