Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Reclaiming Motherhood: When Staying At Home Means Having It All

As a full time mother I know myself to be distinctly in the minority, and often experience that rather awkward, exposed feeling of realising that everyone else apart from me has left the dance floor. In the twenty first century Western world, the 'norm' for many women is to return to work and choose alternative care for their babies and children, and increasingly, pressure from government, society and the material world dictates that less and less women are making the choice to remain at home with their children. In 1981, only 24% of UK women returned to work within a year of childbirth; by 2001, it was 67%, and the most recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions says that 76% of mothers now return to work within 12 to 18 months of having a child.

Prior to motherhood, I was a therapist, a profession which has a fairly long history of upsetting feminists and women in general with the news that care by someone other than a primary attachment figure, and in particular nursery care, is not what is best for the child. First under fire was the pioneer of attachment theory, John Bowlby, whose suggestion of the importance of maternal care in the first three years of life clashed badly with the rise of the feminist movement who condemned his theory as 'anatomy as slavery'. In the eighties Jay Belsky caused an massive outcry with his paper, 'Infant Daycare: A Cause for Concern', and more recently, writers like Steve Biddulph, Sue Gerhardt and Oliver James have added their voice to a growing concern for the long term effects on both society and future mental well being. In her most recent book, The Selfish Society, Gerhardt writes:

"...handing over the care of babies to people who have no long term emotional investment in them, at the very time when the foundations of emotional regulation, morality and relationship are being laid, is a very dangerous development. It exposes babies to the risk of being chronically stressed and emotionally underdeveloped. In these circumstances, it would not be surprising if the rates of personality disorder, anti-social behaviour and depression continue to rise. This particular social trend could potentially threaten the spread of empathy and co-operation despite the increased public interest in emotions..."

Many women are aware of these critical voices when they nevertheless return to work and delegate their childcare to others. Rather than heaping more guilt on these mothers, perhaps it's more interesting to examine just why they are making these choices? This week, I spoke to several mothers about the issue. For some, financial circumstances dictate that they simply have to work. "There's no choice for me", Emily told me, "If I don't go back to work in three months, we can't afford to live. I wish it weren't so." Other women I spoke to echoed these words, in particular single mothers, for whom finances can obviously be hard. However, some were more sceptical about the idea that those few women who stay at home are 'lucky'. "I have made sacrifices and changed my lifestyle drastically to stay at home", said Belinda, "I now know that I can live on a shoestring." Michelle added, "Personally, I want to be with my child more than I want a career, and we have no money as a result, but I can live with that as a trade."

Caitlin also addressed the suggestion that full time mothers are simply 'lucky', "Since I've started to out myself as a potential SAHM at playgroups etc, I've been fascinated with the view that I'm 'lucky' to be able to do so. Now, I recognise that some families honestly can't make ends meet if they don't have two incomes. But most of the people who are saying this to me run two cars, have iPhones, iPads, Sky or similar, own a house. When we knew we wanted to have a family, we planned it. We sought out a good job for my husband (hint: it's not so good that he's a higher rate tax payer!), moved to a new city for that job, moved into a house we could afford to rent on one salary (we're saving for a deposit to buy but that's not likely to happen for 10 years or more). What I'm trying to say is, we made it happen. It isn't luck, it's hard work and a couple of years of planning, combined with deciding that if an iPad costs £400 and me working a couple of days a week would take a month to earn that much - well we'll go without then, as I'd rather have that month with my baby thank you very much."

Listening to women's various stories this week, what seems to emerge most often is not that returning to work was financially essential, but that they felt they needed the 'break' from full time childcare, a chance to 'be me again', as one woman put it, and rejoin the grown up world. A happy mother means a happy baby, say the proponents of working mothers, but this begs the question, why is childcare making so many women feel unhappy? Lucy told me, "I went back to work part-time after 9 months. I really wanted to go back as I needed a break. I do feel it would have been better for my son if I hadn't gone back. I'd love to be a full-time mum, but I just don't think I could be and keep my mental health. I feel disappointed in myself that I'm not able to be a full-time mum." Her honesty interested me. I asked her to say a bit more about her feelings of 'needing a break'. "I guess I just find my child all-consuming.", she responded,"I find his constant demands exhausting. He is extremely dependent on me when I'm around and doesn't play alone, wanting my constant 100% attention. I just can't do this 24/7. I feel drained, and need to go away to refuel."

