Why we must ban the toxic phrase mum guilt: She raised four children during her career as a top magazine editor. Now she rails against the prejudice women like her face
As another school year gets back into full swing, working mothers have fallen back into the frantic routine of juggling their schedule to make it home in time for baths or homework or the school concert or football training.
And if they don’t? Cue an avalanche of crippling, self-defeating ‘working mum guilt’.
Or at least, that’s what we’re told we should feel. I’ve spent the past two decades battling this concept. The moment my eldest child took her first steps, 例如, I wasn’t there to witness it.
I often tell other working mums this when they confess to me how guilty they feel about some missed event, and their response is to immediately assume — with a sympathetic nod of recognition — that I was at work as the then editor of Cosmopolitan when my now 19-year-old first toddled across the kitchen.
'哦, but you can’t be there for everything,’ they’ll say kindly.
Lorraine Candy (图为) argues the phrase ‘working mum guilt’ is outdated, toxic and should be banned, as research shows in 60 per cent of UK families today both parents work
But the fact is I wasn’t at work. I was on the loo upstairs.
Women have been so brainwashed into thinking they should feel guilty about ‘not being there’, they often assume every parenting story that begins with ‘I missed . . .’ must always end with an outpouring of working mum guilt. Every discussion of motherhood and paid work is framed by it.
Just this month the Good Morning Britain TV presenter Ranvir Singh, my favourite-ever Strictly Come Dancing contestant and a successful single mum, talked about how she would ‘break down crying’ because she was shouldering so much guilt about leaving her son while she was on air. And Question Time’s Fiona Bruce told Good Housekeeping magazine that she had a ‘fair dose’ of working mum guilt, 太.
(Note: working men are never quizzed about working dad guilt. For them, this ridiculous concept simply doesn’t exist.)
No doubt there’ll be an army of you out there feeling this way as you wave your little ones off on the school run, knowing you won’t always be at the gate come 3pm to pick them up.
But why are we still allowing ourselves to be manipulated like this?
The rules of our daft perfectionist cult of motherhood seem to be that Mum, not Dad, should witness every special moment: Mum should put a plaster on every cut; Mum should hear every first word; Mum must see every first step, attend all school plays and be on the finish line at every sports day. And if she doesn’t, she’s a bad mum who deserves to feel guilty, especially if she has a job outside the home.
好, 在我看来, this toxic, outdated phrase should be banned outright. From now on, any female celebrity asked about ‘working mum guilt’ should hotfoot it out of the interview immediately.
Lorraine said the rise of the child-centred trend in parenting has put unbearable pressure on mothers. 图为: Lorraine with daughters Sky (最左边) and Grace
We shouldn’t use it in day-to-day life when we talk about parenting and we must never use it in front of our daughters.
The definition of the word ‘guilt’ is ‘having committed a specific or implied offence or crime’. Mothers going to work, whether they choose to or need to, are not committing an offence or crime. What is criminal though is how this phrase can be used to make us feel as if we have broken an unwritten maternal law.
Yet in 60 per cent of UK families today both parents work, 和在 2019 three-quarters of mothers were in work — a record high. 当然, women are still paid less than men for doing the same job even at the highest level. And women have been more adversely affected by the pandemic than men when it comes to all the metrics on employment.
But when so many of us are holding down a job and running a family, why should we still lean on language that grievously damages our value? Women who work outside the home have done nothing wrong, so why feel ‘guilt’?
Let’s stop breathing fresh air into an old-fashioned, judgmental concept which is designed to erode female self-esteem.
In the two decades since I had the first of my four children, aged ten to 19, the rise of the child-centred trend in parenting has put unbearable pressure on one woman — Mum — to be all things to all people. It has also nourished the sinister construct of the ‘working mother’ as a woman who cares less about her family than a mother who works at home. And this trend has wrongly pitted women against one another.
Lorraine said it’s normal to feel sad, anxious, frightened and upset about missing out on your child’s important moments (档案图片)
I have certainly felt this when discussing paying for childcare. We have employed full-time and part-time childcare over the years while I chose to go to work as a writer, editor and author, and doing this seemed to illogically imply I was less interested in my children than women who did not work, an argument that doesn’t make sense in a modern world.
当然, it’s normal to feel sad, anxious, frightened and upset about missing out on your child’s important moments. It’s normal to be depressed about certain situations that arise as you parent. It’s normal to make mistakes and have regrets.
But these are not gender-specific. They’re the feelings not always of a mother, but of a parent. And being a parent can sometimes feel like it is essentially one long goodbye.
We’re all doing our best to be good enough. There’s no status to be earned by applying a mistaken formula to motherhood: more hours spent mothering doesn’t equal a happier child. All the surveys will tell you that (unless there’s wilful neglect or abuse, 当然, which is vastly different).
确实, the idea that children must be happy all the time and that constant maternal input is crucial to that goal is a dangerous one, as child psychologists told me time and again as I was writing my latest book about parenting teenagers. To develop good mental health, children must become resilient, which means experiencing all the feelings, 好和坏.
Lorraine said there should be no shame in questioning whether our mothering is as good as we want it to be (档案图片)
No doubt we’ll question whether our mothering is as good as we want it to be until the end of time. And there should be no shame in that. The trouble is we have settled on this phrase ‘working mum guilt’ when, 事实上, we’re experiencing many other painful emotions as we grapple with bringing up our babies. Believing in this lie is exhausting. Your energy is better spent doing other things.
I recently asked my children what they felt about me choosing to go to work when they were little and relying on paid childcare to look after them. My ten-year-old said she didn’t mind. ‘You always came home,’她补充说.
My son, 15, said he didn’t know what I was talking about. My 19-year-old said she was proud of me and her dad for having successful careers; 和, since she didn’t know any other way, how could she possibly answer the question about it affecting her as she grew up?
My 17-year-old, 与此同时, looked at me blankly. ‘But what exactly did you feel guilty about?' 她问. ‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’
Mum What’s Wrong With You? 101 Things Only The Mothers Of Teenage Girls Know, by Lorraine Candy, 现在出来了 (Fourth Estate).