Why it’s time to stop laying guilt on working mothers

8 March 2012

Jeremy Davies writes: Today I was invited to speak on a phone-in on the Kaye Adams show on BBC Scotland, for International Women’s Day.

The topic was a report by the Social Issues Research Centre called The Changing Face of Motherhood, which found that 88% of working mothers feel guilty about balancing work commitments with the time they spend with their children. One mum said:

“I remember going back to work with very mixed emotions. You are fighting your biological instinct which is that ‘I am the best person to look after my child’. The other half of you is saying: ‘No, you need to get back’, and thinking: ‘Oh, this is nice’.”!

I reckon all of us – mothers and fathers – need to stop beating ourselves up when we don’t fit into the ‘ideal’ of spending all day, every day, with our young children. This ‘ideal’ is no longer supported by research, which recognises that multiple attachment is key to children’s development.

Our culture is shaped by the myth of a single, supreme attachment between mother and child, as described by John Bowlby in the 1950s  – since challenged by, amongst others, Sir Michael Rutter, whom you can see talking about multiple attachment here.

We struggle to shake off the mother-and-child-at-home model, but it’s important to do so. Why? Because we know so much more now about why dads matter to children, and what positively involved fatherhood looks like. And because understanding the significance of multiple attachment should lead both mothers AND fathers to think long and hard (separately and together) about how they BOTH divide their time between earning and caring.

Whether you’re a mum or a dad, it’s vital to understand that being out at work is not necessarily about letting your children down. Earning is a key part of being a parent, and evidence suggests that many children do best, in any case, when cared for by more than two adults. So whichever of you stayed at home full-time to focus exclusively on the child may well, in fact, be limiting your child’s, as well as your own, access to positive outside influences (not to mention failing to ‘do your bit’ to bring home the bacon).

What we should take from all this, if nothing else, is that we must stop laying all the responsibility (and associated guilt) for parenting at mothers’ door – and while we’re at it, likewise for dads and breadwinning. Happy International Women’s Day!


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