All mothers are full time mothers

When Belinda  (whose own company is opening its doors today, of all days) sent us this post I found myself nodding along and agreeing, despite having written a post just two weeks earlier with a completely different point of view. She writes so eloquently, and gives such powerful reasons for her choices, that I can’t help but start to feel that she’s probably right, and has most definitely made the right choices for herself and her family. Which is ultimately, what we’re all trying to do, isn’t it?

Before I start, let me first say that I realise that I speak only for myself and cannot and do not profess to be able to speak for anyone else.  I have strong opinions about why I think it is so important for mothers to work, but those opinions have been formed as a result of my own life experiences.  I have been extremely fortunate to grow up in a comfortable middle class family with all the opportunities and advantages that financial stability, domestic stability and a good education bring. However, I appreciate that my views may well be very different if my life had been different.  Do feel free to challenge me!

So to it – my life as a working mother and why I think it is extremely important to be one.  First a bit of history:

I was born in 1968 in Cape Town, South Africa.  My mother was 22 and my father 28.  They met in Leeds where my father was studying.  He was a Cape Townian with German Jewish and Welsh Jewish parents and she a kosher butcher’s daughter from Leeds.  He took her back to Cape Town after they married (which she hated as she was vehemently anti-apartheid) and he went to Cape Town University to study medicine.  However, within months of my birth my father was diagnosed with cancer and was dead by the time I was 16 months old.  My mother, a widow of 23, returned to Leeds, obviously taking me with her.

At first we lived with my grandparents – both of whom worked.  My mother, out of necessity, also had to work and so she got a job as a secretary at Leeds University.  Therefore from a very young age I went to nursery, at first a small day nursery and then, from the age of 3 to a different nursery school which was part of a larger primary school.  I travelled in a council paid for taxi on my own!  Although my grandma was normally home when I got back from nursery, on the one occasion she wasn’t there, I knew to go next door to her neighbor, Mrs Green’s house and wait there.  I was an extremely independent child.  I was also extremely precious to those around me and I knew that.  I never once felt abandoned or unloved.

Just before I turned 4 my mum re-married and my new Dad formally adopted me.  He was a young solicitor who had been brought up by working class parents who had both worked hard and had both sacrificed a great deal to give him the opportunity for an education.  He never tired of telling me his stories of poverty as I was growing up and he took me to see the back to back terraced house where he had lived as a child before it was demolished.  However, despite his poverty as a child and both his parents having worked, he grew up loved and cherished and he thrived and became a great success both professionally and personally.

After she married my mum stopped working.  My sister was born in 1975 and at that point she felt that she really needed to do something to exercise her brain.  She had been brilliant at school but like for the majority of girls at school in the 50s and 60s, her parents’ ambition for her extended only to marriage and children and she complied.  However, in around 1976 she decided to take a university degree through the Open University.  It took her years but she ended up getting the equivalent of a first (as it was not an honours degree she didn’t actually get a classification).  She then went on to do a law conversion course and then law society finals.  She qualified as a solicitor when I was doing my A levels.  I was inordinately proud of her.  Not once did I feel she had not been a good mother to me, even though she wasn’t the paragon of saintly motherhood that the media tells women they need to be these days.  For much of the time she was squirrelled away in the spare bedroom studying.

And so with that bit of background, let me tell you about me now.  I have two young children (8 and 6) who are both wonderful and challenging.  I took maternity leave with both of them, a time which was very special and precious.  However, by the time they were both around 9 months old I was pretty desperate to get back to work.  I was extremely fortunate that I didn’t have to put either child into nursery at such a young age but was able to employ a nanny.  I accept that I may not have been so comfortable about going back to work so soon had nursery been the only option, but it wasn’t so, as I say, I am lucky.  I knew that I didn’t want to go back to work in the City at the law firm where I had been when I became pregnant with my first child as I wanted flexibility to spend time with my daughter and so I decided to set up my own law consultancy business, offering my services to small law firms who wanted to offer their clients employment law advice and representation without taking on an employment lawyer full time.  One of the firms I approached said that they didn’t want me to be a consultant, they wanted me to work for them.  I was in a position, therefore, to negotiate my own terms.  These were:  (1) I want to work full time but 50% of the time from home – i.e. in the office from 9-3 each day and from home for the rest of the day and from home all day on Fridays (2) I want to be a partner within 12 months.  They said yes to both.  I know that I would have been unlikely to achieve such flexibility had they not been the ones approaching me.

A few years later and after the birth of my second child I was approached by another firm and, again, I was effectively able to negotiate my terms.  First piece of advice to women: if you want to be able to negotiate the best terms of employment, move jobs!  When a company wants you, they’re more likely to agree to your requests for flexible working.  It is also the best way to get promoted.

I was a partner at that firm for the next four years and it was fantastic.  The firm was a 15 minute drive from home, the work was great and I really liked my colleagues.  I again worked full time but ensured I was able to leave work in time to collect my daughter from the school bus stop.  I have a home office so was able to work in the late afternoons/evenings if needed.

In February of this year I decided that the time was right to set up on my own.  The legal services industry has changed and I wanted to be able to offer a quality service at a transparent and affordable price without reference to the hated hourly rate.  The seed of Lionshead Law was sown and on 2 September this year (today!) it will come into being.

