The Office of National Statistics ONS in the UK recently stated that the percentage of mothers working with at least one child under the age of 5 has doubled in the last 25 years (it’s 62% now). For mothers with one or two children under the age of 16 it’s even higher, 76% and 73% respectively. Lots of surveys also suggest that women do not necessarily want to go out and work, but they feel under economic pressure to do so.
I may be operating from a small statistical sample, but out of all the Mums I have met in the schoolyard, at nursery, at the swimming pool with toddlers in tow, I hardly ever hear any of them say: ‘I really don’t want to work, I want to stay at home all day with the kids, but I can’t because of the money!’ Am I moving in completely the wrong circles or do these surveys not reflect real maternal experience? Perhaps, shock-horror, they do not ask the questions right?! As we all know, surveys and statistical figures are so easy to manipulate.
Because all mothers work. Yes, they work really hard to raise the citizens of the future: hold and cuddle, make things better, entertain, feed, wash, dress, scold, make them behave, do homework, break fights, talk, listen, cook, clean the house, do the laundry… Ask any stay-at-home Mum and their day is exhausting, their to-do-list never gets any smaller, and the sheer repetitiveness of it all is sometimes completely discouraging. So, yes, all mothers work their socks off! But they don’t always feel appreciated for this ‘invisible’ work.
So is it any wonder that I also hear Mums who would really like to go and work for themselves (for an employer or self-employed) in order to feel appreciated for their skills and knowledge, to earn their own money and not feel totally dependent on someone else (even if that someone else is the state) and also, sometimes, just to get out of the house and have some grown-up conversation that doesn’t revolve solely around the children.
I think that if we interpret these surveys correctly, what we are really hearing is that women want family-friendly working practices, that they want to be able to combine work and family, be there for their children but also be themselves. And that we’ve still got some way to go before they can achieve that without guilt.
How about you? Do you honestly enjoy every single moment of your life as a stay-at-home-Mum and feel appreciated by your family and by society? Do you feel guilty about rejoining the workplace while your children are young? Do you feel you have achieved a satisfactory balance? And if you have, please share your secret with us!