Working Parents: not a tragedy, in fact.

I should know better, shouldn’t I?

But there I was this morning perusing the Mail Online when I came across this gem:

ADHD and why we working mums need to look in the mirror

This headline, like so many others in the media (and especially the Fail) makes the classic assumption that parenting is (of course) a mother’s job.

So if you’re talking about bad parenting you are – obviously – talking about bad mothers, right? I’m not sure which dictionary they’re reading, but in my book parent and mother are NOT actually synonyms. Where are Dads in this picture?

Oh that’s right, they’re at work, sometimes barely seeing their children. But as Sarah Vine so astutely points out “that doesn’t matter” so long as Mummy (the real parent) is at home all day, providing a constant, reassuring presence for her child.  But when a mother goes out to work that’s a different story:

As someone who never once contemplated giving up work after babies, I made many wrong decisions in the first few years of my children’s life. The upshot was that around the time my eldest started school, the most terrible realisation dawned on me: I hardly knew my children.  That, really, is the unspoken tragedy of the working mother. For all the financial and intellectual advantages we have by carrying on working, ours is also a story of benign neglect, of guilt, of children fighting for windows in our busy diaries…

Oh sit DOWN already.

First of all, can we for the love of God stop heaping all this judgment on women, as though we’re the sole providers of parenting. Why so much debate and research into the impact of working MUMS, ignoring the thousands of Dads who are at home, whether full or part-time, raising kids?

And let’s stop assuming working = bad. Like so many of these issues, research around the impact of working parents on young kids is like a buffet where you can pick and choose according to your own tastes – for every bit of research suggesting that kids with working Mums do less well in school, there’s another to suggest kids with working parents are doing just fine, and in many cases, having working parents is better for young children.

I suspect the research is muddled because we’re not asking the right question – which is, why do many working parents find it hard to carve out quality time with their kids?

If we spent more time asking that question, I suspect we’d have fairer deals for parents around flexible working hours, job shares, family-friendly policies from employers and a better work/life balance overall. Because if kids are struggling because they’re missing out on seeing their parents, the answer isn’t to glibly say, “Don’t work”, it’s to provide support systems that allow parents to work while still being present, loving parents to their children.

Sure, I’ve got a big vested interest here.

I’m a working parent. I’m also a single parent, but I should probably keep that quiet in case the Daily Mail gets wind of it and starts chasing me with pitchforks.

I’ve always worked. Since my first weekend job waiting tables in a hotel at the age of 12, I’ve always worked. I’ve never claimed unemployment benefit or any sort of means-tested benefit, because I’m lucky I’ve been able to support myself. I went back to work part-time when Flea was six weeks old, and I’ve worked ever since.

Does that mean I don’t know my child? Was it a tragedy?

I don’t think so.

In the early days, we were lucky to have an amazing nanny who looked after Flea for three days a week, and sang, and painted, and went swimming, and made Flea wait until she’d said “please” before she was allowed a sandwich. The other four days, Flea spent with me.

When Flea was a little older, I mostly looked after her, going to the music groups and singing groups and the park and the zoo – and working like a demon during her naps, and in the evening.

Now she’s at school, we’re a bit more rushed than families who have a parent at home, but I think that’s balanced out because I spend a lot of time with Flea out of school. Not only that but by working, I am teaching Flea that you should work hard in life for the things you need; that having a job allows you to do fun, interesting things, and meet lots of people. Stay-at-home parents are (I’m sure) teaching their kids great lessons too – they’re just different.

Crucially, though, I’ve been self-employed for many years. I get to set my own hours, take a day off if I need to, stop working at 3.30pm to collect Flea from school, and catch up after bedtime if I want to. While I’m almost certainly not doing anything perfectly, I think our arrangement works well enough, and better than many.

At the end of the day, I have a child who is happy, confident, supported and loved – by both of her parents. And that can’t possibly be a tragedy. 

What do you think? 

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

24 Comments

  1. Nikki
    12th March 2014 / 9:29 am

    If I’m honest I’d say you let the Mailonline get to you. This is a title who’s sole purpose is to stir up our insecurities, cause controversy and yes, chase people with pitchforks. They are the Jeremy Kyle and Jeremy Springer of “newspapers”.

