Motherhood: A Truce
To celebrate Mother’s Day, I’m publishing a guest post from Claire Paye of Mothers at Home Matter.
As a spokesperson for Mothers at Home Matter, I would like to offer a truce for Mother’s Day. A truce between working mothers and stay at home mothers. The media constantly stokes the flames of the phoney war between mothers through stereotyping. Stay at home mothers are at home because they are so wealthy they do not need to work. Working mothers have no choice but to work.
In reality, things are much more nuanced. It is tricky to discuss mothers’ choices as there always seems to be an undercurrent of judgementalism. Let me see whether I can try to bust some myths without bias.
Myth 1: All working mothers have to work. Actually, some working mothers work because they want to, not because they have to. They enjoy work. Their children are happy at nursery. The lifestyle they earn is worth reducing the amount of time they can spend with their children.
Myth 2: All working mothers have no choice but to work to put food on the table. In fact, some mothers work because they have bought a large house and put children into private school and they have to work to afford this. This is the choice they have made and they are happy with it.
Myth 3: The only thing the Government can do to help families is to pay for childcare so that both parents can work. Rubbish. The Government could sort out the discrimination in the tax system against single income families, where a parent stays at home to look after children or even elderly relatives. Single income families are taxed so heavily that for a family to increase their disposable income by £3.5k the main earner needs to earn an additional £13k. However, if the mother goes out to work, they can increase their income by £10.5k straight away as there is no tax on her personal allowance. So, yes, both parents have to work in this situation, but largely because there is no acceptance of caring responsibilities in the tax system.
Myth 4: All mothers want to work more. In fact, in a recent survey, 71% of mothers wanted to work fewer hours. Many mothers work more hours than they want to.
What are the stay at home mother myths?
Myth 1: All stay at home mothers are wealthy. Actually, some stay at home mothers in secure partnerships are in the lowest income bracket of the country because they lose almost half as much again of their income in tax as families where both parents work. They are not wealthy yummy mummies. They will never be able to afford a house. They don’t have a car. They don’t go on expensive holidays. They have made financial sacrifices because they think it is important to look after their children themselves.
Myth 2: If stay at home mothers are well off, this is just lucky for them. I’d like to stick my neck out and make the outrageous suggestion that being able to afford to stay at home is not always unfair. It may be that these mothers worked hard at school, worked hard to get and keep a good job before they had children and were thrifty in what they spent. They bought a house they could afford on one salary. They are indeed blessed in life, but they may actually deserve some of the good fortune. However, woe betide anyone who suggests a link between hard work, spending decisions and income levels. The poor are always the deserving poor. However, this links into…
Myth 3: A mother on benefits is a scrounger. Why is ok to get government support to pay others to look after your children, but not to get government support to look after them yourself? Why should the babies of lower income families have to be sent to nurseries, supported by the government? Why can’t the same money be allocated to support babies in the home environment?
Myth 4: Stay at home mothers don’t want to do paid work. Some mothers would like to work but can’t find a job that fits their commitment to their children.
Myth 5: Just being at home means you are doing the best thing for your children. Unfortunately, some stay at home mothers are not really at home. They spend their time on the computer, watching tv, or even on drugs. They don’t play with their children, or even make eye contact with them. Their children are not in the best place for them.
Myth 6: Because some mothers are not perfect, the State knows better than mothers what is good for children. The vast, vast majority of mothers at home are working hard to make sure their children know they are loved and cared for. And the vast, vast majority of mothers at work are doing all they can to make sure their children know they are loved and cared for. So let’s not have policies that tell the 80% of the population how to look after their children (send them to school at 2, use taxes to pay for free school meals instead of trusting what mothers put in lunchboxes) when it’s the 20% who are struggling. Help the 20% without penalising the 80%.
Myth 7: It is easy looking after babies and children at home. It isn’t. If you think it is, you either haven’t tried it or you can’t remember.
I hope you’ll adopt my Mother’s Day truce. Almost all mothers love their children deeply. Almost all babies and children are besotted by their mothers. Their mother is the single most important person in their lives. They just don’t always show it. Especially when they are tired! One thing all mothers agree on, there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of their sleeping child. Happy Mother’s Day.