I find this theme of 'needing a break' from children recurs often. In my own life I've started to notice just how often others suggest to me that I want or need to be without my children so that I can have some 'me time'. Whilst I do recognise this feeling, I've begun to ask myself what this cultural notion really means. Why do I long for time to myself? Do I really need it, or have I just been sold the idea that I do? Why do my children have to be elsewhere in order for me to feel relaxed, or to partake in an activity that is meaningful to me? And perhaps more than anything else, how do my children feel when they hear me or other grown ups talk in such positive terms about 'having a break' from them? Since I became conscious of this phenomenon, I've noticed just how much negative publicity exists about time spent with small children. 'I need some Me Time', we sigh, tut, and roll our eyes, and yet it's as if we are all playing along with the theme - small children are difficult, hard work, exasperating, demanding, boring - but is this a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, do we really feel this way?

As mothers we need to be honest with ourselves about the way we feel about time with our children and our reasons for returning to work or not. As a therapist I was lucky enough to learn how to examine my initial reaction to a person or situation and peel away the layers to explore the underlying feelings - but anyone can do this too if they are just willing to admit that nothing is ever simple. For example, if we feel we would rather be at work during time spent with our child, what does this actually mean? Perhaps the scenario reminds us of a difficult time from our own childhood, and we are trying to disengage and emotionally distance ourselves. Perhaps our child is offering us a complex set of emotions which we are struggling to interpret. Perhaps we feel taken for granted by our child, or simply long for more positive feedback. Perhaps our child is asking us to relate to them in a way that we were never related to ourselves in our own childhood. Spending time with children is all about relationship, and is therefore complicated. The world of work offers us a more systemic life - input, output, appraisals, payslips - a predictable world that is time limited, goal oriented and clear in a way that childcare is not.

Mothers have been sold the idea in recent years that they can 'have it all', but in talking to women this week, it seems like this is far from the truth. Most women are sad to return to work, but paradoxically glad to be released from what they see as the drudgery and boredom of childcare. The fundamental importance of the first few years of life is still being underestimated by policy makers who urge women back to work and convince them that looking after children is a job that can be done by someone else, often someone younger, childless, and less educated than the mother herself. Many feminists proclaim this a triumph, the ultimate in freedom of choice, but real women on the frontline seem to tell a different tale, one of loss, confusion, juggling and vast guilt.

No job is boring or drudgery if you feel that it is important work and do it to the best of your abilities. Motherhood is full of challenges and rewards, and there is much to be learnt. One thing that all mothers find out quite quickly is that, with babies and small children, nothing ever stays the same for long. Time whizzes by, and everything is just a phase. So even if we find full time motherhood impossibly boring or hard, can we not comfort ourselves in the the knowledge that, by being there for our children for the first few years of life, at least until they start school, we are helping them to learn about love and relationship in the way that a nursery worker or childminder - for all their skills - can simply never replicate?

As a feminist and a stay at home mother, I feel we need to reclaim motherhood. Motherhood is 'women's work', just like childbirth and breastfeeding, it is something that we are uniquely good at, something beautiful, and at the moment, it is being diminished and demeaned in our eyes so that we feel there are other more important things we could be doing with our time. But psychology tells us this is not the case, and whatsmore, our hearts tell us that this is not the case. Babies and children cry when they are left, and often, so do mothers, usually when they are back in their car and no one is watching. We tilt our rear view mirrors down, and check our eyes for evidence of sadness, then, satisfied we will not betray ourselves, we drive away to work. Is this what we really want?

We must all make our own choices, those that feel comfortable for us. Personally, I have a constant sensation of the shortness of life, of my own mortality, of my insignificance in the vastness of time. I'm also nomadic by nature, and not that bothered by wealth or material things. All of this makes 'not working' and being 'just a mum' an easy choice for me. I'm enjoying hanging out with my girls, and glad I am not missing a moment of their hilarious lunacy, their touching progress or their sweet charms. For me, this is 'having it all'. I expect in a year or two when they are at school, I will reinvent myself again, and a new phase of life will start. I'm aware that this time now, with them at home - annoying me, baffling me, exhausting me, boring me - is as brief as one chirrup of a crickets wing in a lifetime of summer evenings. I plan to be there to hear it.



