Why Doesn't Society Value Stay-At-Home Mums?

I never expected to be rewarded by society for being a stay-at-home mum. I felt short changed that we had been told we could have it all, the career and the family, and for so many that isn't the case.
Halfpoint via Getty Images

Latest figures just released from ONS show that the number of dad's opting to stay at home and take care of the kids has dropped against what has been a steadily rising number. I can't say I am hugely surprised. Since becoming a parent nearly eight years ago I can count on one hand the number of stay-at-home dads that I personally know. Despite shared leave options available, society still isn't equal when it comes to being a stay-at-home parent.

Stay-at-home verses returning to work is a 'mummy' war that rages on. Personally I'm all for doing what is best for your family, and in reality there is often little choice either way. It often comes down to money. Either you can't afford not to work, or you can't afford to return to work and cover child care costs. However, professor Sir Cary Cooper argues that the fall in the number of stay-at home dads is down to the fact that they just aren't recognised enough.

"I think what's ended up happening is that they feel like society doesn't reward that and doesn't give them high status. Men feel that they are only valued for their work role."

I'd like to think that most men could rise above this and know that they were supporting their family by being a stay-at-home dad. But then I thought about my own feelings from when I was a stay-at-home mum and I get where he is coming from.

It was a huge adjustment becoming a stay-at-home mum. Like a lot of people my job had defined me. I spent the majority of my waking hours there. It was my purpose. I liked the people I worked with. My colleagues respected me. I worked hard for promotions and recognition. My job gave me a huge amount of self worth.

Then I gave it up and spent the time taking care of my baby boy. A job which I loved and was grateful for, yet there was a part of me that hated not contributing financially. For the first time ever I was solely reliant on my husband for money. There was no prospect of promotions, and I suddenly felt the need to justify what I had done with my day. My new role was demanding, but not as personally fufilling as my ambition desired.

I hated filling in forms and ticking home maker. I felt like I was back in the 1950's doing a terrible disservice to feminism and single-handedly setting back women's rights. I hated the way conversations halted when someone asked me what I did. I hated the language our government used "reward people that want to work and get ahead". Were they somehow implying that I was lazy and had no ambition? I hated the assumptions that being a stay-at-home mum meant I was either living off benefits or I was very well off. The perceptions were that of Waynetta Slob or wannabe WAG, when in fact the truth was neither.

I never expected to be rewarded by society for being a stay-at-home mum. I felt short changed that we had been told we could have it all, the career and the family, and for so many that isn't the case. I watched working mums in awe at how they juggled work and kids, but also listened to my friends who were tying to have it all, and were spread so thin they were at breaking point. I know the grass isn't always greener.

How has society changed so much from staying at home with your children being the accepted and normal thing to do, to it now being something that people judge negatively? Yet on the other hand working mums face judgement for not staying at home. We've created a society where women can do no right!

I agree with Professor Cooper that being a stay-at-home parent doesn't make you feel like a valued member of society. Men are stepping into an undervalued role that doesn't have a high status, or quite frankly a very good reputation in today's society. But I think that really needs to change. And that change needs to start with stay-at-home mums, because until we value them, how will we shift the attitudes towards stay-at-home dads?

Being a stay-at-home parent is sometimes a choice, sometimes a necessity, sometimes a circumstance.

But whether you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent, shouldn't those roles be equally valued by society?

Read more from Claire at Life, Love and Dirty Dishes.