Before my wife and I swapped roles and my wife went back to work, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britain’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. Every Monday, I’m going to go through her archives and reproduce one of her ramblings on my blog.
This week’s theme: Hands up if you’re a bad mother…
Come on, ladies, get those hands in the air. Or haven’t you heard the latest research that blames all hard-working mums for everything from violent kids to the obesity crisis? Can it be true? I’ve decided to do some research of my own – with some help from three little boffins…
‘Velcome to ze vorld-famous Fleming Institute. Let me introduce you to our boffins. Ve av ze Little Boffin, ze Mini Boffin, und ze Teeny-Tiny Boffin wiz ze Big-Enormous Glasses.
Okay, so this isn’t the world-famous Fleming Institute, it’s my front room, and these little people in white coats aren’t boffins, they’re my children – Daisy, aged seven, Tom, aged five and two-year-old Sam.
But I reckon, when it comes to knowing what makes a good mum, my three kids know as much as any scientist – perhaps more – because in the on-going battle between working mum vs stay-at-home mum, my children have seen both sides.
You see, my oldest was just five months old when I went back to my office job. She was looked after by her nanna before going to nursery. When her brother came along three years later I became a stay-at-home mum for a while. Now, with three children, I am a mum who works from home, a hybrid of both types. So, we’re well-placed to test the latest theories about motherhood.
This recent piece of research, based on a study of more than 12,000 children, found kids of working mothers are less healthy than those whose mothers stay at home. They snack on more junk food, spend more time in front of the TV and do less exercise.
To test this theory I have given the kids a choice for tea – grilled fish with steamed broccoli or pizza and chips – but first I have to get them to the table.
Me: Kids! Tea-time!
Me: Hello! Earth to kids: your tea is ready.
Me: Oi! Switch off that flippin’ television and get to the kitchen table. NOW!
Them: Urgh, Mum. That is sooo unfair!
Me: I don’t care. Today we are having a choice for tea – lovely grilled fish and juicy broccoli or horrible pizza and chips.
Daisy: You’ve got to be kidding, Mum! Who would choose fish – yuk – and broccoli!
Tom: Double yuk!
Sam: Bic! Bic! Bic!
Me: No, Sam. No biscuits. And no more TV either. You’re turning into slobs. Daisy: We’re not. We do PE and I do dancing after school and gymnastics and swimming.
Tom: And I do football.
Me: Okay, you’re not slobs.
Daisy: You see, you aren’t a bad mummy after all.
Me: Well, you have to do after-school clubs because I work late and can’t pick you up till 5pm so I am sort of a bad mummy. Anyway, what did you have for lunch at school?
Daisy and Tom (between mouthfuls of pizza): Fish and broccoli.
Me: Erm, I thought you just said fish and broccoli was yuk.
Daisy: Your fish and broccoli is yuk, Mum. School’s is delicious.
Verdict: Chips are not the spawn of Satan. I grew up eating them and I’ve made it to 40. I even like broccoli
Theory 2: Kids of working mums do worse at school
According to this piece of research, children do worse at school if their mums go back to work full-time while they’re still young. In one study, the kids of working mothers were worse at reading and maths than children of stay-at-home mums. In another, three-year-olds whose mothers had gone back to their full-time jobs before their kids were nine months old had poorer verbal skills and were less able than those whose mothers had stayed home.
To test this theory I am helping Daisy with her maths homework.
Me: Gulp. This looks a bit tricky. Fifty-six divided by what number is fourteen? Now, hang on a minute, let me think….
Me: Don’t just guess, love. You’ve got to work it out…
Daisy: Mum, the answer is four.
Me: No, it’s not. Don’t be silly. It’s….oh, yes, it’s four. I was just about to say that. Next question: ninety-six divided by what number is twenty-four? Erm…
Me: Give me a second here, love. I’m trying to work it out.
Daisy: Trust me, the answer is four.
Me: All right, all right. I’m doing my best! What about this one: one hundred and fourteen divided by what number is thirty-eight? I know it! It’s four!
Daisy: It’s three, Mum.
Me: Is it? Oh.
