Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Laura Perrins: In defence of alpha mothers. They are right to put the next generation first


Another day another anti full-time mother article. It truly must make journalists such as Eleanor Mills proud that she can use her position in a national newspaper to bash stay-at-home mothers. What an honourable job this is and a good use of her time. In a piece two weeks ago (which I only stumbled across today) she calls full-time mothers ‘slave mothers.’

Ms Mills rails against alpha women in particular  who get ‘derailed’ from paid work to instead care for their children at home, as they “they don’t want to be any less alpha at motherhood than they have been at everything else.” Now, I don’t really know what being “alpha at motherhood” is, but if it means that you want to be the one to raise your child and not delegate that duty to another, then I am an alpha mother and I am not going to apologise for it.

If this means that as a mother you want to be there to read to your child, to pick her up from school and not leave her in after-school clubs where she can be become a ghost child, if you want to be the one to comfort your son when he is upset then again, I am an alpha mother and I am not going to apologise for it. But, listen don’t take my word for it. You can read the stories of other ‘alpha mothers’ here and here and here. So stop trying to shame us for our choices. We did not get derailed from anything – we chose to care for our children ourselves. Deal with it.

Ms Mills gets through a lot of insults including that alpha mothers are “overeducated mothers sitting outside the school gates.” Ah, yes the “overeducated” mother. Herein lies the true prejudice – education is wasted on mothers. This was the justification given in times of yore to justify not educating girls – sure they would only become ‘just mothers’. Nice to see it is alive and well and printed in the pages of The Sunday Times by a fellow mother. It is truly fantastic to know that working mothers in the media are supporting us. Oh no, hang on there was this in the very same week.

Yes, if you are an educated mother and you care for your child at home you are of course ‘wasting your education’ because to sit at home is to let you brain go to rack and ruin. And you thought we were making it up when we said stay at home mums were stigmatised.

To me no person can ever be ‘overeducated’ as education and learning is a life long pursuit you take with you. It does not stop just because you leave the paid workforce. Ms Mills continues saying that we are also the ‘perfect mother’ and of course a motherist piece is never complete without the image of the “1950’s yummy-mummy throwback” tossed in there. She duly obliges.

Anyway, there is a lot of silliness but her fatal mistake was to conflate full-time mothers with ‘overprotective and/or helicopter parents’. Only full time parents are ‘slave parents,’ she argues. Now I have seen this accusation a few times but I must set the record straight. Full time mothers are not necessarily helicopter parents – any parent can be guilty of this.

Ms Mills cites an article from the Atlantic called the Overprotective Kid. She implies that this says full-time mums are hurting their children by being overprotective. But in fact this article is about the important, but distinct area, of whether we are making our children too risk adverse. It said little about the full time mother debate.

However the author did say this: “I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to.” And she also said this: “My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playmates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.” So Ms Mills your theory does not quite stack up now, does it?

Even the studies she cites talk about “intensive parenting attitudes” damaging kids. But again this can be displayed by both employed mothers and full-time mothers. Ironically, Ms Mills also gives an anecdotal example where she “let my daughters walk to our local shop” to foster independence. Did she do this while she as in the office I hear you ask? Em no “every time they do I wait anxiously by the window.” So Ms Mills was in fact at home at the time of the event (I hope not letting her brain go to rack and ruin.)

The debate about children taking risks, over-protective parenting, and helicopter parenting is certainly worth having, but it is distinct from the debate about whether abandoning children in nurseries all day long or dumping them in after school clubs is a good idea and there are a lot of studies that say this is NOT a good idea – Dettling et al. (1999 and 2000) Ahnert and Lamb (2004), Geoffrey et al. (2006) Vermeer et al. (2006) and Megan Gunnar (2010). In fact, I do believe that this institutionalisation of children can cause risk aversion and that, in fact, children who grow up with a mum at home have more opportunity to become independent, not less.

When a parent is there to care for their child they have the time and energy to encourage risk taking like climbing to the top of the climbing frame (which my daughter can do since the age of three, and yes it is high), or get herself ready for school on her own (again which my daughter can do without any help from me as I am downstairs dealing with my two-year-old son.) In my experience it is the working mother who hovers over the kids in the morning dressing them, getting their school bags, and not asking them to clean up after themselves as they do not have the time to do so before they are rushing out the door to nursery or school. But then that is just my opinion.

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