During all of this I have continued to be a full-time mother.  All mothers are full-time.  You don’t stop being a mother just because you work.  On top of that I believe that I have given my son and particularly my daughter the right sort of role model.  My daughter is at an academic girls’ school yet I am constantly amazed by the number of highly intelligent and educated women who have given up their careers to become dedicated saintly mothers – and yet I don’t think their daughters respect them more for it.  They are at a school which teaches girls to achieve and yet so many of them see their mothers narrowing their world to that of the home, the school and their children’s extra-curricular and social activities. One mother told me that her teenage daughter refused to tidy her room or empty the dishwasher, telling her mother “That’s your job, if I do it, that makes you redundant; what would be the point of you otherwise?”  How truly awful.  No mother should be spoken to like that but it just goes to show that making sacrifices for your children doesn’t always get you any gratitude or respect.

I also think it’s just as important for the mothers of sons to show their boys that women aren’t just there to fetch and carry for them but have a place in the world outside the domestic arena.  My son already knows how to run and give himself a bath, to dress himself, to clear the table after he’s eaten and makes a very good attempt at bed making.  A capable boy not yet 6.  Hopefully he’ll grow into the kind of man who won’t leave childrearing and domestics to his wife and hopefully my daughter (if she chooses to marry) will be lucky enough to marry a man who has been brought up the same way.

I am a far from perfect mother, but I don’t think my failings are anything to do with the fact that I work.  Being a parent is about doing the best you can for your kids and enabling them to grow into independent, capable and productive adults.  You don’t need to be a stay at home mother to achieve that.

Categories: Becoming a Mother, Jobs For The Girls, Money and Career, Wise Women
53 interesting thoughts on this

53 Comments

  1. Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I think it’s great that you’ve had such positive experiences growing up and now have a career that manages the twin feat of paying for your children’s care and giving you intellectual fulfilment.

    Personally, I work in a job that will only just cover my son’s childcare expenses when I go back to work. Those who earn even less (a dizzying number) will have no choice about whether they pay somebody to look after their children or not. Not everybody has family nearby or willing to help out.

    For those who have the choice, fair play. Many don’t.

    Also, I might be wrong in interpreting this post as suggesting that children with stay at home parents can’t learn to be independent and instead expect to be waited on? I’m sure this can’t be true for all.

    I don’t mean this to be a negative response, for me personally I will need some sort of working life to continue after my maternity leave finishes, so in a sense I agree. It’s a choice though, and one that not everyone gets the luxury of making so easily.

    Px

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Yes, Penny, exactly, I do not think being a stay at home mom has anything to do with raising independent children.

      My mother in law stayed at home for most of my husband’s and brother-in-law’s childhood (she went back to work when they were in their teens) and yet, they were both the kind of kids (and now the kind of men) that clear up after themselves, wash the dishes, participate in the general chores of the home… This is because from a very early age (that is, as soon as they were able to she taught them to bring the plates to the sink, help with folding laundry, etc… just small tasks.

      As for the rest, I too, feel it is great if you have the choice but some of us just haven’t. If I can say so myself, I could be put in the bag of “highly intelligent and educated women” and yet, I have been looking for a job for 4 years without success, and that is with 2 scientific degrees and 9 years of studying hard. Sure, I would love to work in my field. I am dying to, actually, sometimes it makes me cry if I think too long about the situation… and yet, when we have our kids I will most probably be staying at home. (That’s without taking into account the high prices of daycare… or feeling like I would be working for an extra 100 EUR per month).

      Regardless of the financial situation, I have always felt that at least for the first years (until the children go to school) I would like to be there, see their developments… why is that a bad thing?

      I would love to have a job that is intellectually fulfilling ,but not all jobs are like that. And if I had to choose from a numbing, soul-crushing job or “staying at home” I think I would do the latter, and that does not make me less valuable for not working or less smart… I could teach science experiments to the kids and empower them in all kinds of ways….

      Everyone is trying to do the best with their own particular situations..

      • Becca
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Actually…on this point…Amanda’s right. Surely a child (male or female) will learn more chores from a parent than from someone paid (Nanny, Nursery or Childminder) to look after them? At many Nurseries, the ‘jobs’ are done away from prying eyes. Surely it’s best that a child sees what is involved in maintaining human life than thinking he or she can pay someone to do it for them?

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I agree that it is far from straightforward for many families. I am very much aware that my own life is very different from that of many other women and I don’t seek to make sweeping generalisations. I simply wanted to point out that being a stay at home mum is not necessarily the only virtuous and good way to parent. x

  2. Fee
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Penny, I think you’ve captured what I wanted to say but I can’t find the words as to be honest, this post has made me kind of angry.

    I agree that it’s great you’ve had a positive experience with returning to work but a lot of the factors involved (a nanny, flexible working) just aren’t a possibility for everyone. Suitable childcare and flexible working should be but they’re not.

    Also, I am wondering how well you know these women who have narrowed ‘their world to that of the home, the school and their children’s extra-curricular and social activities’. Does this actually mean that all their daughters don’t respect them? I don’t think that having a working mother automatically makes a boy a better marriage prospect. Or that their sons expect to be waited on? It seems a very narrow minded view and one that could easily be reversed to working mothers.

    This is one of those topics that sparks debate and everyone has a different view on but I don’t think it’s necessary to be derogatory about those who make different choices. Choices which are sometimes not really a choice at all.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think I was derogatory at all. But I knew when I wrote it that many people would take offence. Perhaps you might want to read the first paragraph again?

      • Fee
        Posted September 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Yep, I can read and understand words. It’s still derogatory.

        • Fee
          Posted September 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          Also, I’m not a stay at home mother so this isn’t a knee jerk defensive reaction.

