Can you be a full time mum and a feminist?

I used to think that feminism was about women being like men.  The image I had in my head of ‘a feminist’ was a woman in a business suit, smashing through the glass ceiling and taking no prisoners.  To me, feminism was all about women in the workplace, proving that they are at least as good as men.  I felt it was my duty as an intelligent woman to have a ‘career’ and progress through it as fast as possible.

Then I had children.

Childcare is a role that has been traditionally undertaken by women, and like all ‘women’s work’, it is completely undervalued in our society.  Women are allowed 6-12 months to look after their babies but are then expected to get back on the work treadmill and stick the kids into nursery.  The domestic work that mothers (and fathers) at home do may not have economic value, but that does not mean that it is worthless.  In fact I now feel that it is the most valuable work that I could be doing at this point in my life.

Having said that, at first I did sometimes have the nagging feeling that I was somehow ‘letting the side down’ because I was not doing paid work, I mean I went to university and now I’m just staying at home changing nappies and doing finger painting?  Is that right? Is that *allowed*?  But then I realised that actually, life is not all about making an economic contribution to society, and that other types of contribution are equally valid.

My idea of feminism has evolved now.  The key idea is CHOICE and EQUALITY for all.  Men and women are different, but still equal.  Now that women are ‘allowed’ to do everything that men do (thank you feminists of history), does that mean we have to do those things all of the time?  Or can we also recognise that the things that women do, or are expected to do (traditionally speaking) are just as worthwhile.  Things like looking after young children, caring for elderly relatives, volunteering and domestic housework.

In my (inexpert and very personal) opinion, children do best in a family environment, with one or two familiar, loving caregivers, ideally a parent or close family member.  I’m not saying that nurseries are bad or that they will harm children, but I think they are not ideal. Since I didn’t love my old job, and I do love my children, and we could afford for me to stay at home, it was an easy choice.

I’m not saying that every mother should stay at home with their children.  I am definitely not advocating a return to the days of women being chained to the kitchen sink.  Feminism and equality is about respecting one another’s choices, even if they are different to your own.

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Britain Needs Family Friendly Taxation

Britain’s taxation system is currently unfair for families. Under the current system a single earning family with children where one parent stays at home can pay more tax than a couple with no children where both partners work, on the same household income.  We need an overhaul to level the playing field.

Other countries have a taxation system that reduces the tax burden on families.  This can be achieved by allowing couples to transfer their tax-free allowance between partners, or by income splitting.  This is not a tax break but simply recognises that families with dependent children have more responsibilities and are less able to pay than people with no children.

Many parents would like to be able to look after their children themselves, but cannot afford to stay at home.  Current government ‘family-friendly’ policies tend towards providing more, cheaper childcare and tax breaks for working families.  This is great for families where both parents want or need to work.  It is time we also supported families who wish to raise their own children at home.  Changing Britain’s taxation system to make it fairer to families would help to give parents more choice about whether and how much they would like to work.

A petition is being put to the government to allow couples to transfer any unused tax allowance from one partner to the other.  Sign here if you agree http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/63221

Being a stay at home mum is not the easy option

When my daughter was born I made the choice to stop working and be a stay at home mum. It was an easy choice, we don’t have any grandparents nearby who would be able to look after my daughter, and nursery fees and commuting costs would have eaten up nearly all my wages, so I would have been working full time for the princely sum of £100 a month – and I really didn’t love my job that much! I know I am lucky to have had that choice, and it know that many people do not have that choice. I also know that many mothers do choose to go back to work after having children for whatever reason, and that is also fine. I am not attacking working mums. However I do sometimes feel attacked, or that people look down on me, for being a stay at home mum.

There seems to be a perception in our society that working is by default better than staying at home to look after your children. For example, the government has cut benefits to families with one income, while increasing benefits for families where both parents work. I do not accept this. I do not feel that my sole purpose in life is to earn money or make an economic contribution to society. That is not to say that I don’t want to work (and in fact some days I really miss working), but my husband and I both feel that it is more worthwhile for me to be at home at the moment. I also feel that raising children is a really important job that in itself is an important contribution to society, albeit not one that is registered in the GDP.

I also do not accept that being a stay at home mum is somehow easier than working. It’s still hard work, but in a different way to going to a job. Personally, I find it more demanding and challenging than any job I’ve had before. Keeping a toddler entertained all day every day, dealing with constant demands, learning how to deal with tantrums, whilst juggling the household chores, and all without going insane yourself, is not easy. Imagine if your job had a list of tasks that needed to be done, but as you were trying to do them your boss came and interrupted you every 5 minutes with a demand, but they were speaking a different language which you had to try and interpret. Basically your whole life is dictated by the varying needs and wants of a tiny person who is still learning to communicate. If you’re tired or not in the mood you can’t hide behind a computer screen or have an extended coffee break (in fact you rarely get to finish a cup of tea), your kids are still there and they still need to be fed, clothed and entertained. You are also on your own most of the time and having to figure stuff out as you go along, there is no training or instruction manual, and no one to cover for you if you are ill. It is exhausting, I am asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow every night. There have been some days where I have been at my wits end and had to put my daughter in front of the tv and go and sit in the kitchen by myself and cry because I am utterly frustrated, bored and lonely.

I don’t know what people must imagine I do all day. I have had people ask me about stuff that is on daytime tv, as if I must know because I am a SAHM. Err no, I only watch tv in the evening, after my daughter is in bed, during the day we go out and do things together, or I play with her. Or do people imagine that I waft around the house baking and cleaning while my daughter happily plays in her room? I don’t know if it’s my daughter’s age or her personality but she never plays by herself in her room. She likes to have someone else to play with most of the time, or at least have someone sitting nearby. She is getting to an age now where she is used to me doing the routine chores like hanging the washing out or unloading the dishwasher and doesn’t cry and cling to my legs any more, but most days she still needs me to interact with her while I am doing them.

Yes, of course, there are perks to staying at home, just as there are perks to working. I get to be there for all the firsts, and I also get to always be there to give her a hug if she scrapes her knee. I get to see my friends during the week at groups or when we have play dates (and as the children get older and a bit more independent we sometimes get to have an uninterrupted conversation too). When my daughter was younger, I could have a nap when she did if we’d had a bad night. I get to spend all day with one of my favourite people in the whole world. Most days are good days, we have fun together, and it is rewarding and satisfying.

So I’m not saying that staying at home is better than working. I’m not saying that being a working parent is easy. I’m just saying that whatever choices you make, whether you are a working parent or a stay at home parent, we all have challenges to face and so please let’s all just respect and support each other. And remember that the grass may look greener on the other side, but that’s just because it’s had a load of green paint spilled on it, snot wiped on it and peas mushed into it.