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SAHM, WAHM, WOHM, what?

 |  Parenting, Work

Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, has pissed a lot of mums off this week by criticising stay at home mums (SAHMs); apparently they’re all “yummy mummies” who’ve married rich men so they don’t have to go to work. It’s making women “too dependent”, wasting their education, etc etc.

I wanted to stay at home after I had Isabel but unfortunately we weren’t in a financial position for me to do so: I had no choice but to return to work. Having done so, I remembered how much I liked working and, thankfully, Isabel gets a lot out of nursery (daycare). I am not entirely sure what the future holds for post-maternity leave with Oliver — because I’m trying to balance wanting more time with the kids (thus reduced hours) with a reduced income, increased overall costs, childcare etc — but I do know that whatever happens I will still be working.

So now we know that I don’t see this from the point of view of a bitter, defensive housewife (homemaker, whatever is the PC term these days) pissed at her judgement on me… I think she’s full of crap.

Personally, I am of the opinion SAHMs are brave, brave women. Looking after kids is surprisingly exhausting. Even before they’re old enough to make verbal (spoken) demands on your attention every minute of every hour, just being emotionally and physically available to even the tiniest baby requires constant draw on the energy levels. Shit, I struggle being emotionally available to Karl 24/7 and he’s a responsible adult who’s capable of looking after himself. Suffice it to say I can easily respect women who stay at home with their kids. I don’t know if I could.

So, this yummy mummy, living the easy life on Daddy’s pay packet, sipping cappuccino at Starbucks, shopping in Boden while hard-working women like Cherie set an example for their children shit? Bollocks. Even if we ignore the hordes of mums who have no choice but to stay at home because the cost of childcare is so high that working would actually put them in debt, the mums who’ve sacrificed their career because they’re the lower of two earners in the household (thanks to an ever-present glass ceiling that gets in the way of so many women) … there’s still the small matter of where these mums would put their kids if they went back to work. Childcare, childminders, nannies? But if looking after children is so worthless, why do these occupations — often paid minimum wage, not exactly an inspiration for the next generation — differ? Or is it only raising your own kids full time that’s worthy of derision?

Anyway, I digress… this is supposedly about dependency. Are these women depending on the salary of a man who might not always be around? No more so than I am as a working mother. Oh, I have my own savings but I’d still be up shit creek if Karl left (or died) tomorrow. I’d get about 6 months out of my savings and then what? Work? With childcare costs of £30+ per day per child, I’d have to make £60 per day just to break even; that doesn’t factor in mortgage costs, house insurance, travel, council tax, utilities, food, clothes… the list goes on.

The reality is that life isn’t as simple as “choose to stay home” or “choose to work” as Ms Blair makes out. Guess it’s easy to forget that on a QC’s salary though.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

14 comments so far

  1. Tanya said:

    The only thing I agree with Cherie on is the making sure you and your kids would be okay should your partner disappear part. Of course, it would be impossible to protect yourself against every possible eventuality, and if a determined man/ woman wants to screw you over financially following a bitter separation there isn’t always a lot you can do. However there are basic precautions you can take. For example, if M were to die tomorrow, or find out he was terminally ill, the remaining mortgage would be paid off and I would receive a large cash amount via his life insurance policy. I have a similar policy in place should something happen to me.

    As for the rest of her comments, they anger me just as much as they do you for the same reasons you’ve already outlined.

    • Jem said:

      We have a similar thing re: mortgage, but given that it’s one of our lowest outgoings it would be the least of my problems should Karl die.

  2. Chantelle said:

    She’s off about a lot of things, but a mother would be irresponsible to be a SAHM/WOHM/whatever and not have some sort of plan for what should happen if her partner disappears. Too many people, especially women, are dependent and incapable of supporting themselves (much less their families). It may not be practical or even possible for many families to have strong backup plans, but at the very least, they should consider some worst case scenarios. When my father randomly died, we didn’t suffer financially because my parents had a safety net in place.

    • Jem said:

      A father would be irresponsible to not have some sort of back-up plan should his wife disappear but you don’t see articles slagging off the choices Dad’s make.

      Point is, it’s nothing to do with being a SAHM and everything to do with being responsible – which many people aren’t irrespective of their choices re: children.

  3. Stephanie said:

    I think that the US had a similar run-in with Ann Romney and some other lady a while ago. I’m not sure that I’d want to become a stay-at-home mom just because I’d be a bit bored. But in the family I grew up in, if my mom didn’t stay at home, we would have had a really hard time. My mom has an easy time right now, but that’s because my brother and I are both grown up. When we were little, things were really hard for her.

    I do wish that there were more articles criticizing the guys who are irresponsible. I also wish that divorces would be friendlier towards men and give the men custody sometimes, especially when the wife is the irresponsible parent (in the US, the dad almost never gets custody), even if the wife is one of those irresponsible mommies. *sigh* I’m glad that you and Karl have everything worked out, though!

  4. Clem said:

    I don’t understand why people judge women so harshly for these choices. I’ve heard people complain about women who stay at home with their kids and I’ve heard people complain about women who choose to work. It seems like you just can’t win. That’s obviously a really personal choice that depends on each individual woman and each individual child. Parenting is a tough job, and when people disrespect stay at home moms like that it just seems like they don’t understand how hard it is to juggle parenting with the rest of your life, and like they don’t value everything mothers do.

    And like you said, it’s not always really a choice! There are a lot of factors that may make it nearly impossible to stay at home or to work.

  5. Ashley said:

    It will be a beautiful day when people can nose out of other’s lives. Everyone’s circumstances are completely different, and it’s just impossible for their to be one right answer.

    This reminds me – I read an article on Jezebel the other day about this exact incident and one of the commenters said that this was “real feminism,” that “letting women choose their choice” was wrong, that all women ought to be working, which I found absolutely appalling.

  6. Stephanie said:

    You know, one of the major tenets of my feminism is freedom of choice. I simply believe everyone should have the choice of being a SAHM — or not. Or working — or not. I don’t particularly care what you do, as long as you don’t tell me my choice is wrong. Telling women they should be working to fight “the man” is just as harmful as telling women their place is the home with children. Too often I see feminists who feel like they have to do everything “men do” (scare quotes, because I don’t think men do things much differently from women and it’s all just an odd social construction) — wear pants, avoid makeup, not be stylish, not be feminine — because they feel like these things repress them. They think they have to be “masculine” to be equal, and look down upon feminists who don’t do the same — the “lipstick feminists,” if you will. And frankly, it’s just as bad. It’s not men vs. women at all… it’s freedom of choice versus the lack of. The choice of having children or not, of being religious or not, of being feminine or not. Anyone actively prescribing ways things should be done really is missing the point. And to make it all about women versus men is exceptionally reductive — there are women who feed the patriarchy as much as men do, and men are hurt by the standards of the patriarchy as well.

  7. Nat Marie said:

    I remember when my mom was a SAHM for the first 3 years of my life. It was nice to have my mom sit at home with me and play with me and feed me lunch and what not. While my dad did work, we still didn’t have a lot of money, but up until I was able to go to school, my mom had no choice–we couldn’t afford childcare. When they were able to send me to preschool at 3, that was when my mom was able to work outside the home again.

    I’m at home with my daughter and as much as I’d love to work outside the home, I know that I just won’t be able to afford childcare. Working at home is something I’m looking further into until I can send my daughter to school.

    Shit like that pisses me off–a working mom is no better than one who don’t mind changing diapers and interacting with their kids at home. I never knew how hard it was to take care of kids, till I had my own–dear god, she’s a handful!

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