        • Becca
          Posted September 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          I agree entirely with Fee. I’m also not in your situation, or her situation, but I think its entirely derogatory.

          The fact that you respond to Penny to say that staying at home isn’t the only “virtuous and good way to parent” is again, derogatory that these women see themselves as virtuous. They don’t. Like Lucy has said below, there is no right way to parent and everyone will, at some point, let down their children. Fact.

          They, like you, and I’m sure me when its my turn, will just try and DO THEIR BEST AT THE TIME.

  3. Leni
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Penny and Fee have also summarised my feelings much better than I would. The quote Fee has picked out is the one that did not sit right with me either. I do not think it is right to suggest that stay at home mothers are less respected by anyone, but especially not their children! That said, you are obviously very proud of being a mother and a career woman and I think that is great. I hope your new business is very successful.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Leni. If you read the post, it was one particular mother who told me her daughter didn’t respect her. I wasn’t generalising.

  4. Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    That girl who spoke like that to her mother needs a firm slap I reckon, she sounds vile.

    I think you make a valid point and express your opinions well, which is no surprise since you’re a solicitor. You are most definitely still a full time mum whether you work or not in some other capacity. I have no doubt that your life is challenging, perhaps more so than some stay at home mothers’.

    But, and there is a big but, these types of post almost always rile. If anyone from either camp is seen to pull rank over the other, the heckles will go up somewhere.

    I just wish women could give each other a break. It’s not a competition. We all let our children down in some way or at some point, I’m convinced of that.

    The reality is that some people are great parents, others need extra support. Whether they are employed or not, whether that is their choice or not. And some children are kind, thoughtful, independent and generous and others, like that girl you describe, have a horrid streak.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      You took the words right out of my mouth.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Re the girl who spoke to her mother like that – it’s possible there’s being too much read into what she said (although I agree with you Lucy!). Teenage girls can be vile to their mothers; I know my sisters and I all had our moments – and if that girl had wanted to be horrible to her mother who did happen to work, she would no doubt have said something equally upsetting but about something else entirely.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes – I agree. It seems that motherhood allows people to openly judge, which is such a shame. I suppose that’s why it’s divisive. Different strokes for different folks!

  5. Katie
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this post Belinda. Now that I have Ava
    , and know of the work and emotional tie in having a baby, I am always very impressed by working mums.

    I work freelance, and have for the last three years. I’m all too aware my statutory maternity allowance ends soon, and my business needs to be running again. I have some family help for childcare, but only for a few hours to meet clients or if I have a deadline, not for days at a time. I do not want to start paying for a nursery straight away (want a few decent fees in first), so it will be working after bedtime for me. For me it’s not been about being a positive role model, but having enough money to pay for things and some savings. I will try to change my outlook on this, as it might help my motivation. At the moment, if I’m honest I’d rather be a stay at home mum. However, I do appreciate that I am very lucky to have the flexibility of being freelance.

  6. Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I can’t agree with this post, I’m afraid. The thing I am finding difficult to process is the implication that if everyone were lucky enough to be able to work flexibly and afford a good nanny, then being a working mother would automatically be the best choice. I just don’t agree. And it’s not that I think being a stay-at-home mother is the best choice either, I think that for each individual there is a huge, difficult, guilt-inducing, sometomes desperate choice to be made, and there will always be sacrifices, but what is the best way to manage for one person, one family, is not necessarily right for everyone. But it is good to hear stories from women who have successfully made a choice they are happy with. And I certainly hope one day I’m lucky enough to be as happy in whatever decision I make.

    The one thing I do want to say is, I respect my Mum because she is one of the strongest, bravest, most amazing women I know. The reasons I believe this are nothing to do with her work life, although she did work, from necessity, for parts of my childhood, and everything to do with things she has faced and coped with in her personal life.

    KL xx

    • Leni
      Posted September 2, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      That is EXACTLY what I should have said KL. My mum is an amazing role model, a very independent, strong and level headed woman. She has always worked (although part time for some sections of mine and my sisters youth) but that is not why I respect her. I have the up most respect for how she has dealt with difficulties and always strived to make her own and mine and my sisters lives better,

  7. Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I should add that I went to an academic girls school and that school combined with the parenting I received and my life experiences so far have shaped me into the fiercely independent, strong willed woman and mother I am today. I do relate to a lot of what you say about how you want to bring your children up because that is what I want for my own child too. And I feel confident that we will deliver on that because it’s just who we are. Determined.

    Good luck with the business launch, Belinda.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Lucy. Nice to read a positive response after so many negative ones. :-)

  8. Liz
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I am going back to work in a month due to financial necessity (albeit bought upon ourselves because we decided to do the big move to a family home before T was born), and I am going back to a new job in a new company which close to home, rather than return to the London commute. I am going to work more hours though to be able to be an attractive employment prospect – I think the ability to negotiate flexible terms which truly suit you is dependent on how high up the employment ladder you are, I suspect the more junior the less room for negotiation.

    However, the part of this post which I really don’t want to believe is that as T grows up she will respect me more because I have done this. My working shouldn’t result in me earning respect from her, that should come from the love and values shown everyday irrespective of occupation. These highly intelligent and educated women you refer to could well be taking career breaks to spend time with their children whilst young – in someways I think sacrificing your career to devote yourself to your children when they need you could deserve greater respect…

    I think the crux of it is at this is not a one size fits all discussion; for some women working is always going to be the best option, for others staying at home and for a whole lot more, well, we just have to make the best of juggling everything and hope we aren’t making too many compromises.

