Travelling all over the world for work one group of human beings has always fascinated me and that's mums. I've seen them walk 200 miles,starving and injured to get their kids to a clinic and I've witnessed them beat drug dealers at their own game with nothing more than a mobile phone and a whistle. Most mums are total, absolute superheroes and I bow down to them and each and every one of you. Wherever I have ventured in the world, mums share one thing in common; they are doing The Daily Juggle with whatever life throws at them, making the best life they can for their kids and for themselves.
BUT despite that mums have so much in common a divide has appeared here in Britain between those who go out to work and those who work at home raising their kids. We seem willing to put on the body armour and pitch ourselves against one another in this sham of a debate. Everyone wants to know are you a Stay at Home Mum (SAHM) or a WM (Working Mum)? And I want to know why I need to pick a team.
Right now the media is creating content up and down the land aimed at pressing mum's buttons and finding the headlines to tighten the knot in your tummies. We love the old Machiavellian tales pitting one group against another. See this article here from businesswoman Katie Hopkins pitting Stay at home Mum’s against Working Mums. And yet, I have never met any of these stereotypes we paint pictures of in the press. Every women I know is so much more nuanced and multi-coloured than these ridiculous media portrayals of women who work and those who don't. What's worse is that we are starting to believe these women are real and we're using this to wage a war with each other. Why?
Motherhood is tough for everybody. Everybody is struggling with something. Parenting is an adventure with no map and rule book and we’re all doing the very best we can. At the risk of sounding like a Miss Jean Brodie Kill Joy - Enough already with judging other mothers and fathers. Sure leaving your kids unsupervised with a box of rice crispies whilst you fly off to Spain to shag Carlos or Carla isn’t on but we're at risk of becoming addicted to this insane commentary. Not only about the extremes of parenting good or bad but with the hum drum minutiae of other parents lives.
By allowing ourselves to get sucked into this phoney debate we are potentially damaging our friendships, our relationships and our self-esteem. We become part of the relentless cycle of pressure that's being applied to women and mums.You only have to trawl the internet for 5 minutes to find swathes of malicious and deeply personal commentary rarely reserved for men. We don’t hate mothers decisions, we hate THEM. Chris Brown who assaulted his partner Rihanna was voted less hated in a poll by women than Gwyneth Paltrow. Sorry ladies but WTF? When did motherhood and sisterhood become an opportunity to degrade ourselves with this self-defeating stuff?
I have been asked to do many a TV piece over the years and I slowly started to see a pattern. Britney versus Celine in Vegas, Cheryl versus Nadine in the charts, one female celeb's body pitted against another. Never did my news editor say let’s compare Elton and Rod Stewart – that’ll really get the juices flowing. Nope we want to take these women and mothers discuss them, debate them , criticise them and squash them – ultimately hanging all our own baggage on them like some bunch of sad ladies with carpet bags full of hate. We set women up to fail.
There is so much frustration out there that despite our education, our freedom to choose our partner and many other rights besides we are still not fully in control of our choices when motherhood beckons. And it's time to stop taking it out on one another.
Surely it's simple - the choices mum's make about working or not come down only to what works for each individual family. For some personal choice is out of the question because the cost of living is so high they need two salaries even if a mum does want to be with her kids. Some mums want to return to work and the cost of childcare prevents them from returning to the job they love. And then there are some like me who love to work and those who love to be at home. But allowing a woman to make decisions based on what fulfils her is still not something we seem comfortable in doing.
It was only 15 years ago that we left school and waved each other off into a million different professions and life decisions. Never did we question that different things fill up the hearts of different women. So what's happened? Why since the babes dropped are we suddenly questioning the rights of of our fellow mums to do what works for them?
Because shockingly here in Britain a women's ability to CHOOSE her future when it comes to family is almost as limited as it was half a century ago. And ladies we resent that. After all our education and travel and talk of women in business and smashing the glass ceiling we are still trapped by the idealisation of motherhood relentlessly pursued by the media, by business and by ourselves.
They are setting impossible standards for 'motherhood' and many of us are putting our families and relationships at risk by chasing these standards that don't make us happy. So every-time you pick up a magazine and a celebrity mum tells you how fabulous motherhood is, engage your cynical side and say Screw That. Don't compare your inside to their outside which has no doubt been carefully crafted by a PR expert.
You are not failing, very few mums are. You are not alone, we all feel the pressure.
Let's stop lying to each other and let's work at supporting one another instead.
Ultimately we are all struggling with this juggle and how to make it work and in the media maelstrom the real debate is being missed. For all the talk of shared parenting women still bear the main responsibility for raising their kids with room for little else in their lives. Dads get the title of main earner as if it's a badge of honour but many of them become distant from the families they love and from their own hopes to be an involved parent. Ultimately we live in a country that underpins this state of affairs and we feel paralysed that we are not able to change things. We continue to put our energies into 'perfect parenting' and not into political and corporate change to support familes.
Some employers are waking up to the idea of work life balance and that it might be good to have a mixed work force with more in their lives than commerce. There's now shared paternity/maternity leave which is a baby step forward but still one that's beyond the reach of many as the man is often the bigger earner.
So let's not make this 'debate' about undermining the 'choices' of other women. And let's start having a conversation about how to change the fabric of our country so that a woman truly can chose her future and we can support and respect her whatever she decides.