Working mothers shouldn't feel guilt

Mothers who go back to work are happier than those who stay at home, research has found.
Mothers who go back to work are happier than those who stay at home, research has found.

When I tell people that I have just come back to work after a year on maternity leave, I am always surprised by the look of pity that spreads across their faces, as if I am a small wounded animal or the sufferer of a terminal illness.

"Oh no," they almost all say. "I'm so sorry for you. That must be so tough." They pause as a mark of respect for my plight, before shaking their heads. "Tell me, just how are you finding it?"

I'm finding it just hunky-dory, thank you very much. The company of adults, the ability to go to the loo without the door open, the fact that I can just pop out and have sushi whenever I want - what's not to love?

Does this make me a heartless harridan, a woman devoid of maternal instinct who doesn't deserve to be a mother? No. It just makes me normal, actually.

Research carried out by Mumsnet has found that mothers who go to work are actually happier than those who stay at home, with only 13 per cent of women in employment saying they would rather not work. Almost half of those surveyed claimed that being in the office made them happier, while a third of stay-at-home mothers said that they would prefer to work.

"We often think of working mums as harassed and time-poor," said Justine Roberts, the chief executive of Mumsnet, "rushing from the school gate to the office with not a second to spare. But the reality is often more complicated. Most want to work, or work more hours. Yes, we might all miss the quick pint after work or lunch breaks that aren't spent dropping sandwich crumbs over the keyboard so we can leave in time ... but many parents find that periods away from their children give them energy to focus on their children when they are with them ... Perhaps it's time to banish the cliche of the guilty working mum once and for all."

Quite right too.

This isn't purely for selfish reasons, for the relaxing loo breaks and ability to look at the internet without your child abducting your iPhone and shoving it in her mouth to use as a teething toy. It isn't just because, after a year of looking after a sometimes screaming baby, going back to an office actually seems relaxing - though, undoubtedly, the 52 per cent of mums who say staying at home is harder than going out to work are right.

The other reason, and it's one I am sure stay-at-home mothers feel guilty about, is that I believe my daughter gets far more social stimulation from nursery than she would from a woman with one eye on her, the other on the washing machine.

In the 21st century women are still expected to feel guilty about the choices they make, whatever they happen to be: working mum, stay-at-home mum, don't-want-to-be-a-mum-at-all-but-thanks-all-the-same. Nobody ever asks a man who works late and never sees his children if he feels guilty, and perhaps they should.

So no, I don't feel guilty about going to work, though I probably would have reason to feel a bit bad if I decided to give it all up, thus meaning I couldn't afford to feed my child or keep a roof over her head. The London Telegraph


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