  9. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Belinda is saying that a nanny + flexible working has to = back to work for everyone. I think she’s pointing out the benefits of doing so should you be able.

    I also think that its pretty hard to say that we respect our mothers regardless of whether they went back to work or not. The fact that they did made them the person they are (ie the people they worked with, the financial recompense etc etc all had an impact on them). We can’t ever figure out what the counterfactual would be. Obviously, I’m not saying that mums who don’t are any better or worse (or more or less deserving of respect), just that everyone’s choices have impacts that you can’t untangle from all of life’s other impacts.

    • Fee
      Posted September 2, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      It was more the generalisation and derogatory assumptions about stay at home mothers and how their actions affect their children that I had issue with.

      • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        I made no derogatory assumptions. I simply explained why I felt my choice to work is the right one for me AND for my kids. Working women are constantly judged as bad mothers. I felt the time was right to give the other point of view. We are all entitled to our own point of view aren’t we?

        • Posted September 3, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          It would have been so nice to have seen this done without judging the other side as bad mothers. All this judging is unhealthy. It’s not OK.

  10. Kat
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Hmmm.. I went to an “academic girls’ school” and had a mum who stayed at home to look after me and the notion that I didn’t respect her because of this could not be further from the truth. My mum gave up a brilliant high-powered career to have me and I have ALWAYS appreciated and admired her for it. When I was little I used to be glad she was around in the “full-time” sense because (to put it simply, I guess) we always had so much fun together and it gave us a close relationship that has continued into my adulthood.. sounds naff but we really are like best friends. And she’s definitely not a conventional “mumsy” type either. (Typical quote: “I don’t do broody. I was never broody. Didn’t have time for that crap..” Err thanks Mum! :D )

    And now I’m an adult myself I can suddenly understand what a sacrifice it must have been leaving a job she loved behind to be stuck with me! ;)

    I totally understand that “full-time” motherhood (ie not going out to work) isn’t right for everyone. (I don’t even know yet what I’m going to do if and when the time comes for us to have children!) But the thing is, it IS right for some people, and it makes me feel uncomfortable when I read things that seem to want to undermine women who make this choice. To me, in a world where so many of us are completely and utterly defined by career and status, deciding to stay at home and bring your kids up “full-time” is a really brave, gutsy decision, and I really admire people who do it.

  11. Posted September 2, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Some great comments have been made already so apologies if I repeat what’s already been said but I feel the need to get my thoughts down. I think it’s fantastic that you’ve had such a positive experience – both growing up with a working mother, and as a working mother yourself – but I really disagree with the idea that you’re narrowing your world by being a stay at home mother, or setting a bad example to your sons and daughters.

    For a start, my husband’s mum stayed at home until he and his brother were at secondary school and they are two of the most thoughtful, sensitive, kind and generous men I know. My husband and I share all the household chores, including cooking (in fact, last night he cooked a two-course dinner and did all the washing up without complaining once, because he knew I was exhausted), and he is an incredibly hands-on dad who would be quite happy to stay at home and look after our daughter full time (though he’d have a fight on his hands for that job…!). I’m not saying this is because his mum stayed at home, but just using it as an example of how staying at home doesn’t mean your son will think that women have to do everything – far from it.

    My own mum stayed at home until I was ten and my youngest sibling had started school. I didn’t grow up with any negative connotations about staying at home to look after your children – I loved having my mum around and always felt very lucky to have her there, but I never expected her to do everything for us. We had to make our own beds and lay the table, and the three of us have grown up into independent and capable adults – just as we were independent and capable children. It was only speaking to a friend the other day that I realised what a great example she’d set me – when she first went back to work she did so part time, then she set up her own business, then she went back to college to do an A’ Level, then she did a degree, then a PGCE, and now she’s a teacher, which she says is where she always wanted to be. What did I learn from this? I learnt that having children doesn’t have to mean that your life – working or otherwise – has to stop, and that even if you stay at home with your children there is time later to continue developing your career (if that’s what you want to do) – and that it’s never too late to change things. But equally, I do feel that whatever choices she made I would be proud of her, because her choices were always a combination of what was right for her, and what was right for us.

    And I think that’s fundamentally what it comes down to – doing what works for your own personal situation. But like Lucy says, we need to just give each other a break and not judge each other on whether we stay at home or go back to work. And I wonder about this “number of highly intelligent and educated women who have given up their careers to become dedicated saintly mothers” – is this how they act? Do they make you feel like you have made a selfish decision by deciding to work? If so, then that’s really rubbish and I’m sorry about that. But equally, I wonder how many stay at home mothers see themselves as dedicated and saintly – I certainly don’t know any who think or act like that.

    In an ideal world, I’d like to stay at home with my daughter until she’s of school age (doing some freelancing on the side, ideally), but I would never think that doing so made me “saintly”. I’d be doing it because personally I’ve loved the last four months of watching her grow and develop and can’t bear the thought that I won’t be able to be as hands on and involved when I go back to work, and because I’m all too aware that I will never get these early days back. But that’s just me. And this isn’t an ideal world, and that’s not a decision I’m going to be able to make, because essentially it’s going to come down to our finances, which will dictate that I have to return to work. So where will that leave me? No doubt envying women like you who want to return to work, and can do so in a way that is flexible and adaptable, and also envying women who can afford to stay at home.