This is the first of two posts on the subject of reclaiming motherhood. You can read the second by clicking here: Reclaiming Motherhood: What is the Value of a Mother?

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40 comments:

  1. So interesting. I'm an academic in Australia, due back in July. I'm going to work part time (rather than full time) which is great and much better than full time which, while not full time in the sense that most people recognise, is still a lot. It means I have to do a total of 93 contact hours, hours away from home, in semester two over 11 weeks. I think I'm going back for a number of reasons. Firstly, my husband is an artist and we have a mortgage to pay (we did sell a house so we could pay down our debt and not make such exorbitant repayments). While he earns money, it's not really stable. Secondly, I'll have five (collect 'em all kids) degrees at the end of this year, including a PhD, and an amazing job that I won't get again. I can't believe how lucky I am to do my work. Thirdly, most of my job happens at home so it's not such big deal of time away. I don't 'need' time away from the baby at all. I love her and feel most centred and happy when she and I are together.

    We've decided to get a nanny, actually two. One is a young student who's fabulous with the baby. She wears her in a sling and is very patient. The other is our friend who's studying French and Spanish at uni, she will teach the baby Spanish while she's with her.

    Reading the Continuum Concept was a great help to me about guilt. I learned that leaving it all to one person was not in keeping with the traditional cultures' notions of motherhood. In traditional cultures, motherhood is shared among the younger and older women in a tribe or community. I am also a sociologist and think that it's great for my daughter, in a very small way, to be exposed to multiple discourses of femininity. It helps her with her own identity project.

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    1. Thanks for your comment!
      I really think that a carefully chosen nanny or childminder is a world away from nursery as far as it provides a very different attachment experience.
      I like your idea about multiple discourses of femininity. And I think this really becomes more relevant once babies get a bit bigger, and their horizons expand beyond their need for their mother.
      Good luck with your career, it sounds really interesting! x

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  2. I agree with you for the most part. I have sacrificed a lot to stay home with my children. However, I do need a break from time to time. Not as often as once a day, but maybe once a week. It is all consuming, and I think the difference lies in our past. Mothers were never the only caregiver of their children historically. There were always other relatives around to help out or entertain a baby or older child. These days we expect a mother to be isolated in her home, just herself and her child. This can be stifling, and I don't blame mothers for needing a break from that, and working is the only way some women can get it.

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    1. Hi Elisa, I agree, I think we do all need a break, whatever we are doing! I just wonder why people talk about needing a break from children quite so much! And I find that thinking in these terms sometimes 'pollutes' my experience with them, makes me more resentful, more stressed.
      I also wonder, reading your comment, what sort of mothers our generation of daughters will become, after their very different experience of being mothered...?
      Thanks for your thoughts x

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    2. Now that is an interesting question! I have one daughter (and 3 sons). Some days she says she wants lots of kids and to stay home with them, other days she says she doesn't want any, so I guess we'll see! I tend to say I need a break sometimes, and then when I get one, if I'm totally alone I feel lonely. I think it's more that I'd like more support than that I really want to get away from them.

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    3. The only real frame of reference for 'how to' parent is how we were parented ourselves. So I expect your daughter will relate to her children in a similar way to the way you relate to her! But what about a child who is in full time nursery from a young age? What parenting model is she absorbing? Whose example will she follow?...
      I like what you say about the loneliness just being about lack of support. I also wonder if it isn't lack of 'gratitude', and positive feedback a bit too? It is for me, anyway! ;-) x

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  3. I have to say - I think you are absolutely brilliant. As a new SAHM to twins and a former sociology major, I love your in depth consideration of why social phenomenon occurs and how if effects our children. I too feel the pull of my feminist heart aching for the fight that allowed me to go to work - but the joy in my ability to stay home and give my kids my whole self. Thanks so much for your thoughtful writings!

    Heather
    www.mytaleswithtwo.com

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    1. Thank you very much Heather!
      Will check out your site x

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  4. I think the need for 'me time' is a modern reaction to the fact that traditionally one woman was never expected to entertain, educate and nurture 2-3 children alone in a house while keeping said house immaculate. Add to that perhaps running a SAHM business, study or WAHM work and you can have a very frustrating, lonely existence.

