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Time to erase one of the parenting battlelines?

Working mothers please raise a glass to Professor Heather Joshi – this lady has spent the last few years researching whether working mothers are the root of all evil and has concluded that actually our children don’t suffer intellectually or emotionally because we work

I’m not sure that this will stop the Daily Mail blaming us for everything from global warming to the increased crime rate because we dare to eschew kinder, küche, kirche but at least this is a step in the right direction

Even the most well balanced of mothers feels a twinge of concern when the wider world starts telling them that they are doing damage to their child, even if instinctively you think that they are fine – each article suggesting that our decision to work has consequences outside of our own stress levels plants a seed of worry that just can’t be ignored. It isn’t helped when the wider world appears to have read all of the negative articles and has decided to judge you off that set of data

Professor Heather Joshi’s research examines all the previous surveys, drawing information over the past decades, and compares them with her own research.  She has tracked data on large numbers of children born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and 2000

Yes some previous studies did find a small ‘shortfall’ in some of the results for some of the children back when fewer mothers worked but today, with half of the babies born in the millennium sample having mothers with jobs (compared with 1 in 5 in the 1970s group) there was no difference.  It isn’t totally clear what has changed – it could be because of better maternity and paternity leave, better childcare, fathers being more involved or an increase in job flexibility

The bottom line is that it has changed and that there is now one less thing to beat up working mothers about – we aren’t responsible for our children being less intelligent or emotionally damaged by our need to be in the workplace

Sadly I suspect most of us will continue to feel torn in two between our work and our home lives, that we will still suffer the wrench of leaving our small children behind for someone else to be with and look after and we will still have the nightmare of juggling childcare, family life and our job – but at least we will now know that by working we are not doing our babies any harm

Hopefully this won’t mean that the government or businesses can feel they can rest on their laurels and stop trying to improve workplace flexibility and diversity – there’s still an awful lot that needs to be done to give every parent that wants it access to affordable, quality childcare – the sort of childcare that means you have the security of knowing your child is happy, well looked after and that your finely honed childcare plans don’t collapse around your ears too often

Perhaps this might also help call a truce in the media-stoked ‘battle’ between working and stay at home parents – at last we have the evidence to show that both are doing the best for their children in the circumstances and neither group is doing better or worse than the other. With no evidence to support one group over the other perhaps we should be focused on supporting parents in their choices, giving all parents the same range of choices and removing all of the battle lines

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4 comments to Time to erase one of the parenting battlelines?

  • Hurrah to that. It’s a battle that I, for one, am bored of and realised long ago no one can win. If you’re a working mum you feel guilty, if you’re a stay-at-home mum you feel guilty (when I was on mat leave, I remember feeling like I was “worthless”, contributing nothing, failing my over-qualified self, when I was working I felt constantly guilty, like I was failing my child and husband). The feeling of guilt is a never-ending cycle and it does no one any favours.

  • I’m a stay at home Mum but I do take my hat off to Mums who go out to work. I don’t think their children suffer for them being at work. It’s what works for the individual and their family and there is no right or wrong answer. I worked when I just had my son, but after my twins were born I stopped working and have been a SAHM since then. I really miss having my own money and feeling like ‘me’ sometimes though!

  • Cheers to the professor. But here’s a question I used to ask when my teens were little – What about pre-1960 and the cult of domesticity that popularised the notion that women should stay at home with their children until either they moved out or the mother became a devotee of Mother’s Little Helpers? You see in war time women worked. Before the world wars women worked. Who do you think ran all the little corner stores and during war time the ammunition’s factories? Working Mums did. Working single Mums. It wasn’t until the world had stabilised itself and the men came back from war that the notion became popular that women were to go back into the house (and kitchen) where they belonged, undoubtedly so that the men could have their jobs back. But unfortunately many women did not want to go back to household drudgery and the dissatisfaction became a groundswell of opinion that bore the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement. In my experience I don’t think the problem is whether women should work or not work but rather it’s a question of: Should women do all the work! Should they bring home the bacon and then cook it up flambe? That’s my question. Vx

  • Great article, it’s a question of quality rather than quantity. No point being at home with the children if you’re bored and unhappy as this will probably have a greater adverse effect them than if you’re not there at all. Better to come home from work and enjoy your time together. It’s all down to the individual ultimately

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