Career Women Make Bad Mothers


It’s official: career women make bad mothers.

In metre-high letters on a prominent building in an occasionally affluent London borough the opinion-led website has proclaimed loud and bold what some of us secretly fear.

How bloody dare they?

The poster invites me to agree or disagree with this statement. I can do neither.

The debate is what might make a bad mother, not how we can identify bad mothers without knowing any more than the external choices they have made.

Suggesting that career women make bad mothers with a one-way medium that incites controversy rather than invites debate is irresponsible.

Twenty-seven years ago my mother was shouted at by a woman in a shop who thought it disgusting that she had gone back to work, rather than commit to looking after me. She is still working and has gone far in her chosen career, still making time to give me the love and support both I and my brother need. She may not be maternal but she is a brilliant mother.

I know a few women my age that have children and have career ambitions. I also know people that would choose motherhood as their career. Society needs to give women who make either choice all the support they can, because ultimately what we need are good mothers, not women crippled by insecurity or glass ceilings.

According to their website, britainthinks “was created to give people a new voice and support the vibrant democracy that the people of Britain already participate in up and down the country – in the pubs, living rooms and street corners of our nation.  We’re not backed by big news media organisations.  We have no political or religious axe to grind.  We just believe it is high time for us all to listen, speak and vote for the issues that count in our daily lives.

At first read it sounds like a Daily Mail-lover’s social networking site de jour, and the bruiser fronting the show affirms this initial view. Until you hit play and discover that this man is brusque in manner only and not going to rant incomprehensibly with his 1 minute of frame. Visitors are invited to comment, rate vox pops and users’ videos, and upload vodcasts of their own.

Subjects under scrutiny include immigration, who really runs the country and the value of the BBC. Posters as large and prominent as the one above include:

  • 1966. It won’t happen this year.
  • Educashun isn’t working.

Neither as emotive as the one that caught my attention this morning. What makes them think suggesting the above is in the same league of discussion?

For football fans, winning the World Cup is important but invites real debate that brings in players’ form, the latest Manager; the dig at education is almost witty, were it not for a widespread endorsement of poor spelling by tools like texting and Twitter; career women are among us and some of them are mothers, that part of the debate is over. The rest is a whole new issue.


7 thoughts on “Career Women Make Bad Mothers

  1. Margaret Wallis

    27 years ago I was that woman shouted at and abused as a “bad” mother. At the time I was struggling with the exhaustion of a new baby, terror I would somehow do the wrong thing and hurt my very new and very beloved daughter but also clinging on by my finger tips to what I knew deep in my gut was the right thing for me AND my baby that I return to work. It was still pretty rare at that time to return to work and I was blessed with a hugely supprtive husband – many women don’t have that luxury. But sitting here today with two grown up children and a job where I believe I am making a difference to the lives and aspirations of many young people I am sure it was the right thing for us as a family. But it was never the easy option – never underestimate just how gut wrenching it is to leave your child for someone else to look after. Only you will know what is right for you and your child but never, never can we ignore the pressures of society, particularly when economic times are tough for every strategy to be deployed both above and below the belt to move women out of the work place and make way for
    men. Watch out women of the world the men are always out to edit us out of history!

  2. since i read this yesterday I have kept coming back to it…because as a mother I think you always question what you are doing, you are constantly weighing up the options and will always strive to do the best you can in any given circumstance – it’s way to easy for anyone to judge, and far less easy to be in someone elses shoes.
    Being a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done, it challenges us constantly. Being a parent doesn’t mean you stop being who you are and there will always be compromises whatever route we choose in life…

    I’m not sure if it’s the labelling of ‘bad mothers’ or the apparent lack of insight and understanding that irritates me most about that poster!
    As others have said, well blogged. I have to say I’m not sure I’m going to spend any time on that particular site having briefly browsed it though!!

  3. SK

    The poster invites me to agree or disagree with this statement. I can do neither

    But of course you can — as evidenced by the fact you’ve just written a couple of hundred words disagreeing with it!

    • commutertheology

      SK – what i’m disagreeing with is the use of this statement. I am unable to agree or disagree with the actual statement. Some career women are mothers, I can’t say whether they – as a group – are “bad mothers”. It so happens that I think my particular Career-Woman Mother is a good one, but I am inevitably going to be biased!