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    1. That's a good point Fiona. It can feel like a real pressure cooker sometimes on your own in a house with small children. I'm still thinking about this one, and wondering if there are ways that we could change our own approach and attitudes that might help us all feel more in harmony. I'm working on it! x

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  5. My son (15 months) has two afternoons a week at nursery and has done since he was eight months old. My mother is also available for a day a week, but I'm always worried about burdening her as her health is not good and she looks after my grandmother who has dementia. My husband is an excellent and enthusiastic parent as well as working full time. My son appears to love nursery (he cries when I try to take him home) and the practitioners seem to know him inside out and seem genuinely proud of his progress. I love coming in at the end of the day when these women -- who seem to me to be sensitive and experienced experts -- have time to chat and help me troubleshoot toddler issues.

    I work as a freelance writer-editor. I've always lived on a shoestring. When there's work I do it in those two afternoons and when my mother is here and in the evening and at weekends. I feel incredibly proud when I earn enough to contribute to the household. Every time I take on a project I worry terribly about being able to deliver -- if my son is ill our childcare falls apart: nursery can't take him and my mother has to stay away.

    I've never felt more happy and more fulfilled in my life. I value every moment of writing time, and even the horrible days with my son have something to offer. The good days -- when we have no cares but each other -- are bliss.

    I feel a guilty about the amount of housework my husband has to do when I have a lot of work, but I can see how happy our son makes him, so I try not to worry too much, and concentrate on doing the best I can to be cheerful (his request) and to keep a serene and homey home.

    I do need my time out though -- I'm one of those people who needs time to assimilate what I've experienced, so I really value my empty afternoons!

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    1. Thanks Clare, for the insight into your situation. I admit that in this post I only really looked at the two extremes, stay at home or return to work, and didn't have the space to acknowledge fully all the mothers like you who are doing a real mixture of things.
      Best wishes to you and thanks for your comments x

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  6. Very interesting thoughts! I must admit that I have been getting tired of reading articles that bash stay-at-home moms and attachment parenting. I haven't faced much backlash myself, since I surround myself with other stay-at-home moms, but that could be because my baby is only two months old, and a lot of people probably haven't realized yet I have no intention to go back to work. I have had a few people question our decision to have kids so "young" (I'm 26, which is really *not* that young), and I've had a few people drop hints about getting back to my "real" life eventually. (This IS my life now!) I have to agree with some of the other comments about "me time;" as a Navy wife who lives far away from my family, I don't really have anyone to help me out, and most women traditionally have mothers or sisters or friends to come watch the baby occasionally. I was lucky to have my mom stay with me for the two weeks after birth, and my in-laws for a week after that, but it does get kind of hard, and kind of lonely, being home alone all day with the baby. (And I'm certainly not looking forward to my husband's next deployment... six months or more of doing this by myself will be a challenge!)

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post. It's neat to hear about a therapist's views on some of these things. :)

    ~Holly
    http://plentifulthoughtsofmiscellany.blogspot.com/

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    1. Hi Holly, thanks for your thoughts, I will check out your blog.
      I must be clear that of course we all need variety in the way we spend our time and childcare can be relentless in that it is 24 / 7 often with no break. I'm not suggesting that we should all be ok with this - I'm certainly not! But I just wanted to address this attitude towards children, towards childcare, in which it is often portrayed in such a negative light. People say things to me like,' ah, your eldest is at preschool now, that's good, you will get a break,' and i think, well, actually, i still have to look after her younger and much more demanding sister, and they say, 'and it's good that you can have some time just with the little one', and i think, well, yes, but actually, the younger one cries when we leave the eldest at school, and misses her terribly, and we actually all have the most fun when we all just hang around together! Like you say, this IS our life now, we really need to enjoy it rather than resist it!
      Good luck with those 6 months. I hope you get some support x

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  7. I am one of those mums who wants nothing more than to stay home with my baby all day, every day, but must work for financial reasons - not iPads but food and petrol. :-(((

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    1. Hi Sam and Sez, I hope you felt the post covered your situation adequately. I have to say that I really wanted to hear from someone in your situation when I was writing the post (and asking on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/themulesmouth) for people to get in touch with their views.
      I wish things could be different from you, not knowing the details of your circumstances I am not sure how, but I hope you find a way if that is what you want.
      Best wishes x

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  8. This post reads like a chapter from "How Not To Fuck Them Up" which is an excellent book I'm sure you've read.

    Great post.

