Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Hope Springs Eternal...

It's been an enlightening few days. Last week, after reading an unnecessarily damning indictment of stay at home mums in The Times, I posted this, in which I wrote of my disappointment that the working mum / stay at home mum debate was still - after all this time - alive and kicking. I asked why we can't just support each other and why, if I can respect the choice of another mother to work, she can't afford me the same respect in return when I choose to stay home.

So far, so good. There were some interesting comments in the box.

Then, on Monday, for some reason I haven't quite fathomed out yet, I forwarded that post to Alpha Mummy, at Times Online.

I can see you throwing your hands up in horror at this information as I type. Why on earth would I do such thing? Everybody knows that some journalists love an opportunity to set off a good debate, and surely I should know that all they will do is take excerpts from my post (rather than using the whole thing) and use them in isolation to add fuel to the whole WM / SAHM cat fight?

Which is, of course, exactly what happened.

The comment box for this post on Alpha Mummy is now up at 54 - not the highest they've ever had, but a respectable showing, I would imagine - and if you want to see examples of prejudice and grand-standing on an astounding scale, I suggest you check in there for a master class.

Or not. It might make you feel rather cross.

It's an interesting experience, being lambasted in the way that some of the commenters have chosen. At least, it's interesting for me, because what it has shown me above all is how I am secure in the choice I've made, and how I know that it is the right one for my family. It makes no odds to me if someone chooses to see me as leech on my husband's side. Or if they want to paint me as the feminist equivalent of a class traitor because I have chosen to stay home and look at my children, rather than going back to work and utilising the opportunities and education I've received. Frankly, if that kind of shortsighted bigotry and blindness to another's needs is what it takes for people to justify their own choices and live comfortably in their own skin, so be it.

But here's the thing. These people are not saying these things exclusively about me, Potty Mummy. If they were, bring it on - I can take it. And just because I haven't descended to their level and brought out the big guns and made criticisms of their choice, that doesn't mean I couldn't . It's just that I am holding on by my fingernails and telling myself that it's not worth it, it's unproductive, and none of my business what they do. If it works for their family, then it works for them full stop. Step away from the keyboard, PM. Let the polarised few stew in their own prejudice.

But it's not just about me. These people are in fact making these inflamatory and ill-informed sweeping statements about all stay at home mums.

And that's not right. Because there are people out there who won't raise a wry smile when they read the claptrap some of these people are writing. There are people out there who this will really hurt. Who will find themselves -yet again - making excuses for what is just as viable a choice as paid employment, and will feel even more isolated and uninvolved as a result.

I've been given lots of advice following all this, and some of it has been of the 'disengage, don't read it, don't comment on it, you'll never change their point of view' type, and it's tempting to do just that.

But I don't think I will.

How on earth are we ever going to impact on the ridiculously wide-held view that staying home to look after your children is a second-rate choice and simply not something an intelligent person does, if we just shut up in these situations? Because I live in hope that changing that viewpoint is possible. And Hope, to quote my counsellor yesterday, 'participates'. It doesn't stand on the sidelines, wringing it's hands and saying 'it's all going to end in tears, be careful, oh be careful, you're going to break a nail!' Hope gets involved.

So here's my take on this. Some women work outside the home, and some women work inside the home. Working Mum or Stay at Home; whatever your decision they're both choices that make valuable contributions to a family. Let's acknowledge that, cut the crap, and start being supportive rather than simply knocking each other down at any given opportunity.

Of course, that's not likely to happen any time soon, so until it does you'll find me trying desperately trying to emulate a 'still small voice of calm' and standing in the centre of the maelstrom, wittering on about how other people's choices in this matter should be respected...


  1. Thank you for speaking out and making a stand for choice. I know I would get angry if I went and read those comments, so I'm waiting till I'm feeling strong. Imagine how I feel 16 years down the track about being a SAHM.
    It all boils down to division of labour, and, particularly when the kids are young, whether you outsource the care of your kids, or you do it yourself. Those who criticise SAHMs for not using their education, brain cells, etc, are actually, by default, slagging off those who are in the child care profession.

