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Why do we insist on using the term ‘working mum’? asks Ellen Widdup

PUBLISHED: 21:31 25 February 2017 | UPDATED: 21:47 25 February 2017

Ellen with her eldest children

Ellen with her eldest children


My husband is never referred to as a “working father”, writes Ellen Widdup.

It would sound weird, wouldn’t it? “Let me introduce you to Richard, a journalist and a working father.”

He would never be called a “career man” either. Or a “dadpreneur”, come to that.

But I am often given all three of these labels, with the female prefix, and “working mother” is the one which grates most.

I really don’t think I need a special moniker for the fairly obvious act of earning a living after giving birth.

Yes, I’m as proud of my career as I am of my three kids. Both require a lot of hard work. But they are two separate areas of my life.

In fact, the only place they ever cross paths is right here in this column.

It seems to me that motherhood is not viewed as simply a relationship with your children – like fatherhood would be.

Instead it is an all-encompassing identity with demands and expectations that eclipse everything else in a woman’s life.

It also suggests that society isn’t very much interested in my talents any longer. They are more interested in passing judgement on my choices.

This was made abundantly clear to me at a party recently when I was introduced to a potential client and his wife.

“So what do you do?” he asked with interest.

“I run my own copywriting business,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, lips pursed. “I thought you had children?”

“Oh I do. I have three,” I said proudly.

“I don’t know how you do it,” she said, with an air of disapproval.

It still astonishes me that so much criticism comes from other women.

But as a “working mother” I’ve been called selfish, career-obsessed and irresponsible by many.

Having said that, I was termed lazy, resentful and boring when I was a “stay at home mum”. Another label I dislike.

Trust me, being the primary carer of one or more children is an extremely challenging job.

They work just as hard as the “working mum”.

When I stayed home with my children full time, I cleaned, cooked, chauffeured, entertained and played on repeat. Day in, day out.

How we mothers raise our children is a hot topic which politicians, academics and the public like to weigh in on regularly.

Strangely, this has not translated into alarm about children living in poverty or under the threat of domestic abuse.

Curiously, it hasn’t led to us addressing the outrageous cost of British childcare or the appalling provision of mental healthcare for new mothers.

Instead it has been a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” attack on whether you work inside or outside your house.

This is one conversation I feel very entitled to speak with great authority on, because I have done both.

And just as I found being a full-time mum difficult, I also struggle to juggle a career and family life.

But here’s the thing about combining parenthood and work – the vast majority of women do so because it is not economically feasible to do otherwise.

Which makes it doubly unfair for them to be constantly attacked for this choice, which isn’t really a choice at all.

It heaps on the guilt which is linked to the implication that there’s some kind of moral failing attached to improperly prioritising making money and making a home. With all the world in strife, one might think mums would cut each another some slack.

That motherhood would serve as a safe house where mutual respect rules. Well, think again.

The truth is motherhood, for all its well-documented joys, has become a flashpoint for envy, resentment and blame.

The sad fact, however, is that everybody struggles, and everybody envies what the other has. So, really, it’s time to kill the green-eyed monster, along with all these labels.

Read more from Ellen here

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