Want to be an inspirational mum? Then put your job first

Want to be an inspirational mum Then put your job first



11:49 GMT, 15 July 2012

Angela Neustatter has written a book about the benefits of staying at home with your children

Angela Neustatter has written a book about the benefits of staying at home with your children

Is it better to have a stay-at-home mum, or a high-flyer Should parents escape their children on selfish mini-breaks

A child welfare expert, Angela Neustatter, wrote last week that when she and her husband left their two children with the childminder while they went to New York, they returned after ten days to find their younger son, then aged three, ‘restrained’, ‘distantly polite’ and ‘eerily quiet’.

I’d have thought a child being quiet could only be a good thing, but still.

They both took time off work and spent it with their now introverted boy. Neustatter, who has written a book called A Home For The Heart: Home As The Key To Happiness, concluded that even ‘date nights’ could make a child insecure.

She quotes research into family life that says children with working mums are given material privileges as compensation for their parents’ time and mindful attention, but that doesn’t make up for dialogue and sharing quality time.

First, I think the dilemma between a year’s maternity leave then a couple of years at home, or returning to work after a few weeks, is a middle-class problem.

I have yet to meet a cash-in-hand cleaner who is pondering, ‘Hmm, should I go and clean Miss Fussypants’s Georgian house next week, or take a year off to spend at home’

And, second, Neustatter assumes that if a woman leaves work to look after her children, she necessarily spends her time talking to them, taking them out on interesting, educational trips, reading to them and generally enriching both of their lives.

Still from 2011 film 'I Don't Know How She Does It' starring Sarah Jessica Parker as working mum Kate who struggles to balance a successful career and motherhood

Still from 2011 film 'I Don't Know How She Does It' starring Sarah Jessica Parker as working mum Kate who struggles to balance a successful career and motherhood

The reality of a full-time mum’s life,
unless she can afford a cleaner, and has a car and a well-off husband,
is not like this at all.

My mum never once went out to work – at least, not until I was ten, when she worked as a dinner lady at my primary school.

she never had time to make collages with me, or take me anywhere, given
the reality of life for a woman without an office to escape to:

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Housework expands into every waking moment if you allow it to. I could never talk to my mum as she was always Hoovering, polishing the skirting board, or rubbing Brasso on the door knocker. There was, given her seven children, a huge volume of laundry to be done, not to mention food shopping – on foot or by bus – food preparation and then washing-up.

When a woman stays at home with a child, the focus is not on spelling, fell walking, or even a trip to the park. It is on keeping everything in order.

Neustatter paints life for the woman at home with her children as a fantasy world of talking and stimulation.

The truth is that it is so mind-numbingly boring, the constant cycle of mopping and wiping, that rather than seeing the adult as a role model, a friend, a source of wisdom, instead the over-mummied child sees a drudge. I know I did.

It never occurred to me my mum might want a weekend off, or to be cooked a meal, or given help with the weeding.

Having a mum on tap teaches children not to clean up after themselves (my mum never even taught me how to iron. I was 37 before I realised you have to apply pressure), and it teaches boys that, one day, they need to marry someone so they never have to learn how to put on a clean double-duvet cover.

The stay-at-home mum encourages extreme myopia, too: the child soon learns the female adult has no idea of Hillary Clinton’s job title.

Of course, working mums are not ideal, either, if they are the type who shop for groceries at lunchtime and leave on the dot of six. These mums are really the stay-at-home type, but are too mean to give up the salary, the holidays, the status and the nap at the desk.

But a working mum who puts her career first, children second, can only be an inspiration.

I hated having a mum who had never written a cheque, or used cash-back.

I swore I would never be reliant on a man for anything. I would have loved a mum who could have shown me a different world, the one beyond the washing line and Sainsbury’s.

We’ve all been told that pushy parents are anathema to drive and self-motivation, but I don’t know. I wish I had been pushed, given a leg up, rather than having parents whose only ambition for me was not to get run over.

Because my mum never left the home other than to buy groceries, I never realised the world had possibilities, but merely saw it as a terrifying place.