    Best strategy is to completely ignore these idiots and hopefully one day, their readership will drop as a result and they’ll have to rethink their strategy.

    Don’t let them get a rise (or blog) out of you.

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:33 am

      Well, yeah and no. I don’t make a habit of responding to the Mail’s panto pieces, but I guess this infuriates me because speaking about working Mums as a tragedy is ridiculous but also the whole conversation about working Mums is trite, and increasingly irrelevant, not to mention how it marginalises Dads. And it’s not just a Daily Mail issue, is it?

      • Nikki
        13th March 2014 / 1:48 pm

        True it isn’t, but they are one of the loudest culprits. Parents beat themselves up enough about decisions we make for our children, we don’t need newspapers, experts and others to add to the guilt.

        My strategy of sticking my fingers in my ears and chanting la la la is working for me! Life’s too short!

  2. 12th March 2014 / 9:39 am

    I find it outrageous that this utter nonsense can be classed as ‘news’.
    I am a stay at home mum. My brother and sister in law both work. My other brother and his partner are home from 2pm and with their kids most of the time. All our kids are happy, doing well, so similar, sociable little characters. We are happy with the choices we made. They are happy. End of.
    Abby Boid recently posted..Feeling flat: A poem for pancake dayMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:33 am

      Excellent point.

  3. 12th March 2014 / 9:43 am

    When my eldest was born one of my Mum’s friends said to me that I must never give up work for my children. This particular lovely lady had spent the last 18 years at home with her kids and felt that it was unappreciated. I didn’t believe her at the time, although I did return to work part time after all my children. It’s only now that I can really understand where that comment came from.

    My almost 7 year old said to me the other day that I don’t do anything, I don’t go to London like Daddy and I don’t have any fun. In his mind I don’t work because I stay in the house and work mostly when the kids are at school or in bed. I can already see that he looks up to his Dad more because he sees him as the one who works and brings the money in, but equally if I was the one Mum not able to go to events in school because I was working that would be hard for him to understand too.

    I still fully believe that me being at home part time has been in the best interests of my children, and I’m so glad I’ve been lucky enough to have all that time with them, but not everyone has that choice and aren’t we all just doing the best we can?
    Emma recently posted..Lots of teeth and a forgetful tooth fairyMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:34 am

      I think the key is we’re all doing the best we can – I don’t know anyone who makes choices without the best interests of their family at heart. I don’t believe one way is necessarily better than any other – home or work – but I’m just tired of the conversation always being about Mums. Why is it all down to me?

  4. sara @ the mummy madness
    12th March 2014 / 10:00 am

    IM the same ive worked since i was 15, with my first i was back waitressing a few evenings when he was 8 weeks. Ive always enjoyed it and found it a break working from the kids! IM sure if mothers didn’t work they would complain even more. I saw a piece on there about someone who was a vegetarian and went to Nandos and they gave her chicken by mistake! That’s big news….

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:34 am

      I read that piece (shame). The whole paper is a rag, I agree, but it’s one that lots of people do take quite seriously. Depressing, isn’t it?

  5. 12th March 2014 / 10:02 am

    I too saw the headline but didn’t bother clicking on it. I teach at a teacher training college and my students have told me stories such about 4yos who can’t sit still or concentrate for more than a minute and continuously interrupt the class. When they speak to these kids about it, even at age 4, many of them express frustration in the fact that they want to sit quietly and listen during storytime, for example, but hey just can’t. “I just can’t, I really want to but I just can’t,” said one little boy tearfully, as he tried to cope with his guilt and confusion. I don’t know if his mother works but I’m sure it’s not a factor.
    Midlife Singlemum recently posted..Chosen PovertyMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:35 am

      I think there probably are far wider issues affecting children’s socialisation and I think while we’re looking so hard to scapegoat women, we’re not looking at what causes – and more importantly, solutions – there might be.

  6. 12th March 2014 / 1:14 pm

    I say we can’t win. If we work we are criticised. If we are a stay at home mum we are criticised. Best bet is just to muddle on through doing the very best we can.
    PhotoPuddle recently posted..‘Pretty’ by MeMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:35 am

      Amen to that. Especially the muddling. We do that with exceptional panache.