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    1. Actually, I haven't read that book - yet - Alpha Parent, so I hope he doesn't sue me!
      Must read it!
      Thanks for the comment x

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  9. I love how you wrote my thoughts out!!! :o) ...

    I am married to a man who - due to illness - is unable to work full-time. Despite this, we have been blessed with 3 children, and although I have struggled with the idea that because of our financial situation, I'm often viewed as selfish (mostly by family members who are materially 'aware'!!!), I also know that I have, and will, continue to contribute to this world, in many and varied ways...

    But, while I raise my family I choose to stay at home. Money is tight, but we are blessed and happy and functioning well!!! The children are secure. They enjoy great friendships, and I have made beautiful friends through them, as well as maintaining wonderful long-term friendships.

    And all this combined gives me balance. While my children play with their friends I talk to mine and we share thougths and feelings, mostly about motherhood and our children, but certainly about other things too; and we all acknowledge that we feel refreshed after our time together. I have never appreciated talk about "me time", and when people have mentioned that to me and ask me what I do for myself, I tell them that "me time" for me is constant... I'm living the life that I hoped for, and so, to me, that offers a feeling of contentment, which would then have me never ask for "me time". Having said that, my children are (for the most part) happily in bed by 7, and I have a tendency to be able to finish housework then, read, talk to my husband, whatever, so I guess there the 'balance' continues...

    Motherhood, I believe, was never meant to be an isolated role. The fact that many can view it as such means that support is greatly lacking for them. I take my hat off to those who do work and manage to raise their children well; but I do agree with the idea that we can't have it all and something has to give... We just have to be hopeful that at the end of the day that "something" isn't our children.

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    1. Agreed Naomi. And I also agree with you about time after the children are in bed, I know some people don't have fixed bed times, but I do admit to looking forward to some time when they are asleep to do things like write, which I just can't do when I am looking after them.
      I did feel very isolated after my first daughter was born as I had a network of friends built around the world of work and of course, they were all still at work! It did take me quite a while to build up a new network with mothers, and I found it very hard to begin with, a feeling that I had to start all over again! But now, I feel very supported - it did take time though...
      Thanks for your comment x

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  10. I think this is an interesting topic, and I agree with some of what you say. I think you write well and have often enjoyed reading your blogs. I have not commented before but wanted to do so in response to this as I have thought allot about it since reading it and felt that it was important to me to say what I think. I do think that it is possible for a mother to do some paid work away from the home and be a good enough loving mother who helps her child learn about themselves the world and others through a healthy secure attachment. I am about to return to work part-time after almost a year off on maternity leave. I am lucky that my job is flexible enough to be child friendly. My son is going to go to a lovely kind childminder two days a week from 9 till 4. She is a mother of two older sons and has been a childminder for a long time. She is happy to sit and cuddle my son when he cries and is responsive to his needs. My husband is also going to have a day a fortnight at home with my son. This I believe will be good for both my son and my husband. Yes mothers are important but so are dads and he is every bit as responsive to our son as me and has his own strengths. Now when he comes home from work my son smiles and laughs with delight as his dad takes him in his arms and lifts him up and round and round with a speed and strength that I do not have in the same way. This means that my son will have the expenrece of a strong secure attachment with two and in time three (including the childminder) adults. I think this builds resilience. I have loved my maternity leave and would not have wanted to go back any earlier. I have and still am breast feeding my son, I plan to continue this for as long as it works for both of us. I find that after a period of separation he comes into my bosom and snuggles in reconnecting with me, with his safe and sacred space . I do not believe that these relatively short periods of separation from me are harmful to my son. I am looking forward to starting work, and yes partly because I am looking forward to being in the world again as me. This does not mean that I do not love the intensity and wonder of being with my son. I also think that by doing some work outside the home my relationship with my husband will benefit. We met and fell in love as equals, we both had our interests outside of our relationship. I do not wish to completely sacrifice this. The other reason I want to go back is that I do not want to loose my professional identity. If I was to stay at home until my son and possible future children were school age I would have had a long break and may have to re-train or revise training. I worked for 9 years to get my professional qualification and it is of value to me. I appreciate that not all mothers will want to go back to work and I think that it is a legitimate choice not to but I also think it is a legitimate chose to combine motherhood with a work life, provided that you do it in a way that is child friendly. I personally would not be happy dropping my son off at nursery 5 days a week from 8 till 6. I think that we as society should ensure that every mother has the right to child friendly hours - many of the friends I have made since having my son are forced to choose between two extremes: don't come back or come back full time (Or if any concession is made it is come back 4 days a week with no reduced work lode). I think this is where the problem is for society