    Oh! Don't start me!!!

  2. Likewise, I haven't read the comments because I can't stand people who take a swipe at others just because they're not happy with their lives - which is often what it boils down to. Most of us can debate issues (not that this one needs to be debated) calmly, but when the nasty mud-slinging starts, well, I just have to step back, usually roling my eyes.
    Having said that, I almost got into it on my Pond Parleys blog as we're discussing Patriotism at the moment.

  3. Step AWAY, indeed.

    We all have insecurities. We spend a lot of our life disguising them from other people, and indeed ourselves. I think the WM/SAHM debate is an example of a battle in an area where everyone is trying hard to feel good about themselves, and often it's at the expense of other people's feelings. If it happened in the playground, teachers would step in and tell the children it wasn't acceptable. It's time everyone grew up.

    One thing that I've often thought though (just to add a bit of fuel to the fire), is why career-orientated mums are held up as being 'strong role models' for their daughters. I like to think that a SAHM can be that too. It makes huge assumptions about what girls 'should' be taught about life. Maybe an SAHM can teach them that there is much joy in family life, and that some sacrifices are worth making.

    Just a thought.

  4. I read both articles and am with you every step of the way - thanks for bringing it up.

    One thing that gets me is the assumption that if you stay at home you are at home full time. If you work then you are working 8 - 8 and sometimes at weekends too. There are many many people who do something inbetween. Some work part-time (and differing amounts of part-time at that). Others run their own businesses from home which they fit around childcare. There are students - some attending lectures, others doing the whole course from home. To have such polarised opinion applying to such a range of postitions is nonsense!

  5. Well done for speaking out and I agree with your reasons for doing so. I've never been one to sit on the sidelines stewing silently either, so I can understand your need to speak out about this. Nothing will ever change if refuse to engage in the 'debate'

    Noble Savage

  6. I thought your post was fantastic - and after reading your 'warning' about the comments on Alpha mummy I read them with amusement, not rage. People love to get het up and cast judgement, don't they? I am predominantly a SAHM. My friends are a mix. Irrespective of our situation we all seem to be in agreement that there is no easy answer - no one solution - that is right for all women, for all families, for all children.

    I am happy to be a little older and, dare I say it 'wiser', where I don't need to justify my own personal choices. They are what they are right now and they are working for all the members of this family. In time they are likely to change as our family evolves. And in the same vein, I don't choose to cast judgement on others who choose differently.

    WMs who criticise SAHMs don't know me. They haven't walked in my shoes. I am pretty sure that none of us are living in a (gin-soaked) nirvana, are we?

  7. Being a stay-at-home mother is one of the most noble things a mother can do. I can not imagine what idiots (sorry, I shouldn't call names) would say that it is a bad choice to make. It isn't. It is the right choice and if I could I would. I have even looked at ways I could do it, how I could swing it and if we can, I will quit my job and be home with my son in a heartbeat. That -- being a mom -- is one of the greatest professions any woman can have. It is not the only one, it is not the best ever, but it is one of the greatest. There are those who can't have children, or who choose not to stay home. that's their choice too. Argh. Makes me so mad. I'm glad you're sticking up for the SAHMs across the world!

  8. I was a SAHM who wished she had been at least a part time WM. Not because I don't think it's not a good idea to be a SAHM, but because I was really not cut out to be one 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Back when I had young children, it was assumed you stayed home and took care of them and very often I found this hard and longed for other activities and challenges and other human company. A paycheck would have been nice too. But this is all about personal choices and what is best for you yourself to do and what you need in your life. Some women make wonder SAHM's and others do better as WM's. It's not good to condemn each other. We each do to our own ability, that's all.

  9. Commenters do seem to get quite irrate at times on that site, I've noticed. I think whatever the argument is someone will have something to say about it, and it isn't always pretty. We're just mums doing what we can and most of the time we try to get it right. I'm a stay at home mum. My choice. I'll avoid reading the comments for now!

