Many working mothers feel torn between staying at home to look after the children and going out to work to earn needed money. With the high cost of housing in the UK, being ‘a stay-at-home mum’ is often not an option.
Yet such working mothers may feel guilty about not being around for their children to give them sufficient needed love and support. So when can mothers go back to work and what more can fathers do to help? Different family circumstances obviously influence what parents feel about these questions. Nevertheless there is usually some scope for personal choice. Here are some questions that might guide the judgment.
After child-care costs and extra travel are taken into account, is the extra income worth the candle?
Even a small candle might make a huge difference when money is extremely tight. Could the father earn more money by taking on over-time or extra responsibilities at work? Or even trying to find a better paid position? For exactly what are the extra earnings thought to be needed? Is the money required to pay vital bills like food, and house rent? Or is it wanted to keep up the same standard of nice things bought before the children came along, like fashionable clothes, good mobile phone, stylish car. Could some lifestyle aspirations like wanting a better house be postponed?
In addition to financial reason does the mother want work partly because of boredom?
Many a mother longs for a change from nappies, toys, stories, and crying kids to an interest outside the home. Variety is the spice of life and personal fulfillment is something that is multifaceted.
Does social pressure play a role?
‘Stay at home mums’ are widely thought to be ‘old-fashioned’ whereas working mothers more with it. I get the impression the message from government is ‘go back to work’ and for young children to go to nursery, often full time.
Would a job and contacts made at work stimulate the mother?
This might result in a energised state of mind at home. Or is the job likely to make her so tired that she has less get-up-and-go for doing things with the children and less patience with their ordinary demands, noise and untidiness? If so, can the father help compensate by say doing more housework, taking the children places, and re-organising his own work to create time for looking after them. Could the couple afford a cleaner if there is extra income?
To what extent could others provide caring love?
At unpredicatable times children need attentive listening, kind words, physical expressions of love, family fun times. With both parents working, there would be less shared meals for the whole family to come together in harmony. Could this be offset by more contact from family friends and relatives invited to visit the home?
Do the parents feel it is their role to be around to show the children what is right and wrong?
Choice of a suitable child-minder with values shared by the parents may be an acceptable alternative. On the other hand a succession of child-carers, with none of whom the child able to form an attachment, might mean to some extent loss of a good role model with whom the child identifies. The legal responsibility of being in locus parentis does not necessarily imply exercising all parental responsibility for administering discipline and instruction.
Are the children old enough to learn some measure of self-resourcefulness by experiencing being on their own more?
Children might benefit by being obliged to get their own tea, to take responsibility for securing the home, and to get on with self-planned activities. It is also potentially useful to learn to be a bit street-wise. However, depending on where one lives, this might lead to getting into mischief if easily led. The age and maturity of the child dealing with independence comes into play. Are they ready to look after themselves until an adult is around? I understand that loneliness, boredom and anxiety are more likely to occur in children when left in the house alone if younger than 10 years of age.
Is it necessary for a parent’s career to be put on hold for several years until it is possible for it to be resumed with full-time working when the children are old enough?
If so, re-training will probably be expected. And the worker may need to accept a drop in position due to interrupted experience. Is the parent in question prepared to accept this sacrifice?
How is putting under-three olds into a full-time nursery being considered?
What is the attitude of working mothers to the psychological theory that children need to form a secure attachment to at least one special person if they are to thrive and that if mother and child are separated too soon, this attachment is undermined and health and well-being can be impaired. An alternative view holds that infants can receive good child-care outside the home and that the attachment to the mother is not broken but merely put under strain as contact is resumed each day after work.
Is it thought that women on the whole are no better than men looking after small children?
If so, then whichever parent would earn the less might be the one chosen to stay at home. What attitude is there about working mothers replacing working fathers?
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg suggests that women are more suited for this role. He writes that women tend to be more in touch with their emotional side and that there is a spirit of tender affection for children that they more readily receive into their hearts than do men. He attempts to explains this in terms of a spiritual sphere of innocence and peace from heaven which he says directly affects infants and is expressed in them. More about possible gender differences.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems