There’s no shortage of opinions about women who stay at home to raise their children “versus” the working mother, but surely women should be able to make these kind of life changing decisions without feeling criticised or condemned.
When will you return to work?
I was asked this question countless times by all kinds of people, including total strangers, before my maternity leave had even begun.
Pregnant me assumed that when my precious year of maternity leave was up, I would stop breastfeeding, get my baby into a routine, sort out childcare, and be back in my role, as that was the done thing. Fast forward to the end of that year and this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Neither I nor my baby wanted to stop breastfeeding, routine (especially that involving sleep) was very questionable and there was no way I wanted to leave him with total strangers (and pay through the roof for the privilege thank you very much). However, I still planned my return to work, as that was what everyone else was doing.
So when my employer refused my flexible working request (on very questionable grounds), I had mixed feelings, but handing in my notice was the only option.
But what will you do? When will you look for another job?
The questions started again. As if looking after my son full time wasn’t doing anything. Bringing up children is one of the most important roles in the world. Yet in our current careerist times, it is no longer considered ‘enough’.
In 1993, there were 2.9 million stay at home mothers in Britain. Now, there is almost a million fewer, despite childcare costs having risen massively. In fact, as reported by the Family Childcare Trust, childcare costs have risen 27% since 2009, but wages have largely remained the same. The majority of British mothers are returning to work even if almost all of their income then goes towards childcare.
There is a general assumption that mums return to work because they can’t afford not to and mums stay at home because they can afford not to work. Although this may be the case for some, it is rarely that straight forward, particularly considering the current cost of childcare. Women return to work for all kinds of reasons; for status, to progress in their career or because they like working.
So what do you do all day? Do you not get bored? Surely you need something else?
These are just some of the personal and downright rude questions loaded with assumptions that I still get asked frequently by all kinds of people. Family members, friends, ex colleagues and total strangers.
And the assumptions. O the assumptions!
She must be loaded. She’s lazy. She has so much time on her hands.
None of which are true, I can assure you. We are very privileged that we can afford to live on one salary, but we have had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to do that. However, these are the same sacrifices that we would have had to make if I had returned to work, as the majority of my wage would have only paid for my son’s childcare. But this doesn’t stop people assuming and even asking about our finances.
I’m not saying that I will never return to the workforce, but at the moment I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I feel liberated and proud that I can give my son all of me at a stage in his life where he so desperately needs it. I love spending every single day with him, the good and the bad. Looking after him is fun, creative and deeply rewarding, but it’s also exhausting, frustrating and challenging.
Surely women should be able to make these kinds of choices about their lives without feeling criticised or condemned, but the issue of working mothers vs stay at home is an age old one that is fraught with judgement, guilt and assumptions.
More recently, there has been a huge societal shift which embraces working motherhood and leaves stay at home mums out in the cold. I often hear people admiring working mothers;
‘Two kids, a brilliant full time career AND she looks fabulous– how does she do it?’
No one ever asks me how I do it.
But maybe it’s time we stop asking ‘How does she do it?’ and instead celebrate how she does do it, however that may be. Us mums are all just trying to do what is best for our families, working or not.