A link to an article on the UK edition of The Huffington Post was recently shared with me on Facebook. The title read “Working Mums Vs Stay At Home Mums: Is There A ‘Healthier’ Choice? “ (click through to read) and stated that stay at home moms were more likely to feel depressed than those who work outside the home. I was intrigued. I must admit, I expected to find the results of said study, with indicators as to why this may be. That is not what I found. Instead, I found a “debate”between two bloggers based on a recent study by Dr Susan Harkness of the University of Bath (You can read an interview with her regarding the study here.). I didn’t find any link to the study itself. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do my research on this, but at the moment, that is not the reason for this post. This article got me thinking and there are a few issues here I would like to process, and what better place than this little old blog.
First of all, the title, or at least part of it: “Working Mums vs. Stay at Home Mums”. This really saddens me. Why vs.? Now, many may argue it’s just a matter of semantics, but I’m afraid it’s such a recurring theme in parenting that it goes much deeper than mere semantics. We hear it all the time. Breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding. Attached parenting vs. stricter styles. Public school vs. homeschooling. Stay at home vs. working outside the home. And it goes on. I understand how convenient it can be to put neatly classify people, in this case parents (more frequently, mothers) and put them in these little boxes where it’s a matter of one versus the other, one better than the other, black and white. Well, you know what? Life isn’t neat. Or black and white. Life is grey. Many, many shades of grey. I really dislike this dichotomy, this us vs. them mentality. I understand parenting involves many choices and strong feelings. It rehashes our old childhood issues we may not even be aware we’re carrying. Everyone has an opinion it seems, and we tend to become very certain and defensive of our positions because, quite frankly, it’s scary not to. However, there is no “one size fits all”. Not for the parents and not for the child.
As you’re aware if you’re reading this blog for a fair amount of time or know me personally, I am a stay at home mom. At least for now, for this season in my life. This was a decision carried out by my husband and I reflecting what we felt was right for our circumstances. It was not a decision made lightly, or because that’s what we should do, or that was in any other way “imposed” on us. It was right for US. It may not be right for others. I never would have thought, prior to having children, I would be a stay at home mom. I never thought it would fit my personality. I always admired my sister for doing it and agreed it was a great thing. I just didn’t think it would be for me. I’ve always been extremely independent – financial independence being central to this – and thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who I truly feel is my partner and not someone “supporting” me. On the other hand, I’ve also always admired my mom for working so hard and setting such a strong example of self-sufficiency, despite being indirectly affected by her stress in an unsatisfying job. I don’t think the mere fact that she worked harmed me, but I was lucky to have my grandparents take care of me. The same probably cannot be said of my sister who had to remain in less than adequate (to put it lightly) childcare.
All this to say what really bothers me about this title, and the message I feel it carries with it, is how easy it is to judge others, especially when we’re talking about parenting. How it seems we have to take sides, be on different teams, prove ourselves. Is this really helpful? Or is it just a way for us to feel at ease with our choices?
Another issue that bothered me was how there was basically no information regarding the actual study. I would like to know what was taken into account? Why is it statistically stay at home mothers feel more depressed? Are we talking about mothers who were free to make this decision? Or mothers who became unemployed? Maybe mothers who couldn’t justify going back to work due to their low income not covering childcare? This, I feel, is what should really be discussed. I’m sure we can all agree we don’t want depressed mothers. How can we help change this? There’s no discussion on that, although the article on working mums magazing does refer to some points and seems to indicate mothers who work part-time are the ones deemed with better health. It also touches upon economic circumstances and unemployment, but it’s unclear if this is what makes sahm more depressed, or if it’s just a worry for the future.
This brings me to a deeper issue - lack of support for parents (in this case mothers). There’s the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but in today’s world, despite the “global village” and all the information we have at our fingertips, despite the online forums and blogs, this village, these people engaged in the upbringing of the next generation, seems to be disappearing. Sometimes non-existent. Parents are expected to care for their children on their own. If they can’t do this, their expected to pay for help. There is much less a sense of shared responsibility for the upbringing of children. I speak in general of course. I know of cases where community is very supportive. I don’t think community is very supportive in big cities though. Parenting is tough. I have to admit to a few tiles in the early months where I just thought I couldn’t wait to get my son into crèche so it wouldn’t be so much MY problem anymore. There were times, especially in the early days and while I was still working from home, with no outside support, where I felt overwhelmed, lost and second guessing my every decision and my ability to parent my high need baby. I luckily never entered depression and I don’t know if I would have been considered a stay at home mom at the time since I was working, albeit from home. What I’m trying to say is I can see how women taking care of a baby 24/7 can feel such a loss of identity and so isolated from the world. I don’t think it stems from the decision to stay home with the child, but more so from the lack of support networks when you are new to the gig, especially if most your friends/family are far away, working and/or childless. I would have to write an entire post to address how/why we seem to identify ourselves with our jobs. Maybe for a next time, since this post has already run so long and I guess I’m lucky if anyone read through to this point!
So, do I think sahm are more depressed? I would answer it depends on individual circumstances more than anything else. All I can say this sahm feels very lucky to be one and does not feel depressed or regret it one bit.