In a paragraph of not more than 100 words, sum up the various things a mother of small children can do (according to the writer) in order not to be trapped and oppressed by her family.
Dilemma of the working mother
Living with children is one of the few situations where virtue is
rewarded. Though it sounds intolerably priggish to say so, parents who think
first whats best for the children really do have an easier, more
comfortable life than those who do what they like and make the children fit
The key decision is: should both parents go out to work? Dr Spock takes the standard line: if a mother realises how vital her care is to a young baby it may make it easier for her to decide that the extra money she might earn, or the satisfaction she might receive from an outside job, is not so important after all.
The evidence is, as usual, more confused. All research agrees on consistent loving care and a high level of stimulation as essential ingredients in optimal child development. But theres increasing doubt that the 24 hours a day, seven days a week mum is the best way to provide it.
Two recent, as yet unpublished, London studies have quite independently come up with the same result: 40 per cent of mothers who stay at home with children under five are clinically depressed, although the depression is not necessarily caused by staying at home. Dr Michael Rutter, of the Maudsley Hospital, and Dr G. Stewart Prince, among others, have shown that depressed mothers produce depressed, neurotic and backward children. There are many other mothers who, without being depressed, are oppressed by the unending repetitive task of caring for a young baby, or the unceasing chatter of a toddler, and so get less pleasure from their children than they might.
Extra money is not to be despised. It buys automatic washers, tumble driers, dish-washers to make life easier and give more real attention-time to the children. It buys time off excursions, holidays. It may make the difference between a town flat and a house with a garden, a better environment for bringing up children.
For professional women there is another difficulty. To give up or even work part-time, probably means climbing painfully back on to the bottom rung of the ladder at 35 or 40 in galling subordination to younger and perhaps less able men.
Assuming the still-normal situation - mother at home - there are ways to guard against the imprisoned feeling. Any arrangement will do as long as its regular and doesnt involve renegotiation every time.
For instance, once a week, a completely free day and evening during which the mother is relieved of all responsibility. She can visit friends, or go to a museum, spend all morning buying a pair of shoes and neednt come back until she feels like it. The only rule is she must go out, not hang around catching up on household jobs. Its best of all if combined with a regular night out for parents together. You can employ another woman to stand in for the day, set up a reciprocal arrangement with another family, or make it a Saturday when Father can take over - but thats less good.
The split Saturday works well for some families. Father has morning off, Mother afternoon, to do what they like unencumbered by children. Much nicer for them, too, than the family shopping expedition, which soon makes small children tired and fractious.
Child-free weekends every few months are very restorative, and well worth the money. Family exchanges are fun for older children. Advertise if you dont know a suitable family, but get well acquainted before you go off.
A word of caution: work which can be done at home is superficially attractive - Rhona and Robert Rapports book Dual-Career Families describes several households coping with this situation. But there is good evidence that withdrawal of attention is more harmful to children than physical absence - which is one reason why the switch-off phenomenon associated with maternal depression is so damaging.
Anyone with a toddler knows how he will play happily while you cook, wash up or make beds, but no sooner do you sit down with a book, pick up a complicated piece of knitting or take out your violin than he becomes demanding and tiresome. In our house Mum's writing an article is a signal for unusual gloom, whereas Mums off for the weekend is excellent news. (But its not a good idea to leave a child for very long between the ages of 9 months and 2.)
(Article in The Observer Magazine)
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