• 28Oct

    No more apologies

    No More Apologies

    A few days ago the Guardian ran an article which ventured “Do Stay at Home Mothers Upset You? You May Be a Motherist“.
    It described a torrent of prejudice against women who choose to stay home and look after the children, and it covered a few of the typical areas where stay-at-home-mums (SAHM) face groundless and often superficial negative attitudes from the wider world.

    It’s a subject that has often weighed on my mind since becoming a SAHM in 2010. But it isn’t just the negative cultural connotations of being a housewife that I find generally interminable, rather it’s the infinite flaming chasm that exists in leui of positive representations of stay-at-home-parenthood.

    Instead of being able to identify with any positive model of what I’m currently doing with my life, I frequently feel obliged to delineate all of the things I am NOT. Granted, in small stages, and in comparison to the enormous inequalities of the world, these niggles are a drop in the ocean. I move on with my colossal buggy to face the tuts of another innocent childless pedestrian. It is only when I stop and consider the bigger picture, or talk to other parents, that I find that it is the experience itself which is mind-numbingly pedestrian. To be a SAHM mum is to be a disparaged vacuum.

    I find perspective in unexpected places; conversations with older women for example who have highlighted that in their day it was the working mums who faced approbrium (thanks Norma), or from men who want to be more involved but feel childcare is still left in a box reserved for women.

    And then there are the places I expect to feel support, but don’t. Feminist spaces were one of the first I looked to. There’s ample thought from many directions that critique the position of motherhood. Socialist feminists will say it’s a symptom of capitalism – let’s continue to ignore mothers until we smash the system! Tories see it as traditional, appropriate family structure to simply place no value on mothers just for mothering. Feminist thought for the most part seems to place its energy on the theoretical, not lived experience of mothering. (And please do point me in the right direction for any gems I might enjoy).

    Likewise I have lost count of the number of pieces I’ve read over the years from women who don’t have children (both through choice and not) arguing for the world to stop harassing them about it and placing so much emphasis on breeding, often with thinly veiled reference to perceived wrongs committed by mothers or a throwaway disparaging remark. It’s irresistibly easy. One such piece recently declared that “Having children or not having children should not ultimately define you as a person. It changes you, but it is not finally you”, which while no doubt gratifying for the author to write, also neatly disposes and belittles the identity of the many women whose lives are indeed, even happily, defined by having children. It reiterates the very false and limited stereotyped options that women are presented with, and utilises the very same tool with which we are both dismissed: removing the power to define ourselves.

    Feminists are fairly agreed in their critique of the 1950’s housewife model (despite that many women couldn’t afford not to work anyway), yet it seems to have swept over the fact that despite six decades of development, much of the actual work of the SAHM remains unchanged. I cook, bake, organise activities, tend to children, shop and clean (for visitors, sometimes). I do many housewifey things. But when I look to feminism for positive reinforcement of that, I often feel there’s just a dark swirl of snarky remarks, lack of understanding, and an image of Audrey Hepburn in a flowery frock, shrugging vacantly.

    Somewhere between the void of being pro-women while conflicted about motherhood hangs a fog of irony. If 1970’s feminism made ‘the personal political’ we face a challenge in accepting that this has come hand-in-hand with a potent social backlash against the very people that movement sought to support, who do the same work they always did. The SAHM has become the under-achiever in a discourse dominated by the aims of women who want to succeed beyond the home.

    The debates rage about slummy or yummy mummies (I exhausted my pen on the latter already, during a particularly low point in my maternity leave), endless streams of instragrammed calls for validation, hyper-critiqued definitions of mums who do speak out, over-educated, under-educated, too-privileged, in poverty, choice, circumstance, chitter chatter and snit with an overwhelming subtext of critical interrogation. You are a stay-at-home-mum? Explain yourself, you will be judged.

    And I did routinely explain myself, until recently. Faced with the groundhog-esque experience of conversational tumbleweed when telling new people I was a SAHM, I felt compelled to justify why I was one. More often than not I was asked ‘what did you do before?’ (because of course being a SAHM = of zero interest), and failure to elaborate, I have learned, means failure to engage. I oblige. I get the rules. I explain my story. But in doing so, it’s changing my story. Whereas before, I was unintentionally almost apologetic about what I do, now I’m feeling more vigilante about it, and more passionate than ever that women need to be able to take their spaces and define them, positively. Both mothers and non-mothers.

    I’m a feminist AND a stay home mum and I’m ok with both of those things. I’m comfortable with the idea that my contribution to society is three happy cheeky daughters who wake up to food and go to sleep exhausted from a day’s fun. I enjoy my extra-curricular activities (like the blogging, campaigning, studying etc) but I’ll be damned if the most important thing I’m doing right now isn’t building my kids’ lives. There will be more to come. I will go back to work and contribute to the GDP and other socially acceptable forms of involvement, but right now, doing what I’m doing is the single most important thing to me. Not in a cutesy Clinton cards way, but because for all else I may or may not ‘achieve’, my girls will always matter most to me. And if the surrounding ‘boring’ childcare aspects of that are only worthy of belittlement and sarcasm from others, then they can jog on. I can value what I do and also look forward to one day doing other things again with no contradiction.

