Thursday, December 18, 2008

Guilt free Motherhood

Last week a report was made by Unicef saying that we are putting our children at risk by putting them in full time childcare from a young age.

It must be the hundredth time I have heard mutterings that it is bad for children if their mothers work full time, but never once do I hear anyone actually discussing this calmly and rationally.

I cannot be the only mother who wants to know, 'Is it bad for my child to be in full time childcare?' 'Are there ways to be a working mother, stay sane and raise happy children, and if so what are they?'

The guilt is ridiculously counter productive and rather self indulgent and I think it's time we ditched it. Either we are damaging our children and we have to find a way back to being at home, or we're not. End of. Stop feeling guilty now!

In this case I turn back to the bible to Proverbs 31 and a slightly scary, very controversial passage called, 'The Wife of Noble Character'

10 [c] A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

OK, of course she doesn't exist. No one is perfect and it's a pity there is no equivalent version for husbands. The passage may be seen as an allegory of how we are all supposed to be in the Christian life, too. But it gives us a wonderful set of requirements to aspire to, and also takes away some of the neuroses of modern living. It's hard to live up to, has been misused by misogynists, but actually there is something comforting about this blueprint of family life.

For starters, things were simpler then. She doesn't fuss over half the neuroses that seem to trouble our society now. At no point does the perfect wife stress over whether she should be leaving her small children in full time childcare. She appears to have her own rather lucrative small business and a household with presumably a full time nanny, cleaner and cook! One of her big achievements is to make sure her children are properly clothed, fed and warm enough so that they don't fear the snow. Perhaps the nursery is down the road, and virtually part of her household anyway.

I find it enormously comforting that she clearly works part-time in a business that gives her much satisfaction. She is no stay at home mother making endless cup cakes and costumes but a valid, vital part of her society. I am not her, never will be, but I find her lifestyle inspiring. In these modern times she would probably be having a look at a website like or to see if she could start a franchise while still picking the children up from school herself.

As a single mother of course my life is nothing like hers, but still I think there is something useful in this passage, and if the perfect housewife doesn't need to feel guilty about working, then neither do I!

As to the idea that nurseries are bad for children, I'd like to point out that even cows - that great symbol of motherhood - have nurseries too. If you watch a field of breeding cows and calves, one cow stays with the calves while the others go off for a day's grazing at the other end of the field. If it's good enough for them...

Of course this is a massive issue and here I am just scraping the surface. Mothers who work full time tell me that yes, it can work if you give up everything else bar work and motherhood and make sure that when you are with your children, you are with them 100%. My instinct, and it is an instinct that many mothers I know share, is that you need flexible working hours and a child friendly job when you are a mother. Come to think of it, a vineyard would be a great job for a mother because the children could help with the grape picking!

So I welcome the Unicef report which clearly raises some issues, if in a slightly alarmist way. We need to stop feeling guilty about working and sort out ways in which we can run our lives so that our children are nurtured and inspired, and we can work at child-friendly work that fulfills us.



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