Are stay at home mothers wasting their brains?


Last week my 6 year old son Secundo, stood up in assembly and said: “That concludes our assembly. Please wait quietly for your teacher.” It was one of the proudest moments in my life. Until recently, Secundo suffered from selective mutism and the challenge of speaking to people sparked an anxiety attack which rendered him “mute”.

No one will thank me for my part in this small victory. On the contrary, Tercero (my three year old son) told me he hated me the whole way home because he didn’t like the way I put his seatbelt on. I won’t receive any awards and recognition and I certainly won’t be paid for it.

Indeed, according to the Prime Minister of Denmark, I am actually wasting my education and career by choosing to be a stay-at-home mum. I hear you sigh: not another article by a militant stay-at-home-mum. No, please keep reading.

My education, career and intellect shape my mothering every day. I mother like a lawyer – I have checklists for the children and flowcharts and SMART objectives for me. The children know about social justice and the responsibilities of citizenship. I teach them to negotiate their own settlements and do their homework by the close of business.

I also used to lawyer like a mother, with multi-tasking and time management skills that outperform the KPI’s of any law firm. I have enormous patience (for partners that constantly behave like three year olds) and a deeper concern and empathy for the future wellbeing of my clients. Being a mother has made me a better lawyer, and being a lawyer has made me a better mother. Until recently, I managed both these careers concurrently. For the last 2 years, I have been a full time stay-at-home mum.

Am I wasting my education by investing it and myself into my children’s development – a task no one else is more qualified to do? I don’t think so. Am I overqualified for the task? You obviously haven’t met my four children. The value of my education can’t be assessed or quantified, any more than we are able to assess or quantify the value of motherhood, despite the endless debates on the matter.

I find motherhood, and in particular teaching my children and watching them become confident, independent people, very satisfying. It is exciting, interesting and challenging to help them realise their potential. I find the relentless domestic servitude of motherhood exhausting and the lack of social recognition (from any one other than stay-at-home mums and child psychologists) disappointing.

And I find the criticism of others, as well as my own intermittent self-criticismconfusing. Nobody seems to mind when PhDs become school teachers.

Apparently the Prime Minister of Denmark is very clever. She’s worked out that feminism is a social, institutional and legal change that enables women to make the same choices as men, whilst enjoying the same freedom from judgement, recrimination and retribution as men. She’s even clever enough to tell us what our choices should be.

Obviously I’m not that clever because I missed the bit in feminism where women are allowed to judge the hell out of each other when they exercise the rights and opportunities that feminism has afforded them.

When the Prime Minister recently slapped it to educated, full-time stay-at-home mothers in Britain, they rose up in arms to extol the virtues of their choices. However, in defending those choices, these mothers again judged those that had chosen differently.

If they’re all so clever, why are they still arguing over the false dichotomy between working and motherhood?  All this seems to do is set women against each other – couldn’t we all just agree that:

– mothering, working and every combination in between, are valuable to society; and

– in a world where millions of women still strap their children to their backs and head off to work, having a choice is a privilege.

The recent debate has engaged some of the brightest minds in Britain and Denmark. I think that instead of criticising educated stay-at-home mums, these minds should think about how to make parenting more socially valued, not just in the playground (where everyone already knows the words to that song) but back in the workforce where real change is required. Despite the Prime Minister’s personal views,  Denmark actually seems to do quite a good job of this already, with some of the more progressive policies in  Europe. Share the love Denmark.  And instead of criticising parents that want (or have) to go back to work, these minds should think about how to help parents make the transition and respect their personal balance, wherever it may lie.

And finally, I think both sides, and every one in between, should leave each other alone, otherwise you’re all going to get a time out.

Shankari Chandran is a recent returner after ten years in London. Formerly a social justice lawyer, Shankari chronicles the day-to-day of her family’s return on her blog.