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If mothers don't value mothering, who will?

I'm going to open this entry with a joke I heard a couple of years ago....
One afternoon a man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house. His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.
The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room, the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
He ran up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He found her lounging in the bedroom, still curled up in the bed, still in her pajamas, reading a novel.
She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?"

She again smiled and answered, "You know every day when you come home from work and ask me what in the world I did today?"
"Yes," was his incredulous reply, half shouting.

The smile remained, "Well, today I didn't do it."
Many mums can "get this" - when chatting with parents the assumption mum has all the time in the world because all she is doing is staying home with the kids, certainly rears it's head more than occasionally.

But what got me thinking about it in more detail was a family column in my local paper.

I should say the column in general is not really my sort of read - the mum who writes it "timed out" her two year old (she hit her brother with a mascara in frustration when he wouldn't open it) and most of the content is what they have done that week and how clever or funny they are; great if you know them, a tad dull otherwise!  Anyway in a recent issue the topic was working, and how she had returned full time with her first but now she had a second childcare made only part time feasible.  There was lots of explanation about how of course she had worried but in fact the baby loved it - great.  But the killing comment came at the end, that she felt her working was important to set a positive example for the children.

Now I've been a working mum, I've been a "stay at home mum" - and a range of things in between; but since when has being a mum at home been a bad example?  Is mothering really valued so little it's so bad for her kids to think of her as "just a mum"?


I had a Google and here are some comments I found:
"I have been a SAHM for three years now and I love my kids and really want to stay at home for them, to enjoy them and be there for them, but lately I have been feeling very low in this role, very unworthy. I feel like a nobody."
 Or this, from a woman who returned to work after seven months at home:
"I can't be a full-time SAHM. I felt worthless and being dependent just did my head in. I am at work and I had to take down the photos of bubby because I am feeling very emotional."
To be fair much of society is the same - Back in 2003  Ms Hewitt, Trade Secretary & Minister for Women admitted that:
"Mothers who remain at home rather than going out to work had been undervalued."
"The Labour Party had mistakenly given the perception that it was better if all women got jobs. Changes to tax credits to give more money to mothers who stayed at home had helped correct this. However, the government had failed to persuade the public to value women who stayed at home.
"We have got to move to a position where as a society and as a government, we recognise and we value the unpaid work that people do within their families."
What I turned up online often reinforced this polarised view.  Would you respect a mum that was just a stay at home mum? one student debate forum asked; but perhaps most surprising was what I found on a Feminism forum.  To me "Feminism" is about strong women and a belief in women's rights - yet several thought motherhood was a waste of a woman and it took no skill to be a mother, even a stick insect could do it!  They felt women should be in the workplace making a contribution to the economy, using the rights they were given.

Perhaps I'm a bit dim but forcing women into the workplace seems to me just as bad as not allowing them in it!

We end up with a situation where some women are feeling pressure to go out to low paid jobs, to pay someone to look after their child who has a lower paid job - often with little left over to show.  We know that on the whole the best outcome in terms of the child is to be at home with a primary caregiver (the whole nursery teaches them social skills and essential socialisation is nothing but propaganda in a small infant)  Sure many children are fine in their childcare and as I say I've worked; but we also know not all childcare is great and it impacts long term.

Even Ms Hewitt found these barriers:
Although the women and equality unit within her department had said women should go out and work to help the economy, Ms Hewitt argued that parents who stayed home contributed to the long-term health of the country as well.
Katie's Daughter Princess with false eyelashes
Perhaps the icing on the cake is the media and how they view mothers.  The biggest cheers go to those who can be seen partying or working ASAP after birth.  Previous Celebrity Mum Of The Year winners include Kerry Katona - criticised for smoking and drinking alcohol during her pregnancies, taking cocaine and also investigated for assault,criminal damage and a public order offence.  Kate Moss, known for her party lifestyle with Babyshambles' Pete Doherty, filmed snorting Cocaine and who moved her mother in 2008 to provide some stability for her daughter.  Not to mention Katie Price A.k.a. Jordan, quoted in Aug 2010 as saying:
"Any child that has parents who are divorced are lucky. They get extra Christmas presents, birthday presents and extra trips,'
 Oh ok so two out of three have used a drug known to cause gang violence, death and suffering in the countries it is grown and trafficked, but hey they contribute heavily to the economy ergo they are amazing parents!  Obviously.