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    1. Hi Lilly. I completely agree with so much of what you say! I am so glad that you decided to comment - thank you!
      I have also worked a little bit (a really tiny amount, one morning a month!) since having my children, and left them with their dad - in both cases after they were one. Right now my contract has ended and I am a full time mother though.
      I really wanted this article to pose questions rather than make anyone feel criticised for their choices, so I hope this was not your experience. Many women like you are doing a combination of things and still managing to be there for their children most of the time and fully there for the first year or so, which is wonderful!
      I will also probably struggle to return to my therapy career without some retraining, particularly if I decide to have any more children. I'm just going to have to cross that bridge as and when I get to it. I don't think there is a way round this - they can't have certain professionals returning to work after long breaks without retraining.
      I also agree that there are social questions to be addressed about policy, and as I have not been in the position of trying to use childcare I am not very knowledgeable about how the whole system works.
      Thanks so much for all the interesting points you have raised. x

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  11. as a long-time feminist, mother of two grown children, and now grandmother of two, it was delightful to read your blog ... the one thing i find just a bit difficult is that, in the 80s, there seemed to be many of us saying "the trouble is not with staying at home with our children - and learning from them every day! - it is with a society that says "what you do has no value". apparently no-one was listening, since it seems the struggle to be seen and valued as a SAHM is the same today as 30 years ago!

    traditional "women's work" of caring for the young, the old, the infirm, generates nothing measurable by the gdp and therefore has no market value unless it is purchased as a service provided by strangers ... this seems ridiculous to me!

    i stayed at home with my children, sometimes supported by the father (early on), sometimes - as a single mum - living on "mother's allowance" (does this even exist anymore?) and - later - attending school or working. and i LOVE the adults my children have grown into.

    my daughter (28) is at home with her two children (5 and 2), whom she intends to home-school, and she and her husband are celebrating 10 years of relationship this year ... after two generations (my mother and myself) of fractured relationships, i am dazzled by her ability to maintain this commitment ... and attribute it - in part - to her experience of committed relationship with her primary care-provider (me) at an early age and throughout her life ... we continue to enjoy one another very much!

    i read the continuum concept when i was pregnant with her ... it should be on every pregnant woman's "must read" list.

    glad you are all out there continuing to parent in a committed attached way ... i just wish my generation had succeeded in making more progress with this issue, so you wouldn't have to re-fight these same fights.

    all the best to you!
    karen

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comments Karen and for sharing some of your experience. How great that you were able to help your daughter learn something positive about attachment in spite of your history, and break a cycle! :)
      It's funny isn't it that some of the issues are just the same as 30 years or more ago...
      Your comment made me wonder, maybe we are all being negative about motherhood because this makes it easier to turn our backs on it? If it is worthless and valueless and a job that anyone can easily replace us in - then it can't be that good and therefore we are not missing out when we return to work? Just a thought.
      Thank you for your comment x

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  12. Ah I was enjoying this blog post until I read down to the SAHM scrimps and struggles while working mum buys iPad and iPhone bit. As a working mum myself this argument really annoys me. See I grew up in a house with a SAHM and she was amazing - but we were poor and that was not so amazing. I didn't have the opportuinity to avail of universtiy as a school leaver - but was lucky to avail of a government programme for long term unemployed people a few years later and worked my way through the college system to get a degree and a job I love. Husband is the same (his family even poorer than mine - even though his Mother always worked - interesting that - most working class families I know had mothers who worked, the SAHM is a very middle class profession and I do think their idea of scrimping and mine are very different thing). I am the opposite of you in that most of my friends are SAHM and while they say things are hard - their kids still get to go to ballet class, music lessons, gymnastics etc. Whereas I work and my kids don't have the chance to do any of that. The difference I notice is that they have families that can usually help them out - buy them a car, pay something off their mortgage. We don't. I do admit to having an iPhone but don't think that makes me a bad parent!!! While I want to be there for my children, I do also want to offer them more than we had growing up. The chance to go to college for example. I love my children, but I also love my job. We co-sleep, extend breastfeed, wear cloth nappies, baby wear and are also home schooling my daughter - so this puts me in close proximity to mostly SAHM's. The parenting style we have chosen is more like that - however I went back to work (part-time) after both my children. I was really hoping for something more from the article than what I read. I do agree that mothering should be seen as a valid path for women, but what about the men's role. In our case these days I work part time and my husband works part time. My husband wants to be around with his children as well and to be as active as I am in raising them. I think the issue of class also needs to be looked at as well along with feminism and the issue of motherhood.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Maire. I'm sorry you felt let down by the post. It was a tricky subject to tackle and I struggled to do it justice. I felt there was a lot more I could have included but I like to keep posts fairly short and this one could have turned into a book! Perhaps a follow up post could address some further issues.
      Anyway, I take your point about class issues and poverty. However, I do feel that people do need to be honest when they give their reasons for returning to work, and that in some cases, saying, We had no choice, is skimming the surface a bit. I think the answer is sometimes more about what we value or are taught to value.
      Motherhood is devalued, having a big house and a nice car is valued.
      Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you taking time to give your perspective x