  7. 12th March 2014 / 2:00 pm

    The Mail Online isn’t a source of information that I would give any credence to, ever! Also whether you work or don’t work you will inevitably screw up your kids in some way, fact. So you might as well do the best you can with the decisions that feel right for you and yours and poo face to anyone who wants to judge that.
    Purplemum recently posted..We’re officially homeownersMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:36 am

      I dont understand. I’m a perfect parent. Right? *hides takeaway pizza box under the stairs*

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:36 am

      Quite right, missus.

  8. 12th March 2014 / 5:14 pm

    My husband was the stay at home parent for both our two, who are now 13 and 19. When they were really small he worked part time once I was home from my full time job, and when the youngest started school he went back to uni to train as a nurse. I have never felt that the children have missed out on not having me at home – he was an excellent parent and I hate this headline for negating his role as well as for its ridiculous effort to make women feel bad for choices (or not choices) they make. Oh, and the 19 year old is at York Uni, and the 13 year old is the head boy of his middle school.
    Caz Stone recently posted..Holey moley, me oh my, you’re the apple of my eyeMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:36 am

      Sounds like your family is thriving. Well done to you both – although according to the Mail, it’s pretty much down to you 😉

  9. 12th March 2014 / 8:28 pm

    The trouble is, whilst the Mail keep publishing these narrow arguments, we’re going to struggle to achieve the attitude shift we need in society as a whole to make sure that every parent gets the opportunity to spend quality time with their child, regardless of gender. It’s not just working mums, I know working Dads who would be in heaven if they could organise their work hours differently so as to be able to see their kids more often.

    It’s totally a societal shift that’s needed, and it’s coming, just very slowly. In generations to come parents will scoff at all this debate. And that’s a good thing. That’s why we’re doing it, saying it, fighting for it. Just a shame it won’t come quick enough for this generation of parents.
    Actually Mummy… recently posted..Useful discoveries for families – March 2014My Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:37 am

      Yes, absolutely! It’s the idea that the debate has to be framed in terms of working mums and stay-at-home Mums when we should be talking about working parents and family-friendly employers. But women make for such a lovely scapegoat in the meantime…

  10. 12th March 2014 / 10:28 pm

    What a load of tosh. Some parents are great and know their kids really well and make time for them, others don’t. It rarely has much to do with whether they are working or not. We all do what suits us and that is different for each of us. Works for me! Mich x
    Michelle Twin Mum recently posted..Happiness is….. bike ridingMy Profile

    • 13th March 2014 / 12:38 am

      Tosh is just the right word, Mich. I’m a working parent but actually I think I’m pretty good (most of the time) at spending time with Flea; we’re very close and I feel like I know her very well. But someone with more children or a different set-up at home might feel make different choices. Like you say, you can only really do your best.

  11. Carly
    13th March 2014 / 7:26 am

    This is a little bit close to home at the moment. I’m 32, my daughters are nearly 9 and 6, and I’m an NQT. I did my BSc and my PGCE when they were younger but only part time (and my maths degree is from the OU).

    Problem is that teaching is not a family friendly career. Sure, I get the holidays with my children but I spend some of them working. The kids partly enjoy that..they like sharing ideas with me and pretending they’re teachers too. But I have to be at work by half 7. 2 days a week I don’t finish until 6 thanks to staff meetings and after school clubs. The other days I seem to annoy my colleagues by leaving at half 4. In doing that I set myself up for taking work home and a busy start the following day. But – that’s my choice – so I work after the girls are in bed. Long day.

    However, as an NQT I get to attend a lot of training courses, the most recent of which being about barriers to learning. The teachers running the course asked us to think of some – obviously some physical and learning disabilities came up, child’s background, home life etc. Then they stated that children who attend childcare settings are disadvantaged, because in some cases, like my children, they’re at childcare longer than their parents, particularly mums, are at work. Stab me in the heart why don’t you. I think that I am helping provide a better life with more opportunities for my children as we have more disposable income and a happier mummy because, now that they’re older, I was bored at home. But I don’t understand why I am burdened with all this guilt when my husband works too. He works 70 miles away from home and commutes daily. He leaves before the kids wake up and gets home about 10 minutes before bedtime. He spends less time with them than I do but I am the one shouldering the blame and making them “disadvantaged”.

    I tend to ignore the Mail Online but it isn’t just them saying it… I am a sensible, logical woman but I am seriously considering giving up teaching next year until they are older still…

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