Friday, 6 April 2012

Motherhood – why do we undervalue the most important job of all?

Last week I met up with a mother from school.  She is married to a British man, but was born and raised in the Middle East.  She is highly educated, intelligent, well read and cosmopolitan.  She speaks four languages, has degrees from universities in two different countries, neither of which were undertaken in her first language.  In short, she is one smart cookie.

So, what does she DO exactly?  Well, she looks after her three children.  She cooks their meals, arranges their social life, ferries them too and from school, arranges their holidays, helps them with their homework, entertains them during the holidays, buys their clothes, clears up after them, shops for them, takes care of them when they’re ill etc etc.  Yes, all those things that a mother does….  And is that it?  Yes!  It’s a full time job. 

But what I found so interesting about her, was that having told me all about her early life and studies, she told me straight out that her ‘job’, in fact her ‘life’ was about her children.  Despite her obvious intellect, she sees raising her children as the most important thing she can do.  She wants to study more, but this would be for her personal interest and would not encroach on her responsibilities to her children.  Within her culture, it is the correct and appropriate thing to do.  In fact, to leave three children at home and go back to work, would be questionable to her society.  

Now, before you start shrieking the obvious at me - I do of course realise that my friend is in the very fortunate financial position that she does not ‘have’ to work.  I know there are countless women out there who would love to be that financial position.

And before the other half of you start yelling at me…  I know there are women who have worked hard to build up a career, want to go back to work and have ensured that their children will not miss out, by providing suitable childcare arrangements. 

This post is not about the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of the ‘should mothers go back to work’ debate.

The point I’m trying to make is that I think she is lucky that she is not faced with the issues that many of my friends have.  I am talking about the women friends I have who have chosen to stay at home with their kids, often accepting a reduced standard of living in order to do what feels the ‘right’ thing to them.  These women seem to have the same conversation over and over again.  It goes like this:

“So, how many kids do you have?”

“Oh, just the three.”

“How lovely.  But what do you DO?”

Instantly, these women are put on the back foot.  Their role running the home, looking after the kids and being a wife are instantly given zero respect and value. 

And I know this, because it has been said to me too, on many occasions.  Why do people always ask ‘what do you do’ as if being a mother is not a job?  Why does our western society seem to place a higher value on a job that earns us an income, than the role of  ‘mother’?

Why can’t people say:

“You stay at home and look after the kids?  How fantastic.  What a great job you do.”

And why do I feel so under attack when people say “but what do you DO?”  Well, I’m the product of a western society that is mixed up and messed up.  I have a brain that I want to engage.  It’s one of the reasons I blog.  Well, that and the fact that I’m trying to re-establish the career that I gave up to be a full time mother.  Being divorced, I no longer have the luxury of a husband who can ‘provide’ for me whilst I care for my children.  Neither do I have the career path I once had.  And I know that I’m not alone in this conundrum.

But whilst I am forging ahead, doing the best that I can, all I want (and I believe I am speaking for many other women I know) is a bit of respect.  Surely our western attitude towards women is about giving women ‘rights’.  The right to choose our path without being looked down on.

I do realise that in many other countries women do not have the same educational opportunities or social choices that my friend has had.  I have no doubt that some people will think it a waste that a woman should have had such a good education, only to ‘give it up’ and look after her kids. 

Personally, I think that if our societies’ attitudes met up in the middle somewhere, we would all be a lot happier.


  1. Let me tell you a little about me. I have various degrees in business, I have a diploma in wedding planning and event management an I have ran my own brick and mortar shop and online business for 8 years before mental illness stole away my identity.

    While I was working and gaining a career for myself my three children attended school, and after school clubs and nurseries and we even had a child minder. Someone else was in respect raising my 3 young children, as I had to work. For financial reasons I worked 9 hour days 7 days of the week, there was not much time for home activities and my child minder was the on who witnessed my babies first steps and first words.

    As a career mum I was flying, we had the large 5 bedroomed home, the new car and the designer clothes, yes we had it all. But I was not happy. As a mother I had failed and this led to severe depression and finally a complete nervous breakdown.

    After finally leaving an abusive marriage I folded my business and moved home, away from the large house and the career I settled into life as a single mum on benefits. During this 6 months period I became a different person, a different mother, I actually learned that no amount of money could ever give me the pleasure that spending quality time with my children did.

    I had to go back to work, I did so but I decided I would work from home in my own time and that NO-ONE else would look after my children. I met Matt ( my husband now) and he became a stay at home dad so I could go to meetings etc when I had too, I hired staff to attended to the majority of the work outside of the house and I became a stay at home mum who worked during the night.

    Yes I developed a sleep disorder and I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar in Nov 2009. I was put on the sick for 2 years. During these 2 years The Real Supermum developed and that is the person you all see today, the mum to 6 with Bipolar who helps others see what real life is really like.

    There is no answer to the question, but if others would STOP JUDGING and start listening they would see a mothers job is hard enough without small minded others stating we should get off our lazy asses and get a job, I have a job, I am a mother and a friend.

    The moral of the story is; I have done it both, been the high flying career women and the stay at home mum on benefits; I was most happy being a mum.

  2. I think you hit the nail right on the head when you said that being a mother is a full time job. My own mother gave up work when she had us and only started working (part time, luckily on a very flexible basis) when my sister hit her teens. She came across the exact same thing as you describe...all I can put it down to is ignorance. The way this society is structured, many have been brought up to believe that being a stay at home parent is not a "proper" job...when in fact nothing could be further from the is THE job! The hardest job in the world! And I would argue if there weren't so many fantastic admirable men and women choosing the path to stay at home and invest in their children's emotional development and upbringing, we might not have the wealth of those that do work and contribute in a different way to society by their job roles, some of which I'm sure have greatly benefitted from the stability of having a stay at home parent in their childhood!

    I think you and all stay at home parents deserve a medal!!

    Here is the URL to my blog...only 2 posts so far but hopefully growing...!: xxx

  3. Our bond across the Pond is great. This issue is exploding for me right now and I'm posting on it again soon. Last fall I was sparring online over this feminism and domesticity with a progressive blogger.
    It isn't so much that we need to stop judging, but that the standards of success were set to 'male' by modern feminists. Why? Because to achieve pure equality, the biological differences between men and women have to be denied or destroyed. Women had to be broken of maternal and domestic drives. So they trashed domestic work as mind numbing shit work and fancied professional work as a holy grail. But La Difference just won't go away. Hey, at least they are up against Nature. All we have to do is rehabilitate the value of domesticity. A hard task, certainly, but easier than theirs.

  4. AH London sent me over, and I'm so pleased she did.

    My role model in this - in the sense that I'd love to feel as she does, but I don't, and I am in awe of her for doing so - is my friend Kate.

    I was an primary school with Kate, she's not the product of a different culture, or a different life. She just like me and many others.

    She was clever then. She was clever when she got about a million As at GCSE and A-level, and when she went to Oxford and got a first. She was clever and a high achiever when she went and did a stage at the European Union (highly, highly competitive) and when she went from there to a major role at an international bank.

    Now? Now she looks after three children. And when I asked her about it, she said: "what more important job can there be than bringing up my children?". She genuinely meant that and she genuinely believes it.

    I, on the other hand, not so much. I struggle to juggle, feel guilty all the time and justify myself to anyone who asks.

    Why? I don't know. But I wish I did and I wish I could change.


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