    I’m consciously not apologising anymore. I’ve made peace with the fact that being a SAHM can be a rewarding (and equally frustrating!) job to do, with or without anyone else’s approval. I do wish that more feminists could respect that.

Discussion 7 Responses

  1. October 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    […] No more apologies (inadifferentvoice.co.uk) Instead of being able to identify with any positive model of what I’m currently doing with my life, I frequently feel obliged to delineate all of the things I am Not. Granted, in small stages, and in comparison to the enormous inequalities of the world, these niggles are a drop in the ocean. I move on with my colossal buggy to face the tuts of another innocent childless pedestrian. It is only when I stop and consider the bigger picture, or talk to other parents, that I find that it is the experience itself which is mind-numbingly pedestrian. To be a SAHM mum is to be a disparaged vacuum. + I find perspective in unexpected places; conversations with older women for example who have highlighted that in their day it was the working mums who faced approbrium (thanks Norma), or from men who want to be more involved but feel childcare is still left in a box reserved for women. + Feminists are fairly agreed in their critique of the 1950’s housewife model (despite that many women couldn’t afford not to work anyway), yet it seems to have swept over the fact that despite six decades of development, much of the actual work of the SAHM remains unchanged. I cook, bake, organise activities, tend to children, shop and clean (for visitors, sometimes). I do many housewifey things. But when I look to feminism for positive reinforcement of that, I often feel there’s just a dark swirl of snarky remarks, lack of understanding, and an image of Audrey Hepburn in a flowery frock, shrugging vacantly. […]

  2. November 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    […] No more apologies (inadifferentvoice.co.uk) […]

  3. November 8, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Hear hear. More recognition is needed of the value of investing in children. Working with expectant women I often come across funding that is tied to ‘getting them back to work’, so they can ‘contribute’. And many more who ‘have’ to return to work quickly (and I’m not passing judgement on them), but are horrified at the cost of childcare. Why is it so surprising and appalling to everyone that looking after our most vulnerable, the greatest hope for our future, costs money?

  4. November 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    […] No more apologies (inadifferentvoice.co.uk) […]

  5. May 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I would probably ask you what you did before too – not because I don’t think being a SAHM is important, but because I’d be using it as a proxy to place you in terms of your education, class etc. A SAHM is a poor hook for this – as it encompasses everyone – from feminist theorists to women who can’t read and write…. the poorest and the richest etc etc.

    You sound like you worry too much. I’m a SAHM because its the right thing for me and my family. There’s tons of compelling evidence that being cared for by your mother is a brilliant experience for small children, and I couldn’t give a stuff what other people think tbh.

    Someone asked me at a tots group why I’d come to Scotland (my accent gives away the fact that I am far from local) and I replied that I’d come (about 20 years ago now) to do a PhD. They were taken abacken – so much so that they went “you have a PhD – can’t you get a job!!”.

    I gave up a good job to stay at home actually, and if you’re wondering the PhD is in feminist theory :) For me the feminist agenda was to give women choice – not to ensure we were all economically active – that’s just the ecomomic agenda of successive governments – labour and tory :( I see no conflict in being a feminist SAHM.

    I do notice that society has tipped to sort of open hostility towards SAHM. I think it reflects right-wing rhetoric about paid work being the only valid occupation, rather than any feminist agenda though. People ask when you are going back to work, not if. People seem to think I am “spoiling” my child (weird) and people will actively tell you that a little girl needs a working mother to be a good role mother.

    If I was back doing my old job, I would be away working most of her waking hours – and it’s hard to see how you can be a great role model by delgating parenting to someone you barely know… which is what most of my peers do :(

    Being a SAHM is a great choice. I’ve worked as a parent and done this, and I have no regrets. Oh, and btw, your cake for your little girl’s birthday is awesome too x

  6. November 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Way to go lady. If being a SAHM is right for you and your family you are also right not to apologise for it. I agree with the post above, feminism to me is about giving women choice not some purist orthodoxy. For myself I am a ‘part-timer’ and am still coming to terms with the unforeseen effects that has had on my career, although I know in my heart I’ve made the right choice for me and my family. I can’t afford to be a SAMH as I am the main breadwinner, but I am surprised that more people don’t respond to you with envy!! Enjoy your girls, enjoy your life and know you’ll be able to look back with peace of mind.

    • November 28, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Thank you Nicola! I loved part time working (when I was able to do it). Things are definitely easier when you focus on the positives!

Leave a Reply