‘Yummy mummies’ – who’s the Daddy?

22 Jun

Cherie Blair reinvigorated the ‘mummy wars’ with her apparent denigration of stay-at-home mothers who make the ‘dangerous’ choice of thinking they can just ‘marry a rich man and retire’.  How many of them do you know?  Me neither.

What is particularly depressing about this debate (or representation of a debate) is the complete absence of men’s choices from it.  Apparently having children is something a certain type of woman decides on alone, having ensnared a ‘rich man’ who has only momentary involvement in anything involving childbearing or childrearing, and who removes himself rapidly to the workplace, to bankroll any consequences.  No question that there may have been any discussion or negotiation – no – it is mothers who decide who does what.  Is this really so?

There may be some tiny percentile of the population who decide on an approach to parenthood where one partner (overwhelmingly the man) remains in a very high earning post, whilst the other stays at home (often with considerable support, and certainly with resources) to perform the ‘looking good for your money’ role: gym-toned, fashionably dressed, overseeing interior design and ensuring children are seen with all the best people.  But how relevant is this to most people? – absolutely not.

Another permutation is the ‘Earth mother’ – she stays at home while her man is employed because she is ‘so good at it’: natural childbirth, breastfeeding, baking, sewing, dealing with multitudes of toddlers.  Here it is ‘essence’ that dictates that the mother stays at home – the man just ‘couldn’t do’ all that, so it’s nature’s choice.

How about men who stay at home with kids?  Then it’s the economy which decides – ‘her job is so much better-paying than mine’ – as if that’s not the case in termsof his job for many stay-at-home mothers.  With wages stagnating and childcare costs skyrocketing, it’s a wonder many parents get out to work at all these days.

The point about any arrangements made between mothers and fathers in couples (including all the multifarious dual-working permutations of both full-time; one part-time; opposite shifts; both flexibly employed etc) is that they are made by both parents. By both parents in the context of their relative pay, their outgoings, and the lack of value attached to work involving childcare and domestic tasks.   ‘Yummy mummies’ might not be subject to the same type of criticism if everyone stopped and thought about how they got there.  No-one is criticising the fathers for how they are managing their families or their work-life balance; that is (as Mr Leveson might put it) ‘the great value of wives’.   Perhaps it’s about time we changed the terms of this whole debate.

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