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  13. Really interesting reading this post and all the comments. I do think there's a big difference between putting a child in a nursery 5 days a week and placing a child with a childminder 2 days a week, but I absolutely salute SAHMs and wish I could have found it within myself to be one (I work part-time), and agree that we need to be honest about our reasons for returning to work. I genuinely felt I needed to go back to work as I just couldn't cope with the relentless demands of 24/7 childcare, but reading this post I do wonder how much my decision was affected by my perception of a societal norm - ie: other mums go back to work, it's normal etc. Perhaps if it wasn't so normal I would have tried harder. I don't know.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is hard to separate out all these things isn't it? I do find it is very hard to take the path less travelled sometimes and question myself even though another part of me knows I am doing the right thing. Peer pressure is a powerful energy! x

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  14. I really enjoyed reading this. I think I started becoming interested in these issues when my son, now nearly 17 months, was a few months old and everyone asked me when I would be returning to work; the question was always "when" rather than "if", and I started to feel like I was a bit strange for not going back to work. (I've since met quite a few SAHMs). We are lucky in the respect that we can easily afford to live off my husband's salary, and we relocated to live near my almost fully retired parents who are able to help out with childcare quite often. I do some work from home when my mum can look after my son, and do admit that I enjoy having a break. I don't desperately yearn to go out to work, but as much as I love my son I often find myself wishing for a bit of time to read a book or have some peace! It's a shame that it's so difficult for men to reduce their hours at work; I'd love it if in some respects we were a bit more like Scandinavia and my husband could work four days a week.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Sarah.
      I agree with you about men... I know my partner is often insanely jealous of my wonderful days with the children, being free to do whatever we want and play and have fun, when he is cooped up in an office. :(
      Work can be fulfilling for all of us, but the balance is all wrong.
      Thanks for your thoughts x

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  15. Love the point of your post and I would gladly be a SAHM if we could swing it, but I have to say I wish you hadn't dragged out (even if just in a quote) the old trope of "We need two incomes so I can have my iPad!" Some people like to work, and frankly, I think they should just admit it so that trope can go into the trash where it belongs with the other slings and arrows of the mommy wars. But some, like me, have to - and not to support a lavish lifestyle. Sometimes we cut all the corners and find there's nothing left to cut and the ends still aren't meeting. Quotes like those in your post hurt us deeply, as if we just don't want to be with our children enough to make sacrifices, which isn't true at all. If I had any me time, I'd spend it with my daughter. Instead, I have work time, and not by choice.

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    1. Hi Christa
      Thanks for your comment.
      I don't think it's an 'old trope'. The issue of the way in which our material world is suffocating our psychological and emotional needs is being raised by far bigger cheeses than myself, e.g. Oliver James, Sue Gerhardt and others. There ARE many women who feel that they need to return to work in order to maintain a lifestyle that includes foreign travel, good cars, new clothes etc.
      I'm sorry if you don't feel I gave enough coverage to those who don't have a financial choice.
      I wanted to explore the idea that there might be reasons other than financial for women returning to work. I do think women feel undervalued as mothers and that they sometimes feel more rewarded by work in ways that transcend the financial.
      I wrote another post exploring this a bit more here:
      http://mamamule.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/reclaiming-motherhood-what-is-value-of.html
      Best wishes x

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  16. I don't want to go back to work after this baby!!! :'( I want to stay at home and raise it until it is old enough to go to school, and then I want to be there to pick it up and play&care for it during the holidays! But we both earn UK minimum wage, I have no choice. Until then I will keep playing the lottery.

