I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it means to be a mother, particularly a stay-at-home mother, in the twenty-first century. I don’t mean the day-to-day stuff. That is obvious enough. But when I think back to how far women’s rights have come in the last few years it seems impossible that we are still at a place where mothers are so invisible. This is the best word I can use to describe how I feel in society.
On the journey home from having my afternoon tea in a London hotel I was trying to figure out why I felt so different while I was in London. It wasn’t simply that I was doing something for me, something unrelated to having and looking after children. It wasn’t simply that I was relishing some unusual freedom. It was the fact that, despite being in a city where no-one knew me and nobody really cared what I was doing, I still felt less invisible than I do as a mother.
Why is it that in these days of supposed equality mothers are accorded so little place in society? No-one gives us any credit or recognition, financial or otherwise, for staying at home and raising children. In the UK, our government is desperate to get mothers back to work, to dump our children in the daycare places they are striving to provide. The message: we are clearly not contributing to the economy unless we are at work! But you can be sure they are not encouraging us back to work for our own sanity and pleasure. The economies of daycare are obvious though: one daycare assistant can look after three or four children. That means three or four mothers can be contributing to the economy plus the daycare assistant, instead of being unemployed. And the children are still looked after. Voila!
But it is not just the government that accords mothers so little place in society. At a party, conversation stops dead and eyes glaze over when you tell people that you are a stay-at-home mum. I should know, I used to be one of those people who couldn’t think of anything to say to someone who defined themselves as a ‘mum’. Shame on me. Nobody calls me up to contribute to anything of any great value outside the home anymore. My home life is my chosen epicenter. But my village is my enforced boundary.
Maybe this is one of the reasons that mothers gravitate towards each other: no-one else is really interested in us!
Despite remaining well-read, well-educated and well-informed no-one is interested in what I think anymore. They gave me the courtesy of pretending to be interested before I had children. Well, nothing has changed, except that I sprogged. Now I’m not even accorded the assumption that there is more to me than being a mother. My brain might be atrophying slowly, but it has not completely gone! And although it’s not helped by the fact that I feel that I may have little to offer anyone, I know in my heart of hearts that I have plenty to offer but only, it seems, if I contribute more to life, to the economy, to my world around me than simply being a mother.
Lots of mothers want or need to work. To them I raise my glass: working and looking after children is the hardest combination there is. I want to work for my own sanity, to achieve a better balance in my life. But I also want to be at home with my children. I chose the latter and it has not been easy; it has not been good to my sense of self. But it sure would help if I weren’t made to feel so redundant in society by those in power, the media and by those around me.