Daisy (sighing): Honestly, Mum, did you even go to school?
Verdict: Kids of all kinds of mothers can be too clever by half. The same, sadly, cannot always be said for their mums
This report suggests that putting toddlers into childcare can cause them to become aggressive, disruptive, suffer psychological harm and do badly when they get to school. Other studies claim that working mums harm their children’s long-term development by sending them to nursery from an early age.
To test this theory, I am visiting my friend Carol. She has a daughter Ellie who is the same age as Sam. Carol works full time in an office and Ellie has been going to nursery five days a week since she was nine months old. Sam has never been to nursery stays at home with me.
Ellie: Hello Sam. Would you like to see my toy rhinoceros in my room?
Ellie: Sam would you like to play with my dolly house?
Sam: Ug, ug.
Ellie: Sam, do you like painting?
Sam: Ug, ug, ug.
Ellie: This is my painting of a red car
Sam: Car! Car! Car!
Carol: There, Ellie. You’ve found something Sam likes to do.
Me: No, Carol, it’s the only word he can actually say.
Sam (hitting the picture of the car): Car, car. Bash, bash, BASH!
Me: No Sam. Be gentle. Don’t say: ‘bash’.
Carol: Never mind love. Look on the bright side. At least he knows another word.
Verdict: A shocking revelation: All kids are individuals and develop at different rates
This theory goes like this: Children whose mothers do not enjoy their jobs suffer increased stress themselves. In tests, youngsters had more than double the level of a stress hormone called cortisol, than kids whose parents enjoyed their work. Another study said being a stay-at-home mum was one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
To test this theory, I spent a day doing a job I hate – the housework – to see if the kids picked up on my stress.
Tom: Mu-um, can I have a drink?
Daisy: Mu-um, can I have something to eat?
Sam: Bic! Bic! Bic!
Me (scrubbing toilet): I’m a bit busy. Can’t it wait?
Tom: Mu-um, can I have a lolly?
Daisy: Mu-um, can I have some sweets?
Sam: Bic! Bic! Bic!
Me (still scrubbing): Look, I’m busy.
Tom: Mu-um, can I have a pirate ship?
Daisy: Mu-um, can I have a laptop?
Sam: Bic! Bic! Bic!
Me: For the last time, I am BUSY! How many pairs of hands have I got? Eh? One, yes that’s right! I have one pair of hands and right now that pair of hands is busy scrubbing the toilet so you children are safe from germs. And in a minute my one pair of hands will be doing the washing and then the ironing and then the Hoovering. But do I get any thanks? Do I heck! It’s just: Mum, Mum, Mu-um!
The Partner Who Is Not My Husband (arriving home from work): Oh heck. What’s the matter with your mother?
Daisy: Oh nothing. She’s just going bananas again. Anyway, can I have a drink…?
Verdict: Unhappy mums make indifferent kids. Happy mums make indifferent kids. We’re mums, we’re just there to serve
Theory 5: Working mothers are the fittest
At last, a bit of good news. Working mothers who juggle deadlines with child care and housework are the healthiest women in Britain. They stay in better shape over the long-term while homemakers have a higher chance of obesity and ill-health.
To test this theory, I am pushing a buggy laden with the ten-ton toddler and several bags of shopping up a steep hill at speed.
Daisy: Come on, Mum! Run.
Me: I am….gasp, splutter, cough…going as fast…wheeze, puff, gulp…as I can.
Tom: Well, that’s not very fast.
Daisy: No, not very fast at all. She’s rubbish.
Me: I need…gasp, wheeze, splutter…a cup of tea and a…puff, splutter, gasp…sit down.
Daisy: She looks a bit red in the face.
Tom: More like purple.
Daisy: Shall we let her stop?
Tom: Hmmm….in a minute or two.
Verdict: No matter whether we go to an office or stay at home, all mums work – and it’s exhausting. For many of us, however, there is simply no choice but to go out to work for a living to keep a roof over our families’ heads and food in their tummies. Should we be condemned for it? Absolutely not. We might not get things right every time. We may make mistakes. But most of us are doing our best. And that should be good enough for anyone.