Only judging mothers on the strength of their contribution to the current economic status is extremely short sighted.  Most have paid into the system for many years and those who do choose to stay at home do so for a wide variety of reasons - to suggest mothering is a waste of a woman, underestimates the massive impact a mother has.

With a society more violent than ever before, depression rates through the roof and life for some children becoming more toxic by the day - perhaps it's time we started measuring the worth of a woman based on more than a few pennies in a pot.  What's more if mothers don't value mothering, who will?

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  1. I am a working mum, but am working towards being a stay at home mum. I've had a career without kids, I've worked with my children in the office with me and I'm now wanting to stop working for financial gain and start working full time as a mother. I'm proud of the fact that I've suddenly realised that my children are more important than extra money. I love and adore my husband and want to spend time with him - and doing so walking around the nearby bird sanctuary (for free) is just as wonderful as doing something which costs money. We have a frugal lifestyle and don't aspire to designer clothes, new cars or other costly items.

    I've done most variations of career woman and mother and have felt right at each moment doing whatever it was I was doing at the time. And when I become a full time mother and stop earning money, I will be proud to say so.

    My only regret? To not be able to take what I've learnt is possible, to combine children and work (and breastfeeding where applicable), to support other families that I will no longer employ. I like to feel that I can make some inroads to the way that employers perceive parenthood, especially managing mothering and working.

  2. This is a great post and I agree with you. I have experienced this myself. My 'mum friends' who didn't know me as a professional, 40 - 50 hrs a week project manager are always surprised to hear that that's what I was. They see I'm a mum and can't imagine that I was ever more. I find THAT disheartening. Or I should say I USED TO find that disheartening.

    I read a book shortly after my daughter was born called, What Mothers Do - And Why It Matters. This book changed my life. It changed my perception of myself as a mother. It explained what I do - nurturing, comforting, providing, etc etc in such a different light, that it blew my mind. I strongly recommend this book. It's one all mothers or people who have or have had mothers should read.

    I have, at times, wondered at the futility of studying and then having a good career just to give it all up to be 'just a mum' to raise a daughter who will study, have a career and then give it all up to raise her own children, maybe. But in truth, now, I just see it as two different phases of life, and feel very blessed to have been able to experience both.

  3. Sorry - The book was What Mothers Do - Especially When It Looks Like Nothing, by Naomi Stadlen

  4. That book is awesome Luschka! I thought I'd be back at work 6 months after my first - years later & after another child I'm still a SAHM and wouldn't have it any other way, especially while they are small - not just for their sake but for mine.

  5. OK, good, but what about valuing the stay-at-home dads too? I work fulltime (about to go off on maternity leave with number 3 child) and my husband has become a SAHF. We had to do it this way because of the relative benefits of my job compared to his in terms of earning potential & stability. I'm often left feeling that frineds/family/random strangers are critical of our choices because obviously the man should be the bread winner and the woman be the primary care giver. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be at home with my children more, but we also have a responsibility to provide for them financially as well as emotionally.

  6. I think the post is about valuing any stay at home parent. I don't think its suggesting that mums who work are making the wrong choice as such its just saying that people shouldn't see stay at home mums (or dads) as worthless. In fact it really is hard work but so worth it. Having either dad or mum being home with you is great and children who have that are very lucky.

  7. Love this post, I read a book recently called Why Love Matters, which just reinforced my pro-sahm beliefs :) Hooray! It is hard sometimes for mum, but once you understand your 'role' as mom, and how deep it really goes for lo's under 3yrs of age especially, you get some kind of identity in being MOM and love being a sahm, even when it is tiring and society's junk makes you feel inferior to your former 'working and oh so important' self lol.

