I am struggling with a question that turns over in my mind daily. Why isn’t being a mother enough? When my son was born nearly 19 months ago I decided to stay at home and not to return to work. Since then there have been a few moments when I have had to sit down and remind myself that I’m really doing alright. I have a fantastically supportive husband, a wonderful son, a roof over my head, food on the table and reasonably good health but there is this niggling feeling that I have failed. I am educated and ambitious but I worry that my degree, two post-graduate qualifications and experience will amount to very little if I allow myself to be ‘just’ a mother while my son is growing up because when I eventually return to the workplace employers will see little or no value in my time spent as a full time carer.
If there is no merit in being a mother am I wasting my time? Yesterday I went to a farm with my son; we made play dough and did some drawing. I cooked my son’s meals, I bathed him, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, read him a story and kissed and cuddled him before tucking him up in bed. I want to do those things and I am lucky that I can be at home to do them. I also believe that they are very important but I can’t deny that there is a part of me that also believes that I should be at work. Not everyone I went to university with is researching a cure for cancer or running a multi-national corporation but I am at home and it sounds like a cop out. I keep coming back to the same question: why isn’t being a mother enough?
I shouldn’t need the affirmation of my fellow ‘man’ to feel comfortable being a mother but I believe that I have very little status or respect in society in this role. I don’t think I am alone. There are many women who are highly educated, who had successful careers in their twenties and now in their thirties they have become the main carers for their children either by choice or forced by the cost of childcare and they feel out of place and uncertain of the future. I imagine what it will be like in a few years when it is time for me to return to paid employment. I am in a job interview and the interviewer casts a disapproving eye across my curriculum vitae. They ask me what I have been doing for the last few years. Should I list this period as the main carer of my son as ‘Director of Progeny’? Will future employers find this more impressive and easier to accept than ‘Mother’? If I can’t find a job in the future has my education and training all been a waste?
When my son was just over a year old I set up a small business from home so that I could use all my skills, continue to learn and balance working part-time and being a mother to my son, my way. Being ‘just’ a mother was not enough despite it being the most rewarding and worthwhile job I will ever do. But why shouldn’t it be enough? Becoming a mum is exhilarating, unsettling, exhausting, heart-warming, challenging and amazing and looking after children is more than a full-time job. If we are to have a genuinely equal society then women should feel supported and able to choose to go to work or to stay at home and neither decision should feel like a punishment.
Women who are the main carers for their children are successful and worthy of respect. They are looking after the next generation and will be back to employment when their children are older and settled into school, having acquired even more skills, maturity and knowledge. The questions then are whether employers and society see any value in the time these women spent with their children and whether they will consider them worth employing.