mummy-wars & shades of grey

The perpetuation of so-called mummy-wars assumes that there is a distinct split between just two types of mothers: those who go out to work in paid employment and those who stay at home with their children.
Black and White. Opposite ends of the spectrum. Apparently.

And it has reared it’s head again this week, with the term du jour “motherism” – this refers to judgement of stay-at-home mothers. Another attempt to stoke up mummy-wars. I mean, let’s face it, as is pointed out in this article, what kind of mother is not subject to judgement these days?

image credit
image credit

Those who would stir up mummy-war divisiveness often take it a step further, painting a picture of the working mother as a harried ball of stress, running in heels to drop her baby at creche while checking email on her Blackberry and racing to make the 8am conference call.


The stay-at-home mother is meanwhile baking muffins with her children, ahead of an afternoon of arts and crafts, all done with a beatific smile, a clean house and never a cross word.

That’s how the representatives of the two “sides” look in the stock photos used for mummy-war articles.

Clichés yes, but the more we see these images, the more they become entrenched in our minds.
And the more we hear about mummy-wars, the more we believe in them.

But it’s not black and white, there are many shades of grey in between – in fact it’s mostly grey.

I was asked recently if I resent mothers who get to stay at home with their children.

“Of course not” I replied. “I’ve stayed at home. I’m off for a month right now as I’m between childminders, I’ve been on maternity leave three times. I know just how hard it is being at home.

“I know that although it’s fulfilling, it’s also exhausting, it can be very stressful and sometimes it’s downright boring.
So no, I don’t resent stay-at-home-mums, I have been a stay-at-home-mum, and will be again, on and off, for long and short periods, throughout the next two decades.
It’s great, it’s inspiring, it’s meaningful, it’s fulfilling, but it’s hard work.”

By definition, all mothers are at some point stay-at-home mothers.

All have at least some time at home with their children when they are born (and even the shortest maternity leave can feel long on a wet January Tuesday when you’re trying to entertain a toddler and feed a newborn).
So we all know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mum, even if after a time we go back out to paid employment.

And similarly, many stay-at-home mothers have previously had periods of going out to work.

Many do so after a first baby, perhaps giving up work when a second or third comes along.
Or as has increasingly been the case over the last five years, when redundancy brings an unexpected (but sometimes welcome) career break.

Some mothers do stay at home after a first baby, and therefore don’t experience the daily separation from children or face the difficult choice between creche or childminder.

But many, in time, start to work part-time, or to work freelance from home, or set up their own businesses.
They may write or create or sell or organise.
Working when a baby is asleep or a child is at school.

Or working with baby in arms…. (image credit

And as for the women who go out to work: many do not work full-time, particularly if they have a number of children.

Many work from home for part of the week.
Many work shorter days in order to do the school run.
Many work term-time. Or job-share. Or week on/ week off.

Shades of grey.

Time at work. Time at home.

Days as a working-mum and days as a stay-at-home mum.

Different combinations at different stages.

Not the polarised opposites portrayed in mommy-war articles.

Which is exactly why there is no war. We’re all in this thing together.


My previous post on mommy-wars is here if you would like to read: The mammy-war myth.
And apologies to anyone who was hoping that this post was about the other more well-known shades of grey …

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9 thoughts on “mummy-wars & shades of grey”

  1. I think there are some very polarized deep in the trench groups of mommys on the internet. Those last three words are what to focus on here. The majority of us blissfully go about our lives covered in various child bodily fluids while tending to whatever we have in our lives to tend to.

    And then there are small groups who feel the need to proselyze about whatever it is their circle is focused on. It could be anything from cloth diapers (and how they are either evil or that you are satan for not using them because you are KILLING. OUR. PLANET.) to having an only child (omg it’s the best vs it’s child abuse and you will raise a serial killer) to anything in between.

    Most of us are sane, in other words, and some of us.. err.. need more hobbies. *coughs quietly*

    1. You’re absolutely right Meeshie – the distinction is between real life and the internet. It’s so easy to whip up a storm online, people making comments that they wouldn’t make in real life, and it spirals. And yes, once people are in a group, they do tend towards being polarized. Groupthink all over the internet.

  2. I’m the harried SAHM on maternity leave at the moment, some long afternoons I long for my ridiculous commute, just to hear silence. Other days we have hallmark moments,. I bake, we go to the playground, have a lovely family dinner and I can’t imagine leaving them. It’s definitely grey.

    1. I agree – every day is different. On a good day I think “I’d love to do this forever” and on bad day, I thank the stars I have a job to go to…

  3. I’m a stay at home mother for many years. It was my choice and has been financially most unrewarding and difficult. I would not have changed a day of it and yet many days were awful, with sick and cranky children plus the children I minded being sick. A bout of gastro takes about 3 weeks to go through six children… Fact!
    There were many many fantastic days and wonderful memories too. I do not cook well, rarely bake and have special needs when it comes to crafting.
    However I have always mourned what I might have been. Still do. Now I have begun blogging and seeing what others are doing and I wonder, can I get what I want now? Is it too late? I do work part time but that is my hobby also (lucky me) so I don’t really count that.
    As for a war… some people would rise trouble anywhere. Great post.

    1. Thanks Tric – I love that you get to work part time doing your hobby – that’s what I would love to do too. And I reckon it’s no way near too late to try new things – blogging is just the start 🙂

  4. You’re never too old, Tric. I’m 37 (with a six month old) and I’m about to start college allllllllllll over again and do 3 years to get a BSN (nursing) so I can give up at least another year to become a lactation consultant and THEN sometime in my 40s i will hopefully have the career I want. Maybe. Who knows. (And about 100k in debt. Oh the joy.) Still… never too late. Self fulfillment is just as important as anything else.

  5. Thank you for this post, I have been thinking a lot about the dichotomy stay-at-home vs working-mum and it is something that has bothered me since I had my first child. It’s incredible how mothers are constantly asked to define themselves: as soon as you say you have children, you are asked at which end of the spectrum you sit: stay at home smelling of home made food or working in a high power job making loads of money and ruling the world? And of course I am neither: I wonder if anyone is either of these things. I work part time, from home, trying to set something up for myself; I make very little money, I only wear clothes that will allow me to play with my kids later…. so I am as far from being all black or all white as is gets. But the worrying thing is that for a long time it was ME who struggled with this ‘grey’ identity: I felt that I was failing, because I wasn’t fulfilling either brief. Amazing how we are ourselves affected by the stereotypes! But you are right the stereotypes are from the web, from the movies and the way out is to meet real people, to remember what life is really like. All stereotypes come from ignorance after all. Sorry for long reply, you just stroke a note for me here, hope you don’y mind 🙂

    1. Marta thank you for this lovely reply – that’s really interesting that you yourself had trouble with the “grey” – I hadn’t considered that, but that’s probably true for lots of us. And I agree, very few people fall into the clichĂ©s of the spectrum ends, and what a lovely point about the way out being to meet real people. Thanks again for the comment – food for thought.

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