There is, of course, no right or wrong when it comes to mums going out to work or not. Many women make the decision that they feel is right for their families at the time – and in many cases, that decision changes throughout the course of their kids' upbringing depending on the number of children and their ages.
For other women, there is no choice. They have to work outside the home because their family is dependent on the income. Or, conversely they have to refrain from paid employment, perhaps because of their partner's long working hours or because their wages wouldn't even cover the childcare. The outcome may or may not be what they want.
But despite the fact that this is nothing new, we mothers still have a tendency to worry what mothers on the other side of the coin think. So what exactly is it that we fear the other set of mums are thinking? We talked to both working mums and stay-at-home mums to find out.
Then, when we had all the answers, we went back to them to read them out. Their reaction? In most cases, it was sheer amazement at what the other group of mums assumed they thought.
We are clearly more sisterly than perhaps some of you thought...but, it seems, no less paranoid.
STAY AT HOME MUMS
We are the latte set
"What do you do all day?" is the single most hated question among stay-at-home mums (or assumed question, since many people don't dare utter these exact words, but you know that's what they're really asking).
If we're spotted in the local cafe or coming out of another mother's house from a coffee morning, we are certain they'll be rolled eyes as that's surely answered the question fair and square. The irony is that we'd do anything for the kind of lunch hour that working people take for granted, even just once a week, without children pulling at us and stopping us ending our sentences.
We can't be very clever
"What do you do?" is the second most hated question among stay-at-home mums. It should be banned as an expression because whilst I probably 'do' more than many CEOs in the course of my day, that's not what the question is asking. It's asking if I have a job – a paid job. And if I don't have a paid job in 2014 when everyone knows that women can 'have it all', then I can't be very clever. No wonder so many of us feel we have to constantly justify our intelligence.
We make poor role models to our kids
There's this prevalent notion that stay-at-home mums are the pushiest mums, essentially living vicariously through our children. A case of 'do as I say' not 'do as I do', chastising our children for getting only 11 out of 12 in their spellings test and champing at the bit to play the 'soccer mom' and shout at our kids on from the side of the football pitch.
Maybe it's because our job is parenting, so we're going to make damn sure we do our best. Perhaps it's is that parents are increasingly encouraged to see their children's successes and failures as a direct reflection on them. Or just maybe it's none of those things and it's not even true.
We don't work
You may even have heard me mutter the actual words, "I don't work," so it's fair to say I don't help myself out here. But of course, I do work and my job is 24/7. Dealing with the toddler tantrums, ferrying older kids from one club to another, sorting out the food battles, the crayons on the wall, the sibling rivalry, the baby that never seems to stop crying...the list is endless.
You know this because you do it when you get home. And anyway, I bet if you dig deeper, you'll find I do work outside the home too – reading in my kids' school, perhaps, doing a bit of charity work or helping out with Brownies every week.
We have to ask our partners for money
Financial independence is a given for women these days. You must find it unthinkable that we have no means of earning our own money and be simply amazed at thought of a woman having to ask someone else for the funds to buy the food, clothes, holidays – well, everything really.
I wonder if the way you see it is that our husbands essentially buy their own Christmas presents and that we can never even take our partners out for a meal. But the way I see it is that both adults work in this family – just in different ways - and the money therefore belongs to us both.
We're inferior mothers
This is the biggie, never-to-be-got-over issue for us. We worry that you think we're just too selfish to dedicate ourselves entirely to our children. If I need something else in my life that takes up so many waking hours, I can't possibly love my children as much. For many of us, the concern of being judged by others in this way gives us sleepless nights and it's this – not the working itself – that makes us feel guilty.
Going back to work was an easy decision
I may be a mum that had no choice about going back to work because we need the money or because to hop off the career ladder now would be tantamount to saying goodbye to it forever. Or, perhaps I decided long before I had kids that I love my work so much that I'd always do it, no matter what. But whatever the reason, one thing's for sure – it will not have been an easy option when the children came along. Working out how to achieve work-life balance as a mum and find the best childcare solution is nothing short of a military operation, not to mention an emotional rollercoaster.
We allow complete strangers to bring up our children
Of course, those strangers don't stay being strangers, but that's what they start out as if they're paid to do the job of a childminder, nursery worker or nanny. What's more, we worry that you think it's these strangers that enjoy the key milestones in our children's lives. But actually, none of us works all the time, all of us prioritise our children above all else and most of us probably spent more time finding the right person to care for our child than applying for any job.
It's a miracle if we turn up at the school gates
Working mums can feel a bit like a surprise guest at a dinner party when we turn up in the playground habitat. "Long time no see," someone might say, "Are you on holiday?" "This is a treat for you," another might remark. "Will you be working later to make up for it?" Even if we are there regularly, we worry about the comments. "I won't stop you, I'm sure you have to rush off." And on and on. But whilst some of us may not be able to do the school run, others can. There's a third group too – those who feel the best thing of all about working is missing out on the playground politics.
We feel guilt about working
How could we fail to feel bad? We don't see our children enough, after all. We worry that these are such deep-seated assumptions that it's one of the things we almost take for a given that other people think. But actually the latest research – a comprehensive survey of 40 years' research - shows that childcare is not damaging to young children. London University researchers concluded that there is no evidence whatsoever that working mothers are stunting their children's emotional or social development and that in fact, there can be benefits.
We're always late and slightly harassed
OK, you've got me here. If anyone is going to try to answer emails on their phone arriving at the school pick up and if anyone's phone is going to ring during the school nativity play, it more likely to be me than you. But my fear is that you'll assume that means I'm generally incompetent, whereas actually it probably just means that I have become a multi-tasker extraordinaire or - maybe more likely - that I drop a ball every now and then.
More on Parentdish: Maternity leave over? 12 reasons to love being a working mother
An apology to all stay at home mums - from a dad who did it