“Working” mum vs “Stay at Home” mum: A damaging dichotomy
Dr. Harriet Etheredge
Posted on May 18, 2019
This post may be a bit controversial, but as Natasha Bedingfield sang “These words are my own….” So here goes. Next week I am going back to “work” (as in, my day job) after almost five months of maternity leave. With my return date fast approaching, I’ve had a bit of time to ponder what going back to “work” really means. There are thousands of articles out there on this topic, so these musings aren’t unique; the issue clearly poses a global challenge. I’ve concluded that the concept of going back to “work” does all us mums a disservice.
Firstly, it demeans those mums who either choose to stay at home or have to stay at home, because it somehow suggests that what these mums do isn’t “work”. It’s as though it’s only “work” when you are getting paid for it. Now almost all mums (and dads) know that parenting is probably the most challenging, most relentless and most monotonous work one can do (yes – it’s amazingly rewarding. But it’s also non-stop). And I am starting to understand why, for some mums, going back to their day job may be easier than staying at home, because it provides variety and independence. In recent conversations with my mum friends, I’ve seen some of those who stay at home visibly cower when we talk about it. It’s as though these women are conditioned to feel ‘lesser’ than their counterparts who have a day job.
Secondly – and at the opposite end of the spectrum – there’s a sense that mums who go back to their day jobs are somehow neglecting their children and their duties as a parent, and possibly being selfish. This sentiment is especially worrying in light of recent publications suggesting that mums with day jobs today still spend as much time doing ‘work in the home’ and child-rearing as stay at home mums did in the seventies.[i]
As with breastfeeding, I don’t think there’s a right answer. You have to do what works for you whilst accepting that you’ll probably feel guilty no matter what you decide. If you decide to stay at home you may feel that you are not contributing financially to the household. If you do have a day job you will feel guilty about not being home with the children. You will probably also still juggle all those activities you did before having kids, like doing the shopping, household admin and whatnot. So you’ll be working harder, and longer. This is why I find the distinctions we make so troubling, because whatever a mum decides to do, she is making a huge investment in the future of her kids, and often at great personal and emotional cost.
Maybe its time for a change in terminology, and for seeking different ways to describe what mums do – seems to me that it’s almost all (and almost always) “work” one way or another. And at the end of the day, to continue the Natasha Bedingfield theme, the most important thing for the kids is “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you”.
PS. As always, this post is not a one size fits all. There are many phenomenal dads out there, and they probably face the same challenges in some circumstances, or different “dad-related” challenges that I don’t really know about. There are also single parents for whom I have the upmost admiration. Then there are the kids who have two mums, or two dads, and these families are going to face yet another set of challenges.
The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions. They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.
[i] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/upshot/the-relentlessness-of-modern-parenting.html
Tagged: child-rearing, day job, housework, parenting, stay-at-home mum, working mum