This week there has been a storm of media interest in the work of a quiet campaigning group that I have been a member of for 8 years, since I had my son. From the moment I made my decision to stay ‘at home’ to bring up my children, I found great support simply in the fact that such a group existed, because being a mother at home can be a lonely occupation.
They are called Mothers at Home Matter. It’s not a bitesize title, but it does what it says on the tin. It’s saying that mothers who sacrifice a career to be the one to bring up their children are not opting out of the workforce, they are not letting down those brave women who fought all those years ago to get us the vote, they are not lazy, yummy or slummy but are doing a job, out of love, that would otherwise cost a large sum of money for someone else to do.
I am still at home, despite both my children being at school. This does not mean that I sit about, watching daytime television and wearing my slippers – as Katie Hopkins so condescendingly put it on This Morning in a debate with MAHM secretary Lynne Burnham. I am part of that Big Society that David Cameron waffled on about, with no real idea of who was going to actually run his big idea. As usual, it’s the mothers, those women who have the time, ability and knowledge of their local community to see what’s lacking and actually do something about it. Recently, the proposed closure of the A&E department at Lewisham Hospital was met with a storm of protest, including a ‘buggy march’, full of politically aware, useful mothers at home.
The sense that being a mother is a value-less occupation is drummed home over and over again by successive government budgets, and this latest one, which I listened to while guillotining endless Easter cards for the school Easter fundraiser, was no different – possibly even worse. Osborne’s opening gambit, that this budget was for “those who want to work and get on”, tacitly implies that it wasn’t for those who didn’t want work and therefore didn’t want to ‘get on’, whatever that means. In fact, ‘getting on’ is one of the key qualities of a good mother. Mothering entails ‘getting on’ with the endless, repetitive tasks that turn a house into a well-ordered home. It means ‘getting on’ with your children, first and foremost, treating them as individuals that deserve the love and respect of a present parent. It means ‘getting on’ with a job that has the longest working hours of any job, without the prospect of a raise, transfer or even the odd appraisal.
For those of us who made that choice, the choice to simply be there, always, whenever they need us, there is also an accompanying sense of failure. Because we are not adding to the family finances, because we are the drain on the family pot, because we are ‘setting a bad example’ – according to Cherie Blair last year, by not showing our daughters that we are capable of having a career. Transferable tax allowances, which was promised to single-income families in the Conservative party’s manifesto, would be a simple way of giving mothers, or fathers, at home a way of contributing to the family financially.
But, just because we are at home, does not mean that the home contains us. We are more than that, we are carers, organisers, planners and helpers. When, or if, we decide to go back into the workforce, it will be in a way that puts our children first. Because we know the truth that every old person knows: at the end of it all, no one ever wishes they worked more; they wish they had spent more time with their family, nurturing those relationships that really count.