I felt I had to write to address the comments recently made by Esther Rantzen in the Telegraph and Sarah Vine in the Mail, which commented on the Childline Report which stated that there had been a 15% increase in children suffering suicidal thoughts. The children also referred to issues such as sexual abuse, eating disorders and homophobia.
The link they point to is a correlating increase in working mums. Now 73.7% of women work (that’s an increase from 62% in 1996).
The easy conclusion Rantzen and Vine appear to come to is that women are now too busy and too hectic to talk to their children. That their children are contemplating suicide while their mums happily traipse out the door to work.
The first thing I felt when I read the article was guilt, a not unknown feeling for a working mum.
But the second thing I felt was anger. Not one shred of evidence was given (apart from anecdotal) to link the rise in working mums to the rise in suicidal feelings in kids.
And not only was no evidence given, the articles ignored the other obvious changes in the last 20 years. Social media and the perils of cyber bullying, the increased pressure on children at school which can make many de-rail, and the economic austerity which forces families to work hard for a pittance, just to name a few.
But mainly, I am angry that they lump all working mums, all mums, together in one bracket. I refuse to buy those sweatshirts that say “Mother” because I don’t want to be defined by a single part of me. Just as men are, women are all unique and individual, as are our children. I am a mother, but I am also a friend and a wife, and a professional, and a bit of a tit for much of the time.
But I am also very very good at empathising and talking to my children, and this is what they need, is it not?
While in the 70s when I grew up, most of my friends mums didn’t work (mine eventually did after 9 years and was happier for it), I wouldn’t say these stay at home mums were there stroking their kids hair and asking them to talk through their worries. It was the era of the stiff upper lip was it not? I certainly can’t remember any time spent sitting discussing my feelings with my parents, that was the remit of friends and siblings.
I had a long maternity leave with my second child, and while I had wonderful days where I felt like the best mum in the world, bonding with my glorious children, there was a lot of boredom, a lot of repetition. The incessant unloading of the bloody dishwasher, the washing, and the constant tidying of toys and spilled porridge. What I really lacked was time just to sit, and to be, with the kids on the floor, without my phone for company. I have to admit at times I was a bit bored, a bit shouty and I’m pretty sure they picked up on it.
Because I think ALL women are different. Some are brilliant with kids, coming up with craft ideas and games (my nanny for example!), and others aren’t so good at that stuff but might be brilliant in other ways – in organising school bags and play dates for example, or leading the PTA. And I do believe kids need your undivided attention sometimes, but for me its about quality, not quantity. My childhood memories are snippets of time – sitting on my mums lap playing with her necklaces, riding a donkey in Blackpool, pulling my dad into the bath in his work suit. It is for us to create these moments of love and joy for our children that they will remember forever, but it doesn’t mean they have to be the centre of our world all the time.
Fast forward a few months and I’m back at work. Yes sometimes the balance goes a bit wrong and I feel I’m missing out on seeing the kids. Almost daily my heart breaks as they shriek when I come home that I’ve missed them for that day. But do you know what? When I see them, I sit down on the floor, I put my phone away, I listen and I play. I extract every ounce of love out of every evening and weekend. I’m fully theirs when I see them now and I think they know that. They can see I’m happy and they in turn seem happy.
Who I really feel sorry for are the mums who have no choice. The mums who want to go back to work but don’t have a career to go back to. The mums who want to stay at home but have no choice financially so have to work. Its them who I fear for because they are in a position which can’t make them happy. It’s them as a society we should support.
Attacking all working mums for endangering their kids mental health is naïve at best and offensive too. It’s too easy to label women into categories, but lets remember we’re all unique and its up to us to make it work.