  8. Are you my twin? It's so important that people value themselves, that mothers value themselves. It can only have a positive knock on effect with their children. Future mothers and fathers that recognise value in others as well as themselves.

    MammyDoula xx

  9. I love this article!!! My kids loved when i was a house wife and really struggeld with my return to work. I am currently a single parent and as such have to work but am working to a more flex-time shcedule to allow me to be with my kids more Yay!!!!
    I just have one pet peeve. the term "Stay at home mom". It just irks me. The term puts the emphasis on the job of being a mom rather than a wife. I prefer the good old fashined term housewife. It keeps in the forefront the responsibilities to husband and home. Of course the kids are the practical reason most women walk away from a career but the most important thing in the family is the rock solid marraige and a commitment to do what is best by it.
    I find our kid-centric tones on being a domestic wife as opposed to a member of the workforce a little alarming. If your only focus is or we lead the public to believe the main focus is the children then what happens to your marraige when 20 years later they're grown and you wake up next to a stranger?
    Just a pet peeve of mine. I know the term sahm is here to stay ugh!

  10. It bothers me how women themselves devalue motherhood as if earning money is more fulfilling than raising their families. When you take into account the cost of childcare, commuting, and taxes, most jobs are not worth it. Right now I watch a friend's child during the day while they go work 8 hour shifts at Second Cup and her bring home pay barely covers the expenses of her going to work. It makes no sense to me. I would rather do without play money to be available to my children.

  11. I loved this post! Thank-you for affirming the value of Mothering/Parenting - it's very tough for us financially but I could not bear the thought of someone else raising my children. I linked to this post in my Sunday Surf

  12. Love this post. I do not at all regret choosing to be a SAHM, even if it does mean I'm not using my degrees.

    Kate - my FIL was a SAHD. I think this post is just about valuing a parent who stays home with the kids. Usually this is the mother, and of course that's the experience that the blogger has, but sometimes it is the father, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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  18. I feel like full-time SAHMs are a dying breed. I am very happy to stay at home with my children and have no desire to juggle work with childcare just to bring home a few extra pennies each month.

    But I think I'm unique in that I started my family young and didn't have a set career before having children. I have supported my husband in his career as he has progressed through the years, and we've both agreed that I'll pursue my own career when the children are grown, but right now my most important job is here at home. I have no shame in this.

  19. Here in Israel they want to require all three year olds to attend preschool from 8 am until 4 PM. This will be free, so that both parents can work. I find it developmentally inappropriate, with disturbing implications. Many are lobbying for free daycare from even younger ages.

  20. I went back to work after my first child, part time, and when my husband and my hours clashed, his sister looked after our daughter. After our second child, i went back (even more part time) for about three months, but my sister in law refuses to baby sit two kids at the same time and my husbands self employed work (very strange hours and can run into 7 days a week) caused us problems with us both working, some days he got no sleep at all and this was a huge problem. So i am a SAHM now, though if i had access to helpful family i would go to work at least one day a week. Not only for the break from the home and some me time, but i also feel bad that i am not bringing any money into the home. Which contradicts that i *know* i am doing good being at home with my girls, and making my husbands job much easier too!

  21. It is really hard to value motherhood because of so many cultural assumptions. My mother was a SAHM and very proudly so yet somehow I grew up in a culture that devalued it, because I ended up looking down on her for being financially dependent and not working. Where did this disregard come from? Only now that I have children do I realise that, at least for me, being a good mother is harder than going to work. Unfortunately too late to share this with her and apologise for all the upset I must have caused. The political climate has certainly been one of pushing parents into the workplace. And even economically we are discouraged from being a SAHM - the loss I'd have if I gave up my job even for a couple of years, because I'd have to start back on a salary at least 1/3 my current one, a loss that would be permanent until retirement - it's very hard to justify this, and not feel discriminated as a woman/mother.

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