In Defence of The Stay At Home Mother

The Guardian, and subsequently Cherie Blair, have proved quite effective in allowing me to perfect my procrastination skills, I must admit. But, some things do need saying. Cherie Blair, according to The Guardian, has been criticising women who choose “rich husbands and put their children before their career”.

Now, the Stay At Home Parent argument is one that has caused a huge conflict in myself. As a lone parent, being a stay at home parent means that I’d be reliant on the benefit system. However, as an unqualified individual (I left my first university degree in 2005, after a Marxist moment, in which I realised my career path at the time wasn’t about making people happy, but instead, about making profits) I’d be destined to a life of low paid jobs. My mother, during my visit to see her after leaving Mini-Dragon’s father, couldn’t work out which daughter would be more disgraceful; the one reliant on income support until Mini-Dragon started school, or the one who would be working every hour God (that’s what we call Tesco these days, right?) sent to provide Mini-Dragon with a decent childhood. So, I did what any logical person in that situation would do, and headed back to university. Shortly after, my mother turned grey…

Anyway, my point here is that mothers, whether lone parents or partnering with their child’s father, are criticised at every available turn. When my sister-in-law expressed a desire to return to work, my mother protested strongly about the idea of my nephew (aged nine months at the time) being put into childcare at such a young age. My sister-in-law was criticised and guilt tripped about returning to work, despite my brother’s job barely covering the bills. Yet no focus was placed on my brother. Women are, at every turn of their life, to be criticised. Men, instead, are to be praised.

To an extent, I understand Cherie Blair’s criticism of stay at home mothers. But this is a small extent. Instead of feeling that stay at home mothers should be criticised, I feel that the work industry, which makes it so difficult for mothers to return to work should they choose to stay at home for any length of time, should be criticised. The work industry, which makes it more difficult for working mothers to progress, should be criticised for regularly holding mothers back in the workplace. We’re told we have equality in the workplace, that mothers cannot be held back because they have children. However, it doesn’t always happen.

Before Mini-Dragon came along, I worked for a retail chain for a short while. Around three months into the job, a chance for a promotion arose. I found myself up against a single mother and a woman in her 50’s. Being in my early twenties, with no outside commitments, I was granted the promotion. The single mother, I still believe, was more qualified; after all, the promotion was in baby sales, and what did I, a non-parent at the time, know about sitting up all night with a teething baby, or how to treat colic? I mean, raising a child is no mean feat.

When my brother was made redundant earlier this year, he elected to become a stay-at-home parent. For various reasons, he ended up returning to work last week, but upon his telling of his plans to become a stay-at-home parent to our mother, he was immediately asked why he wouldn’t be looking for work, so his wife couldn’t drop out of work. Luckily, he defended his wife’s decision to work. But over the following few weeks, he found himself constantly praised and patronised for being a stay-at-home parent. He found mothers marvelling at how he could possibly manage potty training his son, the laundry, and even his ability to cook full meals on his own came under marvel. This was despite the fact he’d previously been a chef…

We still see raising children as “women’s work”. Which is why we allow it to be criticised so extensively. But we also see women who choose to put their careers in the spotlight as “neglecting” their children in one manner or another. It isn’t feminism to criticise a woman who stays at home to raise her children. What we need to do is begin to see the value in women staying at home, and view them in the same positive light in  which we view stay at home fathers. Once we stop berating women, no matter their choice with regards to work, we’ll see a greater equality in the workplace, with mothers who choose to work finding it easier to progress through their work.

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