A newspaper column trots out the tired assumption that mothers should feel bad about working. Im not buying it
Very glad you asked, Charlotte, because there are many female stereotypes from pop culture that people either take far too literally or too much for granted: the up-for-it younger woman, the desperate single woman, the daffy mother, the embittered old crone (consider those your four ages of womanhood, ladies). But one in particular has for too long got a free pass: the guilty working mother.
It is now taken as such a given that a mother who works will feel guilty how dare she not take her darling to the playground every day? that even the phrase guilty working mother feels tautological. Shes a working mother: of course she feels guilty! If I listed all the examples from movies and TV shows it would probably fill the internet, from Teri Garr in Mr Mom, who goes back to work and her house and family all but collapse in protest, to Sarah Jessica Parker in I Dont Know How She Does It, crying in the street because she missed her childs first haircut.
Im rather bemused by the tenacity of this trope because, despite going back to work full-time when my twins were four months old, I have never felt any guilt. Ever. Nada. None. And at least some of the reasons why were answered by a rather extraordinary column that ran last weekend.
The article was headlined Why do we work so hard to avoid our children?, which is odd because I thought women work to earn a living. The article continues in that vein, written by a woman who now so bitterly regrets not having spent more time with her kids when they were little that she suggests being a working parent will one day be seen as negatively as being a racist. Dont ask me to explain, I dont have the time: Im a busy working mother.
Anyway, the column makes the argument that families could just opt to be a bit poorer instead of having two working parents. Now, let us leave aside that this argument doesnt exactly work for single parents or those for whom a bit poorer is less of a quaint lifestyle choice (only one ski holiday this year, kids, sorry!) and more the difference between paying the rent and not. Let us also leave to the side the weariness that comes from a writer extrapolating from their very personal experience to make a point about all mothers, as well as the yet to be answered wish that, one day, someone would write an article about motherhood that doesnt casually demonise other mothers choices. Lets instead take it for granted, as the writer does, that columns like this are addressed to women like me, middle-class women who work and have a partner who also works.
There are many possible reasons a woman works: she probably needs the money because the family cant survive on one salary. She may love her job. She knows that while young parenthood is intense, it is brief, and soon the kids will be at school full time, and it is not easy for a 40- or 50-year-old woman to re-enter the workplace. She might want financial independence and to know that shed be OK if her partner died, was made redundant, or they broke up. Perhaps she finds that not working is bad for her mental health and she needs time away from home to be a better mother. And maybe she thinks there is no reason she should feel guilty about any of this when no one expects the same of her partner. Consider all of these reasons fully ticked by me, which is why I dont feel guilty for working, and never will.
Of course some working mothers do feel guilty. It is also true some women dont even have the option of feeling guilty and have to stop working when they have kids, either because of their family or their work situation, just as many dont have the option to not work. So framing the subject of whether a mother works or not as a debate, as if women have a choice, is a privileged position. But this assumption that working mothers should feel guilty is so clearly unhelpful to women, just as it is to suggest a woman who doesnt breastfeed, or needs a C-section, or an epidural, should feel like a failure. All of these things are completely fine. Really, its enough to make you suspect that none of these things are actually about what is best for kids and are just ways to make women feel bad about themselves, isnt it? Surely not!
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us