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    1. Well I hope you do win the lottery or find another way if you really want to be with your baby! Good luck! x

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  17. Really enjoyed your article, and will subscribe to your blog. Great to read some intelligent writing about what it is to be a mother today. I also returned to work part-time after by child was born. I work mornings, 5 days a week, with my child with an in-home childcare. I struggle with being a working Mum, and my return to work was driven by our need to pay our mortgage. After reading your article, I again feel guilty about returning to work and enjoying the financial benefits that it brings, including allowing us to have two cars and Sky. However even if we were to sell a car, stop Sky etc, we would still need to be a two-parent working family, because I think it's financially irresponsible not to have any savings or capacity for long term financial stability. What if my husband were to lose his job suddenly? Finding a job during a recession is not easy. HOwever, I am about to have my second child, and hate the thought of returning to work with two children, so will struggle over my decision over the next few months. I certainly am not saying "woe is me", or asking for sympathy, but I think that there is a struggle in every Mother's decision that ultimately stems from the need to do the very best for their family. We have tried our very best to get a balance. It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do at the moment. Glad I discovered your blog, look forward to reading more.

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    1. Thank you Rilla for your very thoughtful comment. I totally hear what you are saying. We live in a 'double income' world, and I personally find it hard to let go of my desire to have material things, and sometimes I even get that 'not keeping up with the Jones's' thing, which I absolutely hate about myself, but there you have it, it's the truth! I see nice cars and clothes and I think, perhaps I should get a job so we can have some of that! But ultimately, I'm glad to have this time with the girls, and I do feel that I am making a big contribution to their lives which in turn brings me much rewards (if not of the designer shoes variety!).
      I also worry about the long term as I have no pension etc, but I'll just have to try and make up for it in my 40's and 50's and keep my fingers crossed!
      I hope you find the balance you are looking for, it sounds like you already know what you really want though, so I hope you can somehow make it happen.
      Thanks again for your comment x

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  18. This is an excellent post even though it rubbed me the wrong way- I think that's the mark of an excellent writer and someone who truly cares :)

    I live in the US now , and after 12 weeks 'maternity' leave (unpaid of course) I went back to work part time ( 3 days a week, hubby watches baby for 2 of those days, 3rd day she goes to an in home sitter.

    We don't have cable or smart phones, our car is paid off but I still see value in me going to work outside the home. I feel a sense of pride that my check every 2 weeks goes towards the household and I am able to help us buy groceries and pay utilities. Hubby's check goes toward his car payment and the mortgage. We need 2 cars because we need to be able to go where the jobs are. I do NOT feel comfortable with us having one car since if there is an emergency and I need to go to the ER, how can I get there? (We live in the country)

    To echo the sentiments of a poster above- I grew up poor, not having much and not getting the ability to do much as a child and a teen. I didn't do sports after school because we didn't have money, (but to be fair my mum paid for lessons that I needed when I was writing O and A levels.)

    But at the end of the day, my mum a single parent did the best she could and I at least got the chance to do more than she did. I hope the keep the momentum going, and give my baby the oppurtunity to pursue what she wants to herself.

    I definitely don't agree with overscheduling kids with a million different activities, but I think it's important to be able to provide certain things for your children.

    Unless you think poor people shouldn't have children? I know that's not what you said anywhere even remotely, but you need to dive deeper into what you're saying.

    Now I understand what you ARE saying- women's work as it were, is crucial and can not be measured and women need to be there for their children, and why do people THINK they need to be away from their kids?

    It comes down to the fact (as someone earlier mentioned) that our society has a single generation household with a mum being the everything whereas before it took a village (well you know what I mean, aunties, grans etc to help, sisters in law to squabble with etc :) ) Couple that with a crap economy and what do you get?

    I'm sorry but I need to do what I have to to keep my family unit alive and thriving. And in 2012 working outside the home is part of it.

    *Danielle*

    PS- I need to figure out how to get my name on here and not post as anonymous lol

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  19. loved this post. thank you.

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