I read a great article this weekend by journalist Lisa Belkin in the Huffington Post which echoes my thoughts on the working mother debate (known widely in the US as “the mommy wars”). It’s here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-belkin/working-mothers-happier_b_1823347.html
Lisa, like me, is fed up of the endless surveys which conclude, variously, that either working mums or stay-at-home mums are the happiest and the least depressed. Given that the surveys conclude differently each time, depending on who is conducting them, it seems pretty obvious that we can’t draw any real conclusions from them. And what is the point in them anyway? Not only is the decision to return to work often governed by economic factors which are beyond the control of many women and their families, it’s also the case that a huge number of women, just like their male counterparts, gain a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment from a stimulating career and wouldn’t have it any other way. Equally, I know many women who find raising children full-time the most fulfilling and interesting career they could possibly have.
As Lisa Belkin comments: “In an ideal world, there would be fewer studies about relative happiness and more about what could be done to maximize happiness for both “camps.” Studies of how to provide more mental-health treatment for poorer women, who are more likely to be part of the depressed stay-at-home cohort. How to improve the availability of child care for women who would like to work but can’t find safe affordable placement for their children. How to increase flexibility in the workplace, so that the choice isn’t keep the job or be home for dinner.”
Interestingly, the most recent survey that I came across which concluded that women who stayed at home were happier than working mothers also concluded that married couples are happier than co-habitees and single people, which does make me wonder what’s really the issue here and whose issue it is. Is it really the case that women are so insecure about their parenting choices that they have to convince others round to their way of thinking? Or is it perhaps bigger than that – are we all being manipulated? Is it perhaps a right wing versus left wing debate, maybe, or an argument between the old school of society and those that are more progressive – with women as the guilt-ridden pawns in the middle? Who on earth decided that it was a battle to be won, one way or the other? And why aren’t men who are parents part of the debate?
I find it hard to comprehend why we, as women, should need to keep on justifying our life choices – to each other or to anyone else. Why not leave women to their life choices, just as men have theirs? Those children who grow up in families with a mother who is always present will have a different experience of growing up to those children who have spent time in childcare with other children. But providing the quality of the parenting and the childcare respectively is good enough, where’s the problem? Aren’t all our experiences of growing up different? Aren’t we richer as human beings for that? Surely the best lesson that we can teach the next generation, by our own example, is how to be happy in life by doing what we love – and that we deserve to be happy. Each and every one of us. After all, can any job be more important than that?