A Daily Mail report this week that only 1 in 10 women are stay-at-home mothers, together with the judge’s ruling in a recent divorce case that a mother should ‘get a job’ once her children are seven, have reignited the debate about whether mothers ‘should’ be at home with their children or remain in the workforce. We’re at a strange point in history where there seems to be pressure both ways: a longstanding societal push, reinforced by some parts of the media, to be an at-home mother and a corresponding push from Government and other parts of the media to keep mothers working. Mothers are squeezed in the middle, torn as to the ‘right thing’ to do and feeling judged whatever path they take.
I hear these mixed messages played out on the personal level as well, from the mothers I work with. Some women feel pressure from partners/parents/friends to give total attention to the family, while others feel pushed to get back to work. And we then have our own internal ambiguity: “I’m being selfish and ungrateful if I want to work and leave my children” vs. “I’m wasting my education and sponging off my partner if I stay at home”. It’s not surprising that so many mothers feel guilty whatever they do.
There’s no RIGHT answer
What I’d love to tell all mothers wrestling with your work-home choices, either post maternity or career break, is this: There is no universal RIGHT answer. This is a time in your life when you need to acknowledge all the internal & external pressures you are experiencing, and then decide what is the best choice for you and your family, dependent on your desires and your personal circumstances (which can also change over time).
So which option do you choose?
If you have no real choice and need the income, then avoid the ‘pro-full-time mum’ press, focus on managing your work-home balance, read our articles on how to ditch the guilt and stop labelling yourself as selfish.
If you do have a choice, then focus on deciding what you want to do, not agonising over what you ‘should’ do. There are many options: working as an employee full-time/part-time/flexibly, setting up your own business, going freelance, pausing your career with a clear strategy to return later, or being an at-home mother. And it’s fine to chop and change over the years as you create a life balance that works for you.
Finding my way
Personally, I was taken aback by the pull I felt to stay at home for a few years when my kids were small – I’d always pictured myself as someone who would never take a break. Being at home suited me best in the early years but after four years I was desperate to engage my brain again in other interests and went back to university to retrain, doing some consultancy alongside. I then worked part-time and grew my own business, working longer hours as my children got older. Many of my friends and colleagues had different experiences; from those who were very happy get back to full-time work after maternity leave to those have remained at home until their children are much older and are only now considering how they can find their way back into work.
Feeling content with your life
There is no single and perfect solution. But you’ll know you’ve made the best choice for you when most of the time you feel (fairly) satisfied with your life and rarely feel frustrated and stuck in a place where you don’t want to be. And if you don’t feel satisfied, that’s when you need to make a change, not when other people say you should.
Julianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.