So what the actual fuckery is a ‘working mum’ exactly?!
You have a baby. Lovely. And if you return to the working world you are a “working mum”. If you don’t return to work you are a “stay at home mum”.
Yes, yes, a mum that is working is a “working mum”, I know what it’s meant to mean but can we just unpack that please?
I have literally NEVER heard anyone say “working dad” before. I mean, that’s most of the dads right? If you are home with the kids you are a “stay at home dad” but if you work, let me get this right…. You just ARE right? There is no special name for that. So why is it even a label for mothers?!
I will tell you why. Because men are allowed to work AND be a dad without anyone batting an eyeball or having a debate about whether it’s right, or selfish or impacts on their job or any of the stuff we feel is ok to debate about mothers.
There is no judgement of fathers in this way but mothers are societies punchbag for judgement and most of the people making the decisions that impact on mother’s aren’t mothers. They are mostly the men.
It doesn’t really what mum you are and what label you fall under. You will always be scrutinised in some way.
On the one hand the working mum is ‘setting a good example’ to their children about work ethic, drive and determination and how you can be a successful woman in the workplace despite also being a parent.
The working mum is the feminist icon for her daughter. Paving the way for mothers and women striving for equality. This is the positive imagery we see. The mother turning her back on the previous restrictions placed upon her. The modern mother.
But the working mum is also tarnished with negativity.
They are admirable, and independent all whilst simultaneously also being the reason for blame if things go wrong because you “were not around” and an idea that really only the truly ‘maternal types’ are the ones who ‘choose’ to stay home.
This of course is bullshit. Firstly, fathers are never the ones to blame for working and not surrending everything to be at home. There is no discussion around their paternal love dependent on their career choices or blame for a childs behaviour if they work long hours.
Secondly, many mothers do not actually have any real choice about whether they return to work or not, it’s often very much a case of circumstance. You are contractually bound to return to work if you want to get maternity pay and many cannot afford to not work. Or you have no choice but to leave your job and to stay home because your wages cannot cover the cost of living as well as the cost of childcare.
This bullshit notion of the “working mum”, probably created by the patriarchy, makes me furious because lets not get it twisted, those same mums that are working are still disproportionately doing more than the fathers. It’s still not equal and is incredibly hard to juggle.
Whether they are at home trying to juggle looking after and stimulating the mind of their child whilst doing everything in the home or whether they are working, that mother still carries the majority of the mental load for it all. She still has to remember all the appointments, dates, organise the home, buy all the gifts, know whats for dinner, and often do more of the household jobs such as cooking and cleaning as her male partner.
I know this is not always the case.
Thank goodness it isn’t, and each family will have their own differing labour divisions within the home, but research has shown that in all scenarios it is the mother who carries the most. Working or not.
The division of mother’s into different labels and types is also problematic for other reasons. Whilst the working mum can be the role model for the strong feminist “having it all”, The unsaid implicit message here is that those mothers at home are the bad example setters, keeping women in the kitchen and bound to the home. Squashing their sons and daughters progressive thinking and reinforcing long standing gender stereotypes and expectations.
The “stay at home mum” walks the line between the all sacrificing martyr of maternal love and the reminder of female oppression. I just won’t accept that. You can in fact be at home, quit your job, and even do more housework and still be a badass feminist! It’s about the choice!
I have been both a “working mum” and now a “stay at home mum”. Gosh for some reason we absolutely love to label a mum. Because you aren’t able to just be a mum.
I have found there are some levels of disdain for both camps of mum depending on whom you speak to.
In the workplace you are an inconvenience if your family life has any impacts on your capacity. Whether it be flexible or fixed working patterns, or even just actually leaving when your job actually ends and you stop getting paid. Just having a boundary around not leaving late or doing unpaid overtime to finish something as you may need to collect your child from nursery can be treated as an unfair advantage or even lack of dedication to your job.
And if your kid dares to get sick and you can’t go in? Well that just takes the piss.
It’s like what we are really saying is that to be a “working mum” you need to forgo any acknowledgement or impact of being an actual parent and must be absolutely the same as your childless colleagues.
Thus for me is the paradox of “women can have it all”
You cannot have it all really. What it really means is you can have it all if you manage to still DO IT ALL.
You need to play you are not a parent with any responsibilities in order to do so.
For those who return to work or those without children, those mothers at home are often vilified as lazy. Questions such as “what do you do all day?” And “don’t you get bored?” Are all loaded statements suggesting it is not enough to merely be a mother. Yet nobody asks the nanny, the childminder, the nursery worker or teacher that. If you work part time and look after your kids the other days you’ll still be asked if you had a “nice day off/ good rest?”
As a mum who worked I was always also if I miss my kids, how I managed, if it was hard leaving them and even if it was hard having them bond with others, as a mum at home I am constantly being asked by my fellow working mums when I’m going back, what I will do when they go to school and even “how do you do it I would lose my mind/be so bored” etc.
No matter what you choose it’s always questioned.
My question is where are the dads Q and A? Why aren’t they hounded with judgements and have to justify their choices?
Partly because our patriarchal society is one founded on the scrutiny of females, but also I believe this is just as damaging to the men as it is the women.
As much as it means a woman feels constantly judged and has to battle against her own internal guilt, constructed by a social narrative of the high expectations of motherhood,as well as that of others, for men they aren’t even at the table.
As much as the men are spared the “working dad” role and therefore the guilt, they are also robbed of the choice and the space. What we are also saying is that the dads don’t matter.
That’s fucked up.
The role of a father is just as important and the narrative that men can work and it has no impact is false and damaging. It robs our children of that precious time, it robs fathers of value and worth beyond rough and tumble and money earners, and no doubt also contributes to some fathers feeling more able to be absent. It perpetuates the gender roles within families.
If we really want an equal society it’s not just about changing the narrative around motherhood and bringing down the barriers to women in the workplace, it’s also about changing how we see and value fatherhood and holding both parents’ contributions in equal standing.