As a child I only knew one girl who lived in a house where both parents worked. If I were to be honest I thought she was so unlucky, akin to an orphan. She had a minder who came to her house, but to myself and my friends we just didn’t get it. I can even remember her falling and hurting herself. I insisted she come back to my house, because she had no mom!
The mother I grew up with was typical. She may have had a life and career before her five children arrived, but we were uninterested. To us she was our Mom. No further explanation required. No further clarifying if she was a mother who stayed at home or not. She was everything we wanted.
From a workload point of view, my mothers life was very different to mine. There was no dishwasher and no washing machine. Washing for a large family was done daily, and the clothesline always full. Once in a while there was a trip to the launderette to wash the larger bed linen. Nappies were cloth and a nappy bucket was a constant feature in her life for many years.
There was no central heating, so fires were lit and needed to be cleaned out daily.
Socially my mother enjoyed the company of other mothers on the road we lived on, but going out with my Dad was certainly not something they did every week. We had a telephone, but costs were closely watched, so it was not used to any great excess by my mother. It was rarely used by her for chatting with friends.
By the time I was a mother things were already changing. We had a washing machine and in time a dishwasher. I happily embraced disposable nappies, whilst having small misgivings about how damaging they were to the environment. There were steam sterilizers and ready made baby food.
Central heating was the norm and I had a tumble dryer. In time we also had two cars.
However there was an even greater change happening. More and more women were choosing to work after having children. When I announced to friends that I wished to become a stay at home mother, I was asked a number of times “Why?”.
Many could not understand it, and my husband even said he was slightly embarrassed saying I was not returning to work, as he said, it was as if people were judging him. Thinking it must be he that was pushing me into making such a decision.
As a result I found myself as a new, young mother quite isolated. In the estate where I lived many of the houses were empty Monday to Friday, as both parents went out to work.
I have been a SAHM now for over twenty years. In the past few years I have taken a part time job in the evenings but essentially Monday to Friday I am at home. What changes I have seen over the years. However I would not say that all change is good.
I admit as a young mom I had high expectations of myself. I wanted to be the perfect mother (just like the one I had), and to raise perfect children. I believe this to be a natural ambition for all mothers. However I think life for mothers of young children today is so much more difficult.
The role of a modern day SAHM is not as easily defined as it was in my mothers day. My mother was never asked “What do you do all day?”. Nor was she asked “Is your brain not dying staying at home with no one to talk to but children?”.
In her day the term Mother was her title. She did not have to further explain what type of mother she was, a SAHM, or one who worked outside the home. A mother was a mother. She had a place in society and her role was valued.
As the years have passed the definition of a mother in our mindset has changed, even if the definitive dictionary explanation has not. Added to that change is social media, celebrity parenting and a push for perfection. The old picture of “a mammy” is frowned upon.
Now there is more pressure on mothers to continue to use their education and not “waste” it by staying at home minding a baby. There is a new perceived image of a stay at home mother. She is presented as slim, pretty, and fashionable, willing and able to cook like Nigella, and do all manner of arts and crafts. It may only be a perceived image, but for many mothers it is something they subconsciously aspire to, and the fact that almost all fall short makes for a fair amount of dissatisfaction.
For those who do stay at home today life is different. Yes these women have two cars and all manner of gadgets to make life easier. But they have new pressures.
As children we were not signed up to every conceivable after school activity, nor did we expect our mother to deliver us everywhere. Modern mothers are permanently on the road.
When it was school holidays we holidayed in Ireland for two weeks at my grandmothers, nowadays many aspire to foreign holidays.
For the rest of our school holidays it was up to us to find our own entertainment. The front door was opened and out we went. No pre arranged play dates, no mobile phones to track us. It was certainly never the case that we looked at my mother and asked “What are we going to do today?”.
Modern mothers regularly feel it is within their role as mother to entertain their children.
As more and more mothers return to the workforce there is a real feeling of isolation being a SAHM. Coupled with the feeling that they are not doing a job that is valued in society, many SAHM feel they need to justify what they do all day, and this has led to a division between mothers. Regularly, within the media and online, there are debates about the rights and wrongs of working or not. Debates which do nothing to make either mothers choice any easier to cope with.
However modern mothers do have one great advantage. They have the internet. Google, parenting forums, facebook and twitter have helped to greatly reduce the feeling of isolation felt by those who are at home.
As I contrast the life of a mother of young children at home today with mothers of the past I cannot help but wonder what the future holds for my three girls? With modern society changing so much, job sharing, stay at home Dads, and the desire for more women to stay working, I wonder what is the future for the stay at home mom? Are we witnessing the end of an era?
But most importantly of all, is this change for the better?