A recently published study, highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald last week, has found that one third of working mothers are employed by organisations that could not be classed as “family friendly”, leaving them subject to psychological distress. How dreadful. How dreadful that all the article’s readers could do was to blame the woman.
Instead of focussing on how we can help women balance the challenges inherent in working for a living, and living for our children, the comments on the article (all hiding behind the parapet of pseudonyms, of course), targeted women who return to work after having children with vitriol and hatred.
In this day and age, why is it that we are still trying to control women and the choices that they make, through public, degrading and simplistic commentary? As if there is not enough pressure on women already (you must breastfeed, you must lose your baby weight, you must only give your child organic food, don’t smack or yell, don’t let your child watch TV), here is another thing that we are supposed to feel guilty about.
Well guess what, I don’t feel guilty. Like any mother, I adore my daughter beyond measure – she is a smart, funny delight. I would do anything to make her life happy and safe. Now, prepare to be shocked. I also like to work. Cue devil’s horns and wicked laughter. I thrive on the social and intellectual stimulation that work provides. I am a happier and more interesting person because I work.
I also believe that being a working mother makes me a good role model. It teaches my daughter the importance of being financially independent as a woman, of making a contribution to society, of being a responsible citizen. It teaches her that she too can do anything she wants.
Do I think she suffers because she’s not at home with me, 24-7? Absolutely not. When I drop her at day care, she squeals with excitement. Every day I marvel at what she learns from her educators and her peers. I too was a day care baby, and I am a confident, independent and happy woman. I’m great at my job, and I’m a great mother, wife and friend. I don’t harbour any closet psychological problems. Really – when you think of your friends and colleagues, can you work out which of them were cared for at home and which were in day care? Of course not.
For many women, including myself, returning to work is also not a choice. The majority of us are contributing 30% of household income or more to mortgage repayments. Rent takes a similar toll. Simply to keep a roof over her child’s head, many a woman has to be in paid employment. For others, it enables them to make financial decisions that allow the family to build up its asset base, positioning children well for the future, or to allow small luxuries that widen a child’s learning experiences.
From a socio-economic perspective, having women return to work after having children is vital for the economy. At a macro level it increases discretionary spend which sustains growth, and at an organisational level, it creates a diverse and balanced workforce, which has been shown to improve profit results.
The nasty, nasty comments directed at women, and mothers in particular, have to stop. Now. No wonder postnatal depression is on the rise, and working mothers report psychological distress. When we blame the victim, when we stop caring for each other and start attacking, we create social and emotional isolation that is far more damaging than putting a child in care.
Alison Wines is a communications specialist and writer. Find her on twitter here.