    Ultimately, I think one of the best gifts I could give my daughter is in being happy with the decisions I make – whether that’s working or staying at home, and teaching her that we all make the decisions that we feel are best for our families, and that we shouldn’t judge other people for the decisions they make for their own situations.

    • Fran M
      Posted September 2, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      I think it’s a really good point you make about being happy with the decisions you have made for your particular situation – and teaching this to your daughter. Filing mentally for the future!

  12. Posted September 2, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This is another one where I agree with everyone that says we just all need to give ourselves a break. I’m pleased that your decisions have worked so well for you, but not everyone is able to negotiate flexible working hours or afford a nanny. I’m happy for you that you can, but there is no way in hell that either myself or my husband could do that – we’d be laughed right out of the office!! Working in the public sector is nothing like the private sector…

    But I think to brand women who choose to stay at home as ‘saintly’ is really unfair. They may not have the opportunities that you have and are doing it out of necessity. I have a PhD and am a full time mum – I don’t think that means that I’ve narrowed my world view or am a bad role mother to my daughter, in fact quite the opposite!! I hope I’m teaching her that right now I’m putting my career on hold because it’s the best thing for our little family and I wouldn’t want to miss out on this first year or two for anything in the world. Again, it’s a really personal choice that is right for us, but I appreciate isn’t right for everybody.

    I have to admit I do get a little bit tired and pissed off with all the mum bashing that goes on in the world today. We should celebrate that fact that we finally have these options – not slag off the people who make different choices to us!!!!! (by the way Belinda I’m not directing that at you at all, just seems to be a broken record thats playing far too often at the moment…)

  13. Fran M
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It’s fantastic that you’ve found a career which motivates you – as well as giving you the opportunity to work flexibly and also enjoy being a mother. Also, congratulations for setting up your own business and achieving what you set out to. It’s truly great to see women managing to balance home and work lives so successfully by grasping the opportunities they are given – and by using their own determination to create more for themselves.

    As you acknowledge, not everyone is lucky enough to be in the position to have a flexible career – whether that be through their upbringing, childcare options, or whatever. I’m also in agreement with your conclusion that not all children need to have a stay at home mum to become independent and capable individuals.

    However… To me, it seems that there is a judgement against women who choose to stay at home in what you’ve written here. It seems a shame that one particular personal experience has helped to shape your perception of women who make this choice.

    I’ll be having my first baby early next year. My mind is already boggling at the tangle of responsibilities, options and choices to make, to ensure that we have enough money to live while we start a family. Now, I’m an intelligent person, supported by a great partner – so we’ll work it out.

    But on top of all of that pressure and choice, implying that by choosing one childcare/work option over another will make me a better or worse person – or more – or less likely to be respected by my children? It’s unfair. It’s been said time and time again, but why don’t we give each other a break and try not to judge? If we’re managing to pick through the minefield of bringing up healthy, happy, clothed and fed kids while remaining sane and content with our lot in life, surely that’s enough?

  14. Sami
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I rarely comment and tend to be a website lurker, however this post really caught my attention. It has hit a nerve with me but I dont quite know why.

    I am currently 36 weeks pregnant with my first child. I am also a doctor. I come from a working class family and watched many a sacrifice be made by my family to get here. I am TERRIFIED at the thought of maternity leave (although I am planning to take a year) because my job (read vocation) is such a enormous part of my that I am scared I will feel like I have lost my right arm and gained a second left one.

    I am embarrassed to feel this way… and cant even begin to think of the options for returning to work. My husband, also a doctor, like me works shifts and so the only way for us to manage childcare would be for me to take a career change or employ a nanny – neither of which are financial or professional options.

    I watched my parents work so hard so provide for me, so that I could in turn provide more for my family. Like the original poster I would feel ashamed to stop working and would miss my job terribly, and I do believe it is important to provide a good role model for young ones. But wish someone could just tell me what the right option is when you simply dont have the luxury of flexible working and a nanny.

  15. Becca
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had to stew over this since it was posted this morning and had time to formulate a semi suitable response. Unfortunately since then, the comments section has grown so I want to “yes yes yes” them too.

    Firstly, your statement that staying at home mothers confine “their world to that of the home, the school and their children’s extra-curricular and social activities” has really pissed me off. I realise we should all have our opinions and they should be respected but I am REALLY STRUGGLING when you speak in such derrogatory terms as to imply that these women (or men should they decide to stay at home) become robots that exist for their children only whereas you and women that choose to go back to work are (and I realise you didn’t say this and its my interpretation of what you say above) better.

    I’ve read this and I think you are genuinely lucky or were smart when you were 18 about the type of law you went into. I work in a City firm and I’m never going to be able to do my work at home or set up on my own. For most city lawyers, they have to be in the office as part of a team, and I find your proposal that women “move jobs to negotiate better hours” a complete and utter joke. It just doesn’t work like that for 95% of women in the city. This is something society (and firms) need to fix. And I’m talking more than a nodding reference to it every so often. I’m lucky in that my firm is actually pretty good in comparison to many others but there are plenty that are just plain CRAP with anything beyond 6 months paid leave for maternity. Posts like this infuriate me because they imply that it is possible to balance my career (staying in the City as there are many that would say going somewhere smaller is a compromise in itself – I’m not saying you have, I’m saying that often “regional” or “smaller” firms are seen as a female compromise) and my life as a wife and being a mother and I really don’t think its possible. And it needs fixing unless society wishes to reaffirm not being able to have it all to another generation.

  16. Posted September 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    As my own mum put it so very well on these very peachy pages, you just can’t have it all. And she’s so very right. The best we can do is find a solution that works for our families, but overall makes us happy (because happy mum = happy family, a phrase I was told over and over again during F’s first few weeks and now I hear myself repeating again and again because it is SO TRUE).

    However, the fact that we can even begin to find a solution that works for us means that we are in a tiny minority – the vast majority of people in this country earn less than £25,000 a year, a sum which would only just cover full-time childcare and some short travel costs. As Fee said above, sometimes the ‘choices’ are not choices at all.

  17. Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how much I have to add on top of everyone elses thoughts, but I’m not a parent and probably never will be so here’s my outsider’s rambly thoughts on the subject:

    1) People who have multiple children who can afford to pay for a nanny/wraparound childcare/private school are unusual as far as I am aware. I’ve hit the age where friends are starting to have families and have been shocked at how much parents pay for childcare. One of my colleagues told me today that she has £70 extra a month working, because childcare for her son and commuting costs almost as much as her take home salary (she earns around the national average). I’m sorry, but if you are a solicitor then chances are you’re earning considerably more than the majority of women your age and are undoubtedly able to make more choices than that majority. Take, for example, a friend of mine who is a Midwife. She has two young children, but has had to give up working as she and her partner can’t afford childcare for them. It’s actually more financially efficient for her to give up her passion than to carry on working. That’s bonkers. I totally understand what you’re saying about negotiating your terms, but clearly that’s not for everyone.

    2) My mum worked, mostly for financial reasons. She was a nurse, and there were quite a few evenings when I spent evenings in the staff room at the hospice doing homework because my dad’s train had been cancelled or my mum’s friend was too ill to look after me. The thing is though, I don’t think I respected my mum for working. It was just the way it was. I respect her for doing something she loved and was passionate about – something she was good at and enjoyed. If she’d returned to work and hated it, spent hours clockwatching, then she probably should have stayed at home, enjoyed it and been good at it (if she could afford it). I have just as much respect for the charity work she did in her spare time, if not more.

    3) Actually, while I think about it… what about stay at home dads? I’d actually say that they were more of a role model to boys (and girls) than a working mum. My dad was made redundant and looked after me – I actually have a hell of a lot of respect for him for NOT working for a year before I started school. He had the chance to be a hands on father to a three year old, instead of sending me to nursery. Not many blokes in the 80s would have done that. Kudos to him.

    4) I went to a school very similar to the one your daughter goes to. Highly academic, prestigious, but cost a fortune to go to. I was the scholarship kid, and hated it because of the sense of entitlement that most of the other girls had. That vile teenager your friend told you about was typical of many of the girls I went to school with (although for the ones whose mothers did work, replace mother with “cleaner”…!). I’d put it down to a combination of having never been told off or put in their place, and pushing teenage boundaries. Both of those need to happen regardless of whether a mother works. I suspect though that most of my former classmates will give up working because 10 years after we left school, many of them are doing much more high powered jobs than me, work incredibly long hours, and having a child is probably the only time that they have had to do exactly what they want to do since they were 14 years old.

    Ultimately though, for me it comes down to two things – whether you can afford your choice, and whether you want to go back to work or not. I suspect that for most people, the former has more sway than the latter.

    • Becca
      Posted September 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      When I have a baby I’m calling it after YOU.

      YES YES and YES **just more eloquantly than me**

      The fact is that, in our household, my husband is much more likely to be the one that stays at home or works part time because his salary is lower than mine, and his job more flexible and it wouldn’t make much financial sense for him to work AND pay childcare. The fact is that this makes me INCREDIBLY JEALOUS but I recognise the benefits of having one parent be at home for longer.

      I’d also like to point out that I knew one partner who went back to work after two weeks of maternity leave i.e. the statutory minimum because she didn’t have maternity benefit (self employment/partnership etc). She would come to work IN TEARS because her children had said things like “why are you never here” and “I love [the Nanny] but I only like you a bit” and “you don’t care because you’re never here”. Yes, children say things they don’t mean, but you can’t assume that all working mothers are happy as larry about leaving their children in the care of someone else and that all children are well balanced. For this particular person, it was a case of necessity and paying the bills because she was a single parent and having a Nanny was less than she would make working.

  18. Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Whilst the sentiment of all parents* being full-time parents is spot on, I think you’ve chosen some unfortunate phrases which maybe don’t come across too well. I don’t even have children yet, but the sentence that got my back up was “highly intelligent and educated women who have given up their careers to become dedicated saintly mothers”. I’m intelligent (at least, I think so!) and educated. But I would give anything to be able to stay at home with my future children until they go to school. It’s highly unlikely to be feasible, but I would do it in a heartbeat if we could make it work.

    Maybe these women are intelligent enough to have a long term strategy? Maybe it’s a considered career break and maybe they have clear plans on returning to work once they’ve raised their children. Maybe they haven’t, but it’s their choice.

    In my experience, happy and well-adjusted children tend to have happy and well-adjusted parents. Not working parents or stay-at-home parents. Just parents who are doing what they can to make it work and could maybe do with a break from all the people judging them for it.

    • Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      I literally just shouted YES at the top of my voice to your last paragraph!!! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  19. Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I was aware when I wrote this post that it would be likely to be misinterpreted by many and that it would probably attract far more negative comments than positive. I think, however, that it is sad that this is the case. I made it very clear that I was writing about my own personal experiences and that I was well aware that my own personal experiences have necessarily informed my opinion. I am also well aware that the stay at home mothers I know are unlikely to be typical. However, I have never read a single blog post about this issue or, indeed, other controversial issues which are entirely non-partisan. We are shaped by our personalities, our experiences, our financial circumstances, our education and we are necessarily going to think differently about what is right and what is wrong. It was not my intention to be derogatory or to offend but I was aware many of you would find my post both these things. Perhaps if you read it again you may simply see a woman who is doing what she believes is right for herself and her family and why she has made those choices. When I talk about saintly mothers it is because that is how the media and many women on sites such as this tend to portray themselves – as “sacrificing” themselves and their careers for the benefit of their children. I don’t want to go to war with other women. Actually what I would love is for this to stop just being an issue for women. Women give birth but actually both men and women are equally capable of bringing up children and many men would also love the opportunity to give up work and stay home with their kids I’m sure. In fact, if more men did it, it would be less damaging to women and their careers as it wouldn’t just be them who were required to make these difficult choices.

    • Posted September 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      While I do see that you are a mother doing what you believe is right for your children (and the vast majority of mothers are doing exactly that), I’m afraid your post did come across as a bit offensive to those who aren’t working mothers. When you talk about saintly stay at home mothers in your post, it isn’t with the caveat that you’re only saying this because it’s how the media portrays them; you write as though that is your own personal view (and perhaps it is – and that’s ok but don’t get annoyed about the hackles rising on those who don’t agree with you). You do write as though, for example, the only reason your son is nicely independent and well rounded is because you go out to work and that all stay at home mothers are domestic doormats who pick up and tidy after other household members.

      I do agree with the title of the post but I also think so much more could have been made of it without sniping at those who choose to or have to do it differently.

      • Posted September 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Francis I love you. This is what I wanted to say, but couldn’t get across.

    • Posted September 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I think this is a brilliant comment Belinda.

  20. Posted September 2, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to comment, since my situation clearly not what you are referring to, but after thinking about it for a bit changed my mind for precisely that reason- there are a million different circumstances that lead to a million different ways of doing things, and it’s unfair to assume anything about the people living them out.

    I’m not even a at-home-mum, I’m a housewife. There are a million ways to dress this up, but essentially I stay at home and clean and tidy and cook and watch daytime TV whilst my husband goes out to work. We moved to the US for my husband’s job, and I couldn’t work for the first 6 months due to Visa restrictions, was too ill to work for the next 3 months and am now very pregnant, so getting a job at this stage just isn’t practical. This was my decision, Like Amanda, I have 2 degrees- I’m educated and reasonably intelligent..

    I’ll stay at home for the next year at least. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to make everything work for you exactly the way you wanted it to, but like many of the other commenters, it’s just not feasible for us. Childcare costs are crippling in Los Angeles and my previous career as a nurse isn’t easily transferable, meaning I’d be taking a much lower paid post if I returned to work. I’m not moaning about any of this at ALL. I LOVE my life here, and don’t feel like I’ve settled or ‘opted-out’ in any way. We moved to California for a better quality of life, and that’s what my husband and I have. Our baby will benefit from that too.

    I don’t think that staying at home has made me any less interesting (although I doubt I was that interesting to start with, all things considered) and my interests certainly haven’t narrowed to just cooking and cleaning. I doubt that will change when the baby arrives either.

    I am not defined by the way I spend my day, but rather who I am as a person. You are obviously driven and ambitious, which are amazing qualities, and that is part of who you are. I’m not really either of those things, but I am strong and focused in other ways. And if my daughter doesn’t respect me for that then I won’t have done my job as a parent properly.

    • Katielase
      Posted September 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      “I am not defined by the way I spend my day, but rather who I am as a person.”

      This. This this this this this. The whole last paragraph in fact… *waves flags of vehement agreement*

      (Yes, flags of vehement agreement are a thing now)

      KL x

  21. Alison
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Wow this is a timely post for me given that I had my first discussion with my boss this afternoon about coming back to work after maternity leave. I want to go back part-time and he’s for it but doesn’t think my company will allow it. So we’ll see.

    I’ve spent the last couple of hours panicking about what to do if they say no. I love my job, have worked really hard to get where I am and was excited about returning to work in a few months. But I really don’t want to go back full-time and not be around for my son as much as I want. I know if I go back full-time I’ll really resent being there and the thought of missing out on my wee boy growing up really upsets me. But I don’t think we can afford for me to quit and I don’t know if I want to be a full-time mum. I’ve been doing it full-time for the last six months and I’ve loved it but I always saw it as a finite, precious time to be treasured. I also don’t think my world has narrowed since being a full-time mum, if anything it’s grown (I never knew the words to Wind the Bobbin Up till I became a mum ;) ).

    It’s so tough balancing things and I know full-time working mums who really struggle and others who love their jobs but make the most of family time. All mums (parents) are just doing their best given their circumstances. We should stop the judging.

  22. Posted September 2, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure where to begin with this; I’m going to have to come back later and drop my thoughts in. The blanket assumption that this is what is best for everyone makes me uneasy though; as does the idea that the values your children have can only be gained by having a mother who is out at work all day.

    Plus, as the story of your own mother shows, being a stay at home mother doesn’t simply mean becoming a saintly martyr to the washing machine and the mop and I wonder what gives you that idea?

