Working mom, Working mum, working moms, working mothers, work life balance

Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?

Working mom, Working mum, working moms, working mothers, work life balance
‘Working Mom’ by Ran Zwigenberg. Photo used under CC license

Whenever there’s coverage of mothers in the workplace, it’s never long before the topic of how they cope with the competing needs of their children and their job comes up. What’s wrong with this? It’s a narrative that’s only ever applied to working mothers, and rarely – if ever – working fathers.

On the BBC series Inside the House of Commons this week, one of the featured MPs was a busy mum who juggles the demands of her job with the needs of her family. As the listings described the scenario: “Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott… seeks to balance new parenthood with politics.”

I am not denying Ms. Willott’s very real struggle between being a parent and an MP (and Deputy Chief Whip), but yet again, the search for this ‘balance’ was presented as an issue only for the working mother. While we did see the involvement of her partner, where was the male MP also struggling in the same way, having family dinners in his parliament office, dropping off his children at the House of Commons nursery, or leaving his crying child with an aide so he can dash off to the house for an important vote? Maybe he doesn’t exist. Maybe society’s expectations of working mothers are different from those of working fathers.

This was yet another example that feeds into the myth that when a mother is working, childcare is her responsibility. That the need for flexibility is the preserve of the working mother, not the father. That mothers struggle to maintain a work/life balance in a way that fathers don’t.

This week there was a report about the rising costs of childcare in the UK, which is indeed a big problem for parents. Yet I kept reading how this was an issue for working mothers or mothers returning to the workplace, never about fathers.

My wife has a full time job, and I freelance as well as being home with our daughter. In any discussions I enter into about work, the cost of childcare up at the top of the list when determining the feasibility of me taking on the job. The issues around flexible hours and an understanding that I may have to be absent when my child is sick are also important for my employer to know, because I am the primary caregiver to our daughter.

Why We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers

I don’t understand why are we always framing any discussion about childcare, flexible working, balancing the demands of home and work, with ‘Working Mothers’. These issues are not exclusive to mothers – they are parenting issues.

As a father, I find it depressing that people think dads don’t care this much about their children, that we too don’t lament the lost hours we could be spending with them when working. But as a parent of a daughter, I find the sexism of this prevailing attitude towards women in the workplace far more depressing.

It’s an attitude that is especially toxic when there are employers that would prefer not hire a mother, because they think that it’ll be too much hassle. It’s an attitude that fathers rarely encounter.

I am not seeking to diminish the emotional stress and logistical hassle of being a working mother. Despite not being a mother, I understand it completely.

I just think we need to stop talking about working mothers, and start talking about working parents instead. These are issues that affect us all and problems for us all to deal with.

What do you think about the way working mothers are perceived? Is being a working mother different than being a working father? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

11 thoughts on “Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?”

  1. Agree totally. There’s also too much focus on preschool childcare. Kids dont stay babies for ever, but journalist can’t seem to get beyond this. And the coverage of “stay at home mums” (not parents) is appalling. For one, I did very little staying at home – me and my kids were out and about making friends and having a grand old time. In fact the friends we made have now become my holiday childcare. We are a group of mums who returned to part time work and we take turns to have each others kids round in the holidays for play dates. Childcare with someone you trust is priceless.

    1. I take your point about it changing. This period between baby to 3 is probably the most expensive I guess, hence the focus – after 3 term time 15hrs pw lowers the cost, and then actual school starts. And I rarely stay home either (though I am right now).

  2. Well said. It should always be a case of working parents, single parents, etc. not solely focusing on one sex all the time.

  3. I agree. My husband and I both work full time with a 4yr and 6yr old. We are both working parents. If someone has to stay home it depends on who has the least meetings (or easiest to move) or the most sick leave – it normally comes out pretty even. I find it fascinating that people asked how i returned to work…and they seem surprised when i say because of my amazing husband and wonderful carer for our children. People still assume i should be the only one focussed on this.

    1. Yes! This – exactly, in a nut shell. My other half is primary care giver, but he works too. Im usually the one to take time off if the children are ill, simply because I have more holidays available because I work more days. Ive never been asked how I returned to work, but my answer would be exactly the same as yours!

  4. I fully agree. I have a three months old baby, and I am tired that everybody asks ME questions like “When are you back to work?”, “How are you going to manage work with the baby?”, “What are you going to do when your baby is sick and you have to work?”, “Don’t you feel sad if you leave your baby in a Kindergarden?”… I get these questions all the time since I am pregnant, and nobody asks these questions to my husband.
    In fact here in Germany is even worse: the moms who want to work are often labelled as “Ravenmother”, and this is an insult. There is no word such as “Ravenfather”. Women have lot of difficulties to go back to work: there is no childcare available or very expensive, there is a big pressure of the society that measures how good mother you are by how long you take maternity leave, etc. This does not apply to fathers! Why not?
    Another example is that here in Germany we have 14 months of Elternzeit (Parental leave), that can be shared between mother and father, with a maximum of 12 months each. I believe the world would be more equal if both parents would share and benefit from this time. It would be better for the family, to share responsibilities; it would be better for the children, that understand the importance of gender equality and have an example at home; and it would be better for the society, as men and women would participate equally building the society, it would not be assumed that a woman is going to get pregnant and stop working, and we would all benefit from the participation of the 100% of us (Germany is with Austria the country with the biggest gender pay gap in EU; this is another topic). But mothers that do not take a whole year off are challenged, and very few parents take more than two months, if they take at all. Even the HR Department of the company I work for wrote me in the information email that mothers are expected to take the Elternzeit.
    I have just discovered your blog and I like it a lot. I also think – what example am I going to give my little daughter, if now that I am in my mid-thirties, I stop working just because I am a woman? I want her to be happy, and decide freely what she wants to do with her life. I do not want that she is influences by gender stereotypes. It is incredible that in 2015 I am getting so much pressure against my decision of going back to work, and how the society believes that “working mothers” have a big problem to have work life balance, but that “working fathers” do not have that problem.
    So in summary, yes, I believe would be more fair and we should talk about “working parents” 😉

  5. Thank you so much for this spot on post. It’s insulting to both genders to assume mothers have all the responsibility. If our daughter is home sick, we tend to share the load. I often have to be the one to take her home if she’s sent home sick (because I work at her nursery). But my husband’s employer is much more flexible about making up time, so it’s often easier for him to stay home if it’s going to be more than a day. Both parents should share the load, and employers should assume that’s how it will be.

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