Are you a stay-at-home-mum? Is it something you tell people with pride?
Do you burst with joy when telling old friends explaining you are busy and fulfilled, that your days are spent in a tapestry of ways, crafting little people?
Or do you cringe a little at the term?
It’s a phrase that has both divided and united women. It’s one battleground of the so-called “Mummy Wars” of the last decade (oh please let them be over).
But it’s a term that hasn’t been embraced by women due to its perceived connotations.
I’ve noticed since I became a mum a re-occurring conversation women seem to have around the same phases of their child’s life.
It first crops up when their baby turns one. It then lingers and dies down a little for a few years and then it resurfaces with a vengeance when their child starts school. By the time all their kids are at school it seems to be an ongoing conversation.
By then though I have noticed its less of a conversation and more of a justification, an answer to an often unasked question that many women feel they need to square off with each person they meet.
Why aren’t you back at work yet?
I’ve noticed it with many of my friends who are stay-at-home mums this constant need to justify why they are at home. And they tell me that its something often asked.
When are you going back to work?
"Oh it’s his first birthday time for day-care and back to work I guess," the sales assistant cheerily hoots at the local store.
"Are you still not back at work yet love?" Asks the grandmother of a child in the playground.
"Now the kids are at school are you going back to the office?" ask old colleagues and work mates.
There is an underlying implication, and underlying unsaid insinuation… Gosh things must be good for you all that leisure time.
The stay-at-home-mums I know say there seems to be an assumption because their child has finally started school that that they will go back to work, that what else could they possibly do.
Looking for a baby name? These are set to take off this year....
What these women say is that the question makes them feel worthless, that they feel they have to justify their existence as a stay-at-home mum. They feel like they are being judged for their decision.
It makes you wonder why, it’s not a rare phenomenon is it this stay-at-home-mum. In fact 47% of mothers with pre-school aged children are stay-at-home-mums.
While many women do return to the workforce in some capacity after a year of maternity leave, or after a five-year break when school begins there are also many women who don’t.
For some women having children means a decision to end their working career, they’ve decided they will never return to paid work and that being a stay-at-home mum is the way their life will pan out, but for others it’s a role they fall into. A 2010 study found that that of the 89 percent of mothers who took a break to raise children and said that they wanted to return to work, only 40 percent actually did.
The stay-at-home-mum faces an unusual duplicity of attitudes towards her. On many levels of society there is a prejudice towards them.
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman told a conference in the UK that stay-at-home mums are often described as having taken a step down “both socially and intellectually but also in terms of esteem.”
He said that towards stay-at-home-mums there was “a prejudice that expresses itself in derogatory clichés like: 'You gain a baby and lose a brain’ and comments that refer to 'schoolgate mother mentality’, or to being 'willingly self-lobotomised’.”
“The implication is that by being a full-time mother you are 'subjugated and servile’”
This is exactly what friends who do stay-at-home feel they face, incurring the need to justify themselves when the topic of their child going to school or turning one crops up.
It’s a ridiculous notion though isn’t it and one that really should be cast aside as we leave behind the polarizing “mummy wards” of the last decade. Aren’t we past that?
Haven’t we realised as parents that on the whole what each of us are doing is striving to make our family’s life work the very best it can.
For some women that might mean they need to work for financial reasons or perhaps they want to work for their own self worth.
For others it may not make sense to work, childcare may be too expansive or difficult to come by.
Other women might choose to stay at home with their children because that’s how they saw their journey as a mum. This is what THEY CHOSE to do.
There’s no one path that’s better than another, no one path that suits us all as a whole.
I wish the stay-at-home mums who feel the need to justify why they are at home would let go of that idea, I wish they would look those who question them squarely in the eye and tell them they have chosen that life because they want to, because its what’s right for them.
They don’t owe anyone an explanation, lets stop explaining and start accepting.