“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” – William Ross Wallace
I had a huge life change around two years ago when I finished my PhD and became a mother. My intention was to stay at home with my son for the foreseeable future. In my mind, this was my new ‘job.’
But everyone kept asking me, “When are you going back to work?”
Then I was offered a job as a university lecturer to commence when my baby was six months old. I turned it down.
And now that my son is almost two, I am continually asked, “what do you do for work?”
This is confusing to me because I see the mothering of young children as meaningful and full-time work. Don’t get me wrong- it can be mind numbing and relentless. It can break you. It has broken me, at regular intervals.
I have become very curious about modern attitudes to mothering. We now approach mothering as something that lasts as long as maternity leave entitlements. It is now almost taboo to admit that young children benefit from the constant presence of their mothers. Full-time mothering is something that we don’t openly encourage, perhaps because it makes working parents feel guilty, or because it is perceived as being anachronistic or anti-feminist. Or perhaps because the cost of living is so high that it isn’t possible for many families to even consider. There is just an automatic assumption that women will return to full-time work within the first couple of years of their child’s life.
According to Dr. Aric Sigman, this mothering taboo has gone too far and turned into a form of discrimination against stay-at-home mothers, which he calls ‘motherism.’ Sigman, a biologist and psychologist, says that motherism is an ingrained prejudice, which perceives stay-at-home mothers to be unattractive, subjugated and lazy. They are people with nothing better to do. They are ladies who lunch. They watch midday movies. The cliché of a stay-at-home mother is best summed up by the phrase “in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.”
Is this what feminism has left us with?
My mother had five children, and while she juggled part-time work as a teacher, counsellor and interior designer at different stages in her life, she was predominantly a stay-at-home mother. She is one of the most intelligent and determined women I know. She would have loved to single-mindedly pursue a passion of her own, but made a powerful choice to commit her life to us.
Mothering was her vocation.
I grew up with a sense of home and a sense of family. There was always music and great food and we had everything we needed. On cold days, mum made us a log fire and milo. When I turned around at important school assemblies, mum was sitting there. When I was sick at school or forgot my lunch, mum was there. When I needed to talk, she was there.
Mum used her skills as a teacher to teach us. She used her skills as a counsellor to counsel us. She used her skills as an interior designer to create a beautiful haven for us to live in. She genuinely loved to be a hands-on, engaged mother. And now, she is a hands-on, engaged and loving grandmother to our children.
We were, and continue to be, her life’s work. What an honour.
We often hear about the concept of quality time, where parents and children do something special in their time together. But my mum talks about the importance of quantity time, when your parent is just there, in the next room, while you draw or watch TV or play in the backyard.
I was recently talking about these issues to an unmarried male friend of mine. He said, “Well, when I have kids, I don’t want to stay at home. I’d go insane! I’d better marry someone who isn’t ambitious.”
My response to that: “Why isn’t motherhood ambitious?”
Stay-at-home mothers are presumed to lack power and value in the world. But every day, I can see that I am indelibly shaping my son’s life. He often reacts to things and people like I do. He often laughs at things I laugh at. He often uses the same intonation as me when he talks. He looks at me to see whether he can trust someone.
If this isn’t power, I don’t know what is.
What are your views on mothering and stay-at-home mothers? I’d love to hear them.