In response to a reader comment after an interview in The Guardian, Kirstie Allsopp has said recently: “I think for someone to use the word housewife pejoratively is rude.”
I agree with her completely. Why this is even worthy of being a subject for debate is beyond me, but comments like this fill be with rage. For starters, the suffragettes fought for women to have a right to vote. To have a vote means to have a say, an opinion. A right to be heard and a voice which matters. To say that women choosing to stay at home are undermining the suffragette movement is nonsensical. A right to vote inherently includes a right to chose and women (and indeed men!) have a right to have their choices respected, whether they choose mothers-work, housewifery , whatever you want to call it, or whether they choose a professional career.
But this isn’t my bone of contention with the reader who criticised Kirstie Allsopp. It is the fact that our government and so many in our Country, seem firm in their belief that parents (usually mothers) who stay at home with their children are somehow less important and less worthy than those who are back in the workplace as soon as the cord is cut. That investing in our children is undesirable, wrong even.
Of course, there are women out there who do not have the luxury of choosing to stay at home with their children. Times are tough and I know that I’m lucky to be able to be at home with my son to spend this precious time with him. I’m not criticising these women at all. Nor am I suggesting that it’s wrong for mothers, who are financially able to stay at home, to go to work. If that’s what they want to do. A happy mother is much more likely to raise a happy child. What I am saying is that a child does benefit from having a parent at home with them and that it is completely unacceptable to treat mothers who choose to do this as inferior.
In the first three years of life, a baby’s brain doubles in size. Now of course, this is a physical process that will happen whether their mother is at home with them or not, but let’s think about what this change means. It means quite simply that young children are at a developmental stage incomparable with any other stage of their life. It is in these years that their capacity to learn language; to understand their environment; to develop a sense of right and wrong; and to gain confidence and security are formed. Parents who stay at home with their children have a unique chance to help grow their children into human beings who are kind, thoughtful, literate adults.
I’m assuming of course that all SAHM are actually doing these things with their children and not just parked in front of Jeremy Kyle while their child screeches away in the background. And that’s a huge misconception. I speak to so many people who state so emphatically that I must be “bored” at home with my child; that I’m “wasting” my intelligence and education and that my mind “must be in need of a challenge.” Quite aside from the fact that I would never dream of questioning their life choices, this patronising attitude just screams ignorance and hypocrisy. I defy anyone to say they have never been bored in their career. That they have never stood at the photocopier and thought there must be more to life; rubber-stamped the fiftieth document to pass through their hands in a week or reviewed the same patient with athletes foot over and over again. How fulfillling. Yes, sometimes life as a full time mother is boring but that doesn’t undermine it’s value. Life can be boring and we shouldn’t be pretending otherwise to the next generation. Our children are so used to having entertainment on tap – phones, tablets, gadgets, apps – that they never have to experience boredom and find ways to entertain themselves. I’m far from convinced that this is a good thing.
Then of course there’s the view that being a mother is easy. Days are surely filled with a bit of folding, followed by a lengthy lunch with the girls over chilled Pinot, an invigorating stroll around the park and a quick nap with the baby before dear old hubby returns from a hard day’s toil. What on earth do you mean, you haven’t had time to lay on a tempting three course spread? Society cries scornfully. I have worked in both the public and private sector in demanding jobs and I can tell you honestly that I never worked as hard as I do now. There are no lunchbreaks, no working time directives and no sense of achievement when you finally complete a task. Because you don’t. Ever. I often feel a failure as a mother because I reach the end of a day and cannot quantify what I’ve achieved. There are no targets, no rewards, no bonuses. No pat on the back or recognition. All I am usually left with is a messy house and the feeling that I’m on a perpetual hamster wheel that I’m unable to get off.
But let’s think about who our children are. We are raising the next generation of adults. Adults who will lead our nation into the future. Adults who will be responsible for pioneering discoveries; new inventions; cures for cancer and long term recovery for Britain. These adults will represent us in sporting events, politics, literature, medicine. They will teach generations of children to come, they will become part of our history and the legacy we leave behind.
So I don’t need recognition and financial recompense for the job I have chosen to do. I don’t need to be promoted or climb an ever more greasy pole or chase a moving goalpost. The satisfaction of knowing I am contributing, in no small way, to our country’s future is reward enough for me. What I don’t need though is to be told that I am less worthy or less valuable than any other member of society. Because I’ll tell you something – if you get rid of our army of mothers, we’ll be left with a very sorry future indeed.