  10. Hi Tracey, I can't imagine how I would feel after 16 years of this. Pxssed off, probably!

    EPM, will definitely take a look at that one!

    Iota, you're right, what's wrong with SAHMs as role models? It's an interesting question. Though not one I think I'll be putting to the valkyries on the Alpha Mummy website just now...

    Hi Brit/Fraught (which hat do you have on tonight?), and that's just it. It's all fluid. I'm a sahm right now, but who knows, tomorrow I could be back at work. And a similar role reversal could happen to those who get so het-up about it all. Be careful where you plant your flag...

    Amity, I just wish it wasn't necessary! (Still no luck on the settings thing btw - are you going on Sunday? Will you be able to tell me how then?)

    Nicola, gin-soaked nirvana? Not here. Not tonight, anyway. Ketchup-soaked, yes. But not gin.

    Lisa, I really hope that sometime you get to do what you want on this. (Although don't tell anyone I said this, but in between all the nobleness and fulfillment, being a SAHM can be a bit... boring... occassionally. So bring chocolate to pass the time - it helps.

    Irene, absolutely, we do the best job we can, working or not.

    Very wise, Rosie. Don't open the comments box. Step away from the comments box...

  11. at least while you're fighting for your viewpoint pm you only have the stilettodevils to battle.

    over here we sahms have to fight that, the government reviews, *and* the suspicion that we chose our lifestyle so we can secretly abuse our children, lock them away from society, and fail them.

    as you say, we can always *hope*. but from experience, i don't hope much! keep up the good work!

  12. I have followed this whole sorry saga through the Times Online with growing dismay. Despite so-called 'equality' women are still not equal and to see women doing down other women for their working choices is truly ugly. Shame on all who seek to justify their own choices by belittling those of another. Says a whole lot for the regard in which some WM hold those who care for their children if choosing to be a SAHM (which, by definition, means providing your own childcare)is such an inferior use of one's education/skills doesn't it!

  13. It's so disappointing to see women rising to the bait of judging one another for their life choices instead of unilaterally supporting one another when life is actually pretty tough however you slice it. Or, looking at it another way, we're ALL so lucky in the first world for having ANY KIND OF CHOICE AT ALL, we could be stuck in Afghanistan or Somalia and then there would be precious little to debate, wouldn't there? Have we really come so far to do so little? I was under the impression that it was all about choice, not about imperatives, but many have forgotten this.
    I applaud you for your choice, me for mine, and those who know that they have done what's best for their family, well done you. And for those who didn't have a choice: I am sorry, I have hopes that the rest of us can use our energy better to make sure that you do, rather than quibble amongst ourselves.
    Great post, Potty Mummy, and good for you for standing up for yourself, for all of us and NOT distancing yourself and taking a back seat on the bus.

  14. I often pop by from Lisa's blog but I don't think I've commented before... sorry, stalker confession time over for now...

    I loved reading through the Alpha Mummy debate... it was enlightening to realise that there are so many women out there with nothing better to do than attack each other like children in a fight rather than support the decisions that their fellow mums have made either out of necessity or a need for approval. Perhaps if there was more support there would be less need for approval. I know some mums have to work but I'd love to see the ones in the second category feel valued in their work as a mummy. Society as a whole will never value SAHM's but other mums (working outside the home or not) should be able to encourage each other instead of tearing each other apart at the drop of a hat. Your decision is for your family... My decision is for my family...

  15. Grit, am with you all the way in your battle. God only knows how I would deal with all that when a few throwaway comments on a website are driving me crazy over what is so unimportant...

    Sharon, absolutely, it's just bloody depressing isn't it?

    Motherhood, 'choice not imperitives' - that's inspired! And spot on.

    Mummy McT, thanks for delurking and commenting and yes, maybe one day we'll be able to look at other people's childcare choices without seeing them as an implicit criticism of our own. Although I think some of those commenters on Alpha Mummy need to go a long way before they are able to listen to an opposing view.


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