Why isn’t being a mother enough?

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.

Comments

    • says

      Glad you agree but I do wonder whether wider society honestly believes that mothering, that is looking after children, is important.

  1. Rachel says

    Thought-provoking stuff. I have recently decided not to return to my old job, and am really struggling to find words to describe what I ‘do’ now. It’s hard to say, ‘I am looking after my girls’. But why should that be?

    • says

      I think the term ‘housewife’ is outdated and I hate the idea of a ‘career break’ as the skills I use as a mother are relevant to paid jobs. Time to make up a new word!

  2. says

    I’ve just been made redundant, and so we’ve made the decision that I’ll stay at home for a couple of years to look after my little ones. I know I’m very lucky but I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I also struggle with a feeling of a loss of identity without having a job, and I’m worried about returning to the workplace in a few years time, I know that I won’t be able to go back at the same level. I’m thinking about how I can relate the skills that I’m using at home to my CV – negotiation skills, time management, budgeting and so on!

  3. says

    I agree that in society at large being a mother is shockingly undervalued. I have had this same discussion with almost all my friends with children. We are naive before we have children and plan all kinds of grand returns to work after 5 month/ 6 months etc, but that doesn’t feel human once we’ve got our children and the hard work and impact it has on our lives begins. I live in Holland where I have to say the problem is even worse. My second child is nearly 2 and I have just recently returned to work (in a job far bellow my qualifications/capabilities) and I finally feel like people have stopped looking down on me for being a full time mother – here the maternity leave is just a few months and mothers are forced back into work a lot earlier, so I was very unusual. We all need to find a way to stop feeling that we’re failures and value the contribution we’re making to society by bringing up children.

  4. says

    BRILLIANT post. And you ask some really poignant questions. The thing is, I was at home with my daughter for a year after she was born and spent a large amount of that time planning what I would do when I went back to work. I then started freelancing when she was 1, working from home and working from an office weekends and school holidays (my husband’s a teacher) and STILL wasn’t fulfilled. Then I started working full time in a self-employed contracted position, as well as my other freelancing projects and it STILL didn’t feel like enough. I think I’m learning that no matter what I choose to do – work or not work, stay at home or whatever, I will always face a struggle and wonder if I’m doing the right thing and if I’m achieving enough in EVERY area of my life. Oh for the bliss of happy contentment! x

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