  23. Posted September 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Belinda,

    I totally agree with your comment: All mums are full time mums. I went back to work full time when my daughter was 3 months, and she went to nursery. The nursery provided her with a great structured environment, and work allowed me to keep my sanity as well as allow me to qualify as a lawyer (funnily enough!). However many people judged me and did not shy away from letting me know their opinion.

    There is nothing I hate more than women stating they are “full time mums”, when they mean stay at home mums. I only work 35h+ per week, yet I am considered full time in my role at work, and I never switch off from being a mum. My mother worked full time when she had me, and my brother. She stopped working for 8 years when she had my sister as she had three babies under the age of 3 by then (!). Having therefore had a working mother, and a stay at home mother, I can see the advantages to both (both for parent and for the children).

    I truly believe that each woman (and man as dads are equally important) needs to find what works best for them. Children are amazingly adaptable! However being a parent is hard enough as it is without other parents judging one another as to what is the best way to be a parent. A little more solidarity and support from one another wouldn’t help…. Well done for voicing your opinion on the matter, from one full time lawyer/part-time mother to another! ;)

    I am currently on maternity leave with my second child, and I need to decide what to do about returning to work as our current issue is whether I can afford to work due to the high cost of childcare… Doesn’t seem right!

  24. Posted September 2, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    It’s a real shame the unnecessary sniping and use of “saintly” takes away from the title of this post. The relentless judging on this subject is exhausting and unnecessary- the comments give me hope we’re calling out the bullshit. I hope it makes you rethink that presenting your working mum story doesn’t need to include digs and generalisations about stay at home mums to give it weight.

  25. Posted September 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Fiona thank you! If the tone of my post upset people I guess it is because I wrote it having felt working mothers have been under fairly constant attack and judgment by the SAHM brigade on forums and in the media for to long that I felt compelled to give the other side of the argument. The number of derogatory assumptions that have been made about me and other working mothers are too numerous to mention. It is a divisive topic and I guess I was opening myself up for further attack by writing this but I stand by what I have said. It was not my intention to offend anyone but I guess it was inevitable that some would be offended.

    • Katielase
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I think the problem is that although it’s great to hear from people with different experiences and different viewpoints, and it truly is good to hear about your story, too much of the discourse on this topic, including this post, includes words that have judgemental connotations, words like virtuous.

      Just because someone has judged you and your decision doesn’t justify any use of judgemental language in reverse. If everyone would stop judging one another, this wouldn’t be such a divisive topic (and it shouldn’t be). I just feel that your experience with stay at home parents making derogatory comments about your decsions has made you defensive, and therefore you’ve communicated this in a way that has caused some upset where it was not necessarily intended.

      KL x

      • Posted September 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        I just want to be clear I meant from both sides. Words like virtuous and saintly and brigade just don’t help. Instead of attacking either side it would be so much healthier and helpful if we could talk about the differences constructively. This is why I never go anywhere near forums. There are pros and cons, sacrifices and gains for every single way of parenting and bringing up a family, if we could all be a little kinder and a little slower to judge it would make life so much easier.

        The family landscape has changed so dramatically since our grandparents and even our parents time that we are all changing the rules and trying to make it work as best we can. There isn’t a perfect answer. We’re human. Have you ever met a perfect human? (Erm, no, you haven’t) which means there’s never been a perfect parent so whether someone works or doesn’t is, in the scheme of things, completely irrelevant. Isn’t it?

  26. Posted September 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I think the other thing is that AOW isn’t the mainstream media, nor is it a parenting forum – and I haven’t seen posts here that are a sustained attack on working mothers by stay at home mums. For the most part, whenever the topic comes up it is dealt with sensitively and non judgementally. I think that’s why the post got the response it did – because it seemed out of the blue and people didn’t recognise working mums as ‘hard done by’ or stay at home mums as ‘saintly’ in the same way perhaps as if the post had been written on a parenting forum.

    Now that Belinda has explained the background to the post I can sort of understand why she wrote it (and I think if the post itself had said that it was a reaction to the media/parenting forum debates etc then it might have had a slightly different response – although as others have said the use of language doesn’t make it clear that these are media quotes rather than her own opinions). But… I’m just not sure the fight was being had here in the same way as it has been on parenting forums etc so everyone was a bit taken aback by it.

    Personally? I found Belinda’s work experiences encouraging – I’m a lawyer, I’m about to have a baby and I’m being made redundant at the same time as going on maternity leave so I’ll need to start from scratch at finding a new job at some point next year. I think it’s great that she was able to find satisfying roles where she could work flexibly (although I recognise this isn’t always possible in different sectors/locations). I hope I’m as lucky when it comes to it. (NB I think I am going to stay off the parenting forums… unless anyone can recommend one that is lovely and sane like AOW)

    Parents go back to work or stay at home after having babies for all sorts of complicated reasons – I’d expect that financial reasons rate quite highly for most people; some people can’t wait to get back to work while others can’t imagine not being at home. Everyone’s situation is different and it’s unhelpful on both sides of the debate to use judgemental language and to make snap decisions about people whose circumstances you don’t know at all. It doesn’t mean the debate can’t take place.

    K x

  27. Posted September 8, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    There is a genuine reason why topics such as this raise so many hackles. It’s called cognitive dissonance which is a term from psychology to describe the discomfort we feel if our actions and our beliefs don’t marry up and why we therefore feel the need to vehemently defend our choices especially when those choices were perhaps not easy to make or when they were against expectations. I explained this a bit more in my comment on the “are you kidding me?” Post.

  28. Posted September 8, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Not kidding, judging! Damn predictive text!

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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