Working mums in the media

After my rant the other day about women and mental health, I have received a reply from the people who did the study. It makes interesting reading. They agree that the media tend to oversimplify the issues – surprise, surprise – and that you can’t blame any one thing, eg being a working mum, on the doubling of the number of women with mental health problems in the last couple of decades. “It is clear that in every case of a depressed mother there is an individual combination of vulnerabilities and stressors (i.e. a loss of balance between demands and coping potential/resources),” says one of the researchers calling for the destigmatisation of mental health issues in general.


The reports that mental health problems were caused by more mums working were followed by others this week which seemed to suggest working mums are bad, bad news. Apparently they are dumping their kids at school when they are sick. But are they doing this any more than non-working mums and what do we mean by “sick”? The odd dribbling nose or cough? If kids didn’t go to school every time they had a cold they would never be there! Then there were the various debates about the cost of childcare. Apparently, according to some commentators, providing subsidised childcare – as they do in many other European countries – is bad news as it is a mother’s “choice” if she goes to work or not. But if a mother can’t afford childcare, what choice does she have? Choice appears only to be possible for the rich. Don’t even get me started about how difficult it is to go back to your career, at least at the level you left it, if you take a few years out…


In the past, the papers used to be blatantly anti-working mums. Now they are slightly more subtle. They seem to disguise an agenda which is basically about idealising the good old days when mums all knew their place [there is nary a mention of dads in the debate] and embraced domesticity wholeheartedly by appearing to “understand” the stresses and strains of being a working mum. They highlight research which shows that it is hard work and the implication is that it was better when most poor little women stayed at home and had just the one homemaking role. It is hard work [and it is infinitely harder in a climate of increased childcare costs and reduced childcare support], but the alternative can also be stressful and hard work. It depends on your perspective.

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