  4. jsp

    I am not a British citizen and when I moved to the UK in 2004 I was rather shocked to find that being a working mother is still such an issue here. I have been told by women how lucky they are that they’ve never had to work because their husbands have such good jobs. I wonder whether the real issue today is here: being able to stay at home and for the family to be able to survive on one salary is rather a status symbol. Then to justify this, many women make motherhood a mission, a career in itself. I have never HAD to work and have gone to work willingly as it has been the best choice for our family. However, we have now come to a point where I have decided to take a career break to be able to spend more time with the little one who needs my care and attention. Going to work or staying at home is a personal choice for the mother and for the family. Neither is in itself bad and women should examin the real reasons for their choice and not give in to social pressure.

  5. alexandra skey

    What I’m going to say will, I know, get me kicked out of this discussion as it has many others when I’ve let my feelings on the subject be known. Working women believe that the bias is always against them, the public opinion is for moms who stay at home. That may be true in teh UK but here — in Canada, there is a lot of contempt for women who don’t get ‘paid work’.

    I’ll tell you why i think there is something in the poster. I had a mother who was also ahead of her time. In the 50’s being a concert pianist was not something women did. She was a pioneer — a trailblazer. She also severely neglected my sister and I. She wouldnt’ have seen it that way — we had food and shelter. But you know, the career came first and my father supported that. Also he had his big mega career. As a physicist he was gone almost all teh time. in their absence my sister and I were left with hoards of substitute women who didn’t really want to be with us either. That is one of hte things i object to with the focus in western culture being on career and women havinig whole heartedly embraced that. There are a bunch of support jobs as housework and child care still have to be done. And those jobs are almost exclusively filled by women. I won’t tell you what hell it was for us to be left with people who didn’t love us. But hey, ‘kids are resilient’ eh? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that slogan.

    I stayed at home for 9 years with my kids and it was hard, hard, hard. But I remember seeing a woman who had been hired to be a nanny. She had two little girls of her own and was looking after a 3-year old boy whose mother had to work. I’m sure she (the nanny) had no idea of the way she was singling him out for ‘different’ treatment. He got the last of everything when those kids were together. He was spoken to differently, treated differently. Never with overt abuse — most of it was subtle, some of it wasn’t. Nothing anyone could acccuse her of. But I saw the effect on the little boy. I also heard the mother say how ideal the situation was — how loving the nanny was (and she was, in the mother’s presence) and a three year old doesn’t have the vocabulary to say what is wrong, why he feels horrible.

    If a woman has no choice — if it is starvation or she works, then there is no guilt in working. If she does have a choice — then she is risking her children to substitute care. Usually they’ll be fine of course — people thought my sister and I (hey we believed we were too! for ages) were fine and we should be proud of such an accomplished talented mother. I’m not. I wanted and my sister and I agree on this, one of those moms the careerists male and female claim they support but are secretly contemptuous of, one who was there. Who may not have been brilliant or done amazing things, but who put the kids first, their emotional needs as well as their physical needs. Taht’s how we learn that people matter more than careers. Caregiving is NOT considered an accomplishment in our society whatever is said. All you have to do is talk to ‘professional’ caregivers to know that. It is just too bad that people need care, but at the beginning of their lives and at the end, they do — and sometimes in the middle. For me, real feminism would value and promote the work women have always done — as well as individual talents and goals. As it is women are still the underclass, doing the work other women don’t want to do or have more ‘important’ committments to. We still value individual accomplishment and achievement more than people, community and kids, the poor. Professional success is still the most important thing on many people’s radar. While they will argue that yes, they love their kids, yes they care about family – it is always second. I find that value very male and disturbing that women have just jumped on the same bandwagon so dominant in western culture. Bottom line is, if you risk your kids to subsitute care, you really don’t know what happens to them those hours you’re away from them and that is a risk. Usually the risk is fine — things are as they appear, but you were still willing to take the risk. We’re not willing to risk our babies to things like, for eg., exposing a fetus to rubella in that first trimester, but we are willing to expose a baby and child to a woman (almost always is, but I know, not exclusively) who doesn’t love him. She’ll be kind (hopefully) but fact is — you just don’t know for sure. The things I’ve seen in high class, state of the art daycares. And the parents never ever know. But they’re willing to take the risk. That is what bothers me, having been the victim of it – and a risk few women my age talk about seriously. No career is worth that to me now although I know I would have put my kids in substitute care had I not had my personal experience. I spent too many years getting my PhD to want to sacrifice it. So I guess it is easy to believe that the kids are just fine if you need them to be. I know I would have taken that route had I not had the mother I had.

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