I'm the kind of woman who should go back to work to boost the economy, apparently. You see, I'm a stay at home mum who spends her days trying to nurture a little boy's mind, instil in him creativity, adventure, ambition, problem-solving skills and a desire to succeed. Yet, according to a government-backed report, it's women like me holding this country back.
The report has been done by the Women's Business Council, and in this story in the Daily Mail, we're told how its authors are urging bosses to support working families through flexibility. The report was commissioned by ministers, who we are also told believe it is unacceptable that highly skilled women don't get ahead in the work place to the same extent as men.
I'm one of those skilled women, but I chose to have a child. I am no longer a senior reporter at a national daily. I no longer run a team of reporters and help mentor them while building tomorrow's front page and today's online splash. I no longer sit around the top table in the middle of the day and decide what readers will discover tomorrow.
I'm one of those skilled women, however, who still finds every day a mental challenge. I still work hard to push myself and get the most out of each day I can. I still believe in achieving my goals to the best of my abilities. I still mentor, its just that my charge is a toddler. I still bust my gut, basically, and finish every day exhausted and spent.
There are many problems, in my eyes, with decrying stay at home mums for not getting out there and helping boost the nation's growth figures. Firstly, the myopic perception that millions of women have a choice is insulting. Many women cannot find work which will allow them to uphold their parenting beliefs. Many women cannot find childcare that is affordable or practical or suitable. Many women are discriminated against after a maternity leave break. Many women are discriminated against before that maternity break is even taken.
It is an issue that men simply do not have to face. Even those that choose to stay at home will not face the same discrimination as many women before and after the birth of their child. They will not face the same challenges when they do return to work. For many women, those challenges include such realities as choosing to keep breastfeeding – if they can find somewhere suitable at work to express. They include realities such as choosing to stand up to the judgement of colleagues, peers, and other mothers, simply for deciding to return to work. I don't believe men face the same challenges.
Debate over the cost of at-home mothers to the economy also pits mothers against mothers. Once again, we are seeing judgements directed towards mothers themselves for their personal choices. If a mother chooses to work, and is able to do so, then surely that is her choice. If a mother chooses not to work, and again is able not to do so, then surely that is her choice.
By subtly encouraging women into one corner or another on this issue helps nobody and only works to destroy the support networks that all mothers can and must build around each other.
Sadly, for too many mothers, the option to work or not just isn't there. They have no choice. So, instead of arguing that at-home mothers must help to boost the economy, surely more needs to be done to give them options. There is still, sadly, not enough flexibility in the workplace for mothers to truly do what they want or need to for themselves and their families. For as long as companies continue to be bound by conventional working hours and practices, mothers will fail to have the options open to them that they should. For this, they should bear no blame.
Kiran is a stay-at-home mum with a 17-month-old son. She is expecting her second child next month and fits some freelance writing work in when her little boy sleeps on schedule.
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