The Daily Mail is in uproar. To be honest, it’s the Daily Mail – it’s in perpetual uproar. But the reason for today’s chest-beating, get-the-smelling-salts-Doris is because only one mother in ten is a stay-at-home-parent.
Obviously, as the Daily Mail sees it, this means that the world must be in terminal decline because mothers must never ever EVER have worked before. Apart from during the World Wars…or during Victorian times when the kids would work as well…or in the days of the Feudal system when men women and children would toil the land for greedy overlords…or at any point and space in time so long as there have been families. Apart from maybe the ‘golden age’ of Middle-class 1950s Western society, which, apart from the gorgeous dresses weren’t really all that golden. Or for the very very wealthy/entitled at any time ever…but then the kids would be raised by nanny/boarding school anyway, so that doesn’t really count. Oh, yes, the world must definitely be headed to Hell in a hand cart…and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THE WORKING MUM!!! It must be.
Except, here’s the rub, Daily Mail. There are reasons – very valid and justified reasons – why women are untying the apron strings and heading out to work. Here are some:
• We live in a society that requires a dual-income. And, by and large, you get diddly squat for looking after your own kids. Politicians are always looking at initiatives to make childcare more affordable, but looking after your children yourselves is granted voluntary status. Next month launches a childcare voucher scheme granting parents up to £1,200 for someone else to look after their kids. Parents staying at home to look after their own kids can expect no magic grand. No, that’s their choice and as raising a family is seen as having no worth they can suck it up. The trouble is, it limits income potential to care for your own children, but things still cost. After a point, what’s a family to do?
• And whilst we’re on government policy, single-parents are literally dragged back into training and work as soon as their kids hit school, regardless of whether it’s their choice to or not; regardless of how badly some jobs fit around school hours, let alone school holidays when those parents often have a reduced support network of family, what with one parent not being there; regardless of how those kids might be most in need emotionally of having a parent there in the home. But society can’t possibly support those in need (despite that essentially being the whole concept of having a welfare state) so fuck ’em, apparently. But, yeah, you can’t have it both ways, Daily Mail.
• Society also has a tendency to worship the economic like nothing else. You say you’re a stay-at-home mum and people’s eyes glaze over and they ask when you’re going to go back to doing something proper. The Daily Mail reports considers family-raising to be tantamount to ‘female inactivity’. I dare you to go up to a stay-at-home mum and say that to her face. Don’t worry, I’ll have the ice pack ready for your bruises.
• Go out to work, you get adult conversation, possibly even a bit of light-hearted flirting. You get to talk about stuff that’s stimulating, you get to gossip, you get to finish full sentences without someone slamming a football in your face and shrieking at you. Staying at home is isolating like nothing else. Yes, kids are cute, but their opinions when it comes to the latest developments in their area,the plot of EastEnders or topical jokes leaves a lot to be desired.
• And have you ever say through daytime TV?! Whether Jeremy Kyle and Homes Under the Hammer or, possibly worse, kid-friendly options of Baby Jake and Balamory. You can literally feel your brain atrophy along with the career aspirations of those on screen.
• Parents – mums especially – are blamed for EVERYTHING. Implications seem to be that Jihadi John wouldn’t be cutting people’s heads off if only his mum had kept a closer eye on what he was looking at online and who his friends were. Seriously:
At least when you’re out at work you’re largely thanked for doing what you do and get financial remuneration for it. People don’t tend to say thank you for raising kids to adulthood. No, instead you get tut-tutted at when your offspring throw a tantrum in the supermarket aisles.
It should also be noted that there’s no mention throughout the article about how these mums work. Not everyone does the traditional 40-hour weeks, 9am to 5pm, Daily Mail. There’ll be a majority of working mums doing so part-time or working flexibly: job shares, shifts that fit around the family, working from home, working in schools to get hours that (mostly) match those of the kids. There’ll be a reliance on breakfast clubs and after-school activities, on child-minders and other family members. These aren’t abandoned latch-key kids fending for themselves on the harsh streets of suburbia. Working mums don’t stop making parenting decisions for the time when they’re working.
Oh, and finally, Daily Mail, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING KIDS AND WORKING. Better a parent whose socially and economically emancipated and feels satisfied in what they’re doing and loving their kids and doing what’s best for themselves and their family than it is to have someone tearing their hair out in isolation and tedium and too cash-strapped to do anything about it. (And, yeah, note the gender neutrality in that last line because dads make a choice about where they work and how much too y’know.) At the same time though, it’s ALSO PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE TO BE A STAY-AT-HOME-PARENT, to be there for the games and school plays and the PTAs, always there for the highs and lows of daily life with kids. Because, Daily Mail, I bet it’s only a matter of time until they’re your target for the problems of the world.
I have been a stay-at-home mum. I’m now a (part-time) working mum. I may have more balls to juggle, but it doesn’t mean I care about my kids any less. But it was, without a shadow of a doubt harder not working than it is giving 20 hours of my 168-hour week to adding numbers and talking on the phone in exchange for cash and a place in society…and an escape from sodding Balamory. And I can’t see any signs of Noodles bring indoctrinated into extremism yet.
Dare I say it, Daily Mail, but I think society is going to be ok. Now, go and find something positive to write about and stop dishing the guilt. A challenge, I know.