Is it just me or is this so called “mummy wars” subject getting tired and boring. I can’t help but think that every time an article is printed and mentions “mummy wars” that it just perpetuates the notion that mums are in battle with one another over their choices.
Yesterday this article by Alex Carlton fired up a lot of people. It paints a picture that “around the country, tertiary-educated women who grew up steeped in girl power and feminism have turned their backs on a career.” The article suggests that educated, intelligent women are ditching the boardroom in masses to stay at home and raise children in between quilting, baking and blogging.
The article quickly prompted social media frenzy. I found myself in a state of conflict whilst reading the article – nodding my head in furious agreement in parts – and being offended in other parts.
Feminist and author Anne Summers is exasperated by the so-called ‘domestic revival.’ In her soon-to-be-released book The Misogyny Factor, Summers writes scathingly of a new generation of middle-class “yummy mummies”: “How could it have come to this – and so quickly? Not even a generation after the women’s movement fought for the right for married women to keep their jobs, to have equal access to promotion, and to be paid the same as men, scores of women are walking away and saying, ‘We’d rather be Mummies.'”
The cynicism and condemnation expressed by Summers offends me. The tone is so condescending and suggests that a woman is letting her team down in some way by deciding to be at home with her family.
As a mother, you are under constant assault about your choices and there’s no shortage of issues that get women hot under the collar. We are not just divided over the breast or bottle, or organic over processed, or private over public, but how we choose to contribute to our family and society. No choice seems to provoke more angst, guilt and judgment than the working mum/stay-at-home mum decision.
Four years ago I took maternity leave from my position as Event Manager for the Asia-Pacific region of a global software company. I left at the peak of my career. My boss had high hopes for me, and suggested that I would be her natural successor as Marketing Manager for the region. In a male-dominated and heavily misogynist environment this was a great compliment. I loved my job. I travelled frequently; I earned a good salary and my role was varied and exciting. It wasn’t without its stresses, but they were manageable and I enjoyed it very much.
I remember when I told my boss that I was pregnant. Having just been given a bonus I felt nervous and I had every reason to. Her response was fairly cold. I felt like I’d disappointed her in some way; that I was not the career focussed woman she thought I was. I felt like she lost respect for me in some way. Like many women who approach maternity leave, I began to feel undervalued – that my contribution to the company was compromised by my desire to have a family. I no longer a felt like a valued employee.
I have many friends that work. Some have returned to work quickly after having children. Others have enjoyed a period of time at home and then returned to work with more “flexible” and family friendly arrangements. Others have simply decided that they are happier and a better mother by working, and of course, there are some who simply have to work (it’s not a preferred choice) as it’s a financially necessity.
For me, I stay at home because I can. I also stay at home because I want to – it makes me happy. And I also stay at home because I am the best influence on my children and I want to be the one to give them the best head start in life, and I am the best-qualified person to do so. Research shows that how children are raised in the first 5 years of life has a profound effect on how they will go on to live the rest of their lives.
Sometimes I feel that this choice is misunderstood, scorned or criticised. In many social situations I have had to answer to comments like “Don’t you go a bit demented being at home all day with your kids”?”, “Doesn’t your brain feel like mush?” and “What do you do all day?”
The truth is – yes – sometimes my brain does feel like it has turned to mush. My knowledge of current affairs is at an all-time low. I “borrow” my knowledge from small snippets of talk back radio, or glancing at the news headlines on my way to twitter. I have small snatches of time and I confess that I have little to contribute about world news or politics at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my brains.
Mothers come in many moulds and every mother is entitled to make a decision about what works best for her family. Being a stay-at-home mother does not mean a woman is less of a feminist, has less ambition, or is less intelligent than a mother in the paid workforce. And being a working mum does not mean that a woman is less of a “mother”.
Let’s celebrate the choices we have today and support women instead of condemning them. And please, enough of the term “mummy wars”…. and “yummy mummies!”
Are you a working mum or stay-at-home mum or a combination of both? What motivates your choices? Do you feel like women are divided over this decision? I’d love to hear your thoughts.