Dear Telegraph Editors,
I wanted to write an open letter in response to your article, “Like Nicole Kidman, I’m a better mother because I work,” published on 6 February 2016.
It was during my morning scroll through Facebook that first I stumbled across your article, posted by another blogger on her newsfeed and, to be honest, my heart sank. Ordinarily I would do my best to dampen down these feelings and carry on with my day, looking after my two young children at home, but on this particular occasion I couldn’t help but comment.
Now I understand the thought behind your article, after poor old Nicole Kidman got shot down for daring to say she wanted to return to work even after becoming a mother during her Harpers Bazaar interview. You wished to show an “ordinary” woman who too wanted to return to work, not for the money, but because she enjoyed her job and wanted to retain her sense of self. This is of course fair enough and, as a GP who had no doubt done years of medical training, I would fully expect her to continue to work (although if she hadn’t that would have been a non-issue too). You see it’s your use of headline that I find most troubling.
Before I had my children I worked for years in PR, so I understand how a headline has to grab a reader’s attention, and this one certainly grabbed mine. But is it necessary for the headline to be written in such a way that further deepens a pre-existing divide between mothers. You see every mother is different, but rather than celebrate these differences (as was perhaps the intention of your article) they are used to make other inaccurate judgements against one another. Breast versus bottle, working versus stay-at-home mum, we are placed in boxes with labels, and so to say one box is better than the other, only further exacerbates the problem.
The reality is there aren’t just “working” and “stay-at-home” mothers. There are mothers that work full-time, part-time, from home, project-by-project, voluntarily and not at all. There are those that chose to work, those who have to work for financial reasons, and those who have the opportunity to be at home. I myself have been at home since the birth of my first child nearly three and a half years ago, I then took on a PR project for two months, and I also write in my spare-time (all two minutes of it). Traditionally I would still be considered a “stay-at-home” mum, but this label doesn’t account for any of the above, or my previous 11 years working in the PR industry. It would be easy to overlook these achievements and simply see my role as “chief bottom wiper” but this isn’t the truth. There is more to me than that and most other SAHMs I imagine.
I also acknowledge that the woman interviewed gave a positive nod to us SAHMs, stating that some mums (at the antenatal course she runs with her sister) “get all their fulfillment from being a mother”. High five to those who do, but that I am certainly not one of them. I love my children and pestered my husband relentlessly to have them, but I didn’t happily throw away my career to become a full-time parent. Yes I was tired of PR and ready to have a break, but no one could have prepared me for the identity crisis that was to follow, which left me wondering whether I was cut out to be a mother at all? The decision for me to stay at home wasn’t taken lightly. We took all of our circumstances into consideration – my husband’s long hours during the summer, working seven days a week at the family ice cream business, and the fact that PR pays peanuts, barely covering childcare costs for one, let alone two kids – and our decision was that I should stay put. Did that make the transition any easier? No it didn’t. Do I miss work? Yes I do, and I suspect I will return to work as soon as my kids are of school age or even before. After all, the decision isn’t set in stone. Rather, every family looks at their individual set of circumstances at that moment in time and makes the decision that is right for them. No one decision is better or worse – just different, and we should start to view it that way and see the bigger picture.
After all, being a parent is hard enough at the best of times, with the never-ending sleep deprivation and the perpetual self-doubt, without sticking labels on one another and making quick-fire judgments. A friend recently told me of a working mother who, at the school gates, refuses to acknowledge the SAHMs as she assumes they have nothing in common. Clearly this woman is particularly narrow minded, but nonetheless it highlights that there is a problem in the way us parents view one another and this needs to stop. Let’s stop publishing these non-stories saying working, or being at home, makes us better, personally or otherwise. After all, as a friend rightly pointed out, you wouldn’t see such a piece being published about a father at work, so why should one be written about a mother?