Belfast Telegraph

Why stay-at-home mums shouldn't regard themselves as second class

By Jane Graham

Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young says that a woman who gives up work to look after her children is destined to 'become a non-person'.

Speaking as someone who returned to her job six months after having her daughter, she has concluded that 'work used to be what we did - now it's who we are.'

These opinions come from a BBC2 documentary Young is currently researching, and I really hope the self-congratulatory tone of her words makes more sense when heard in context.

But, like many high-profile women with wonderfully fulfilling, high-paying and unusually flexible jobs, she seems keen to regularly make the point that stay-at-home mums are likely to be deeply frustrated, dangerously 'child-centric' and probably jealous of the likes of her.

Young had a go at full-time mothers last year as well, accusing them of being motivated not by love but a desire to produce perfect specimens - these women had a narcissistic vision of their children as 'extensions of their own success,' she suggested.

This seems a particularly cold notion of motherhood, as if Young can't quite believe that some women actually enjoy hanging out with their kids when they're young, and feel it's important to physically be there for most of their early lives.

It is, however, true that stay-at-home mothers - especially those who previously had demanding, exciting jobs - often feel downgraded by the rest of society when they come into contact with it.

I took a good amount of time off when my children were born and I could sense it happening to me - the feeling that people weren't listening to me the way they used to, the flyaway look in their eyes when I told them what I 'did'.

Friends in the same situation admitted they'd started apologising for themselves when they offered an opinion, especially among men, beginning sentences with phrases like 'Sorry, I just think..' or 'I'm obviously not an expert but..' while inside they were screaming 'I can make mincemeat of you on this!'

The trend to define and value people entirely in relation to their work is damaging to a cohesive, compassionate society, especially as we tend to rate those with powerful and/or lucrative jobs as holding more significant opinions.

It's this all-pervasive attitude which has seen us genuflect to idiotic celebrities and ruthless corporate bigwigs - why we're more interested in what Coleen Rooney or Simon Cowell think than the best, brightest and most socially-aware minds in our schools, universities and hospitals.

And in contrast to the horror stories so popular in women's weekly magazines and parenting websites, I'd like to assure any mums-to-be that there is time between changing nappies and freezing pureed broccoli to read novels and newspapers, watch films and keep an eye on politics. I personally found it easier to stay up to date and informed when I was 'just a mum' than I do now. Though to be fair, I never did puree broccoli.

It takes a brave and self-possessed woman to acknowledge that most of society regards full-time mothers as second class citizens, but to push on and do it anyway because it feels right.

Women like Young don't have a monopoly on ambition - clinching a personal ambition to be a loving, listening, present parent with unbreakable connections to her well-rounded, happy kids is a rather more impressive achievement than accepting a well-paid job interviewing celebrities on the radio. The fact that no one even notices you doing it, just makes it all the more admirable.


From Belfast Telegraph