Do women really want to be a stay-at-home mum?

This week I came across an an interesting chain of news items and commentary on the topic of unemployed single fathers,  mothers with small children and the issue of work.  Labour MP Frank Field started the debate in the Guardian on the 28th June.  Michael White of the Guardian commented on it the following day.  But the person who really caught my eye was Rose Murray-West, a blogger for the Telegraph who continued the debate this week having seen the outcome of a survey in the “popular” Grazie Magazine.

Field, who has been labelled a “Labour Maverick” elsewhere in the Guardian, believes that:  “The reason why we have so many single mums is because we have so many single dads who cannot fulfil what most single mothers want from their partners, and the children from their fathers.”  He wants to create a state where women feel able to stay at home “in their private domain” as their responsible partner will be out at work, earning a stable income.  Almost as a caveat he adds that mothers can “take on work when they think it is right”. 

The Telegraph decided to explore / exploit the issue of the stay-at-home mum.  The Grazie survey was about women in general, but Rose Murray-West discussed the results of this survey in the context of a mum with a pre-schooler.

Apparently, one in three women earn more than their husbands / partners; one in 10 had a house-husband, or rather a “cross-over” parent.  (What this means in reality, is that Dad is responsible for some of the more traditional tasks such as dropping and picking up the kids from school.) 

Ironically, the Grazie survey highlighted the views of highly-paid women – exactly the kind of mother that Frank Field claimed was contributing to the lack of understanding around his issue of single unemployed fathers.

And my perspective?   I come from this from two angles – personal and professional.

Personal:  I tried to be a stay-at-home mum and I lasted for 5 weeks.  At that time, my daughter was coming up the age of 3 and my little boy was only 4 months old.  I sucked at being a stay-at-home mum, and if I’m completely honest, I think it made me depressed.   Luckily, a fabulous local nursery came to my rescue and offered my daughter a place for three days a week, and (with relief) my flirtation with being a stay-at-home mum ended.

I enjoy work, and I (still) haven’t got the work-life balance right: I want to spend more time with my kids. However my work is interesting and I’m often distracted with thoughts of work when I’m with the kids.  As my husband pointed out to me earlier this week, I could be classified as a work-a-holic.

I see what my kids get to experience at their nursery (where I am a Governor) and I believe that they have a richer learning environment than anything I would be capable of offering.  Being a stay-at-home mum was never an option for me.   And yes, my husband and I do have a “cross-over” parenting relationship.  And I’m proud of how close my children are to their father because of this.

Professional: I became very interested in the concept of the working mum when I found myself in this classification.  I’ve blogged elsewhere that my friends couldn’t understand why I’d gone back to work so soon and within months of doing so, I found that I’d hit a glass ceiling. 

It took me some time to come to terms with it, and then to find a way to break-through.  On my journey I set up Minerva’s Mind with another coach who was in a similar place in her journey:  we (quite grandly) aimed to work with women to empower them to make conscious decisions with their lives.

In essence, we were working with women with preschoolers who had reached a cross-roads in their lives.  This ranged from:

– those who wanted help transitioning back into the workplace following maternity leave and needed help in managing the glass ceiling.

– those who were happy to be stay-at-home mums, but had recently come to the realisation they wanted “something more”. This didn’t necessarily mean work.  They wanted support in working out what that something was.

– Stay-at-home mums who had become “mumpreneurs”: Mums with enterprising spirit who were trying to juggle the role of a full-time mum with the desire to make some money from a fantastic idea.

What was apparent is that I came across very few mums who were truly satisfied with being a full-time mum.  But there are mums who are satisfied; they embrace the role and offer incredible learning opportunities for their children.  I respect this group of mums as they represent something that I could never achieve.

There is also a very large group of mums who were investing a lot of time in a work-related activity and getting very little reward (monetary-wise) in return.  However, they felt that they were engaged in an activity that was beyond being “just a mum” and this made them feel valued.   This is the group that probably benefitted most from Minerva’s Mind.

So, there may be an issue with the unemployed single father, but my point is that even in a stable two-partner relationship, the mum will most likely want more than just to stay at home “in the private domain”.  Until Frank Field hears this, I don’t think his message about unemployed single father is going to have much credibility.

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