Are stay-at-home mums abnormal?

mother and babyEllen White bravely stepped out on to the parapet that is Channel 4’s 4thought programme tonight, airing her own Christian belief about being a stay-at-home mum.

The outrage it caused saddened me.

Granted, her belief was presented in such a way as to suggest that everyone should be bringing up children the same way — her way — with mum staying at home while dad goes out to work, earning enough money to support the whole family.

It may have been unwise for her to suggest that any mother who returns to work, particularly very soon after childbirth, is “selfish” — and the image of children being “thrown into childcare” is perhaps a little crass — but I wonder if there’s an underlying distrust of anyone who suggests they want to give ‘traditional’ parenting a go.

It wasn’t so many years ago that it was quite normal for a mum to stay at home, looking after her children and keeping the house. Yet in our fast-paced, consumerist Western world that seems an increasingly alien concept to some — to the point that they can’t accept that anyone should want to raise a family that way.

Granted, the situation isn’t simple.

Some parts of Britain are now so expensive to live in that it takes two full-time wages just to keep a roof over a family’s head and food on the table.

Jobs aren’t always easy to come by, and even in the decreasing number families headed up by two adults, there’s often a need to take on part-time or shift work that makes it much harder for one parent to solely stay at home.

Consumerism, driven on by an incessant “you must have this” media that callously targets both parents and children, dictates that we need to earn as much as possible so that we can buy the things we “need” — so that our families are successful and keep up with everyone else.

And of course child poverty continues to rise, according to a recent Save the Children report — the cruel irony being that many impoverished children live with at least one parent who stays at home.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned and a little cynical of ‘modern ideals’, but I’m convinced of the drip effect making it increasingly fashionable for either mum or dad to stay at home full-time.

Ellen White may have delivered her message rather abruptly (or, possibly, Channel 4 deliberately edited her message into a two-minute slot to sound as controversial as possible — it’s what the media does (yes, including this web site!)) but that doesn’t make the overall concept wrong.

Some of the comments were plainly directed at Ellen, because she suggested everyone should be parenting in the way she and her husband have chosen.

Yet some seemed to knock the whole concept.

(Someone even suggested that the presenters were “actually men in drag”, which I can only assume means that they think all men believe women should stay at home to look after the kids — a fairly outdated stereotype in itself.)

The fact is, she has interpreted the Bible and applied it to her Christian faith in a way she believes is right. There can be a number of ways of interpreting certain pieces of scripture (we didn’t get a detailed exposition from Mrs White because the programme was short and not intended to be a Bible study group) all of which can lead to outcomes that neither compromise the core Christian faith nor do any harm.

I have little doubt that the White’s children are growing up in a loving family where the mother has chosen (and is financially fortunate enough to be able) to stay at home full-time.

I also have no doubt that other methods of parenting will also do well, whether they are worked out purely on an idealistic choice, or (more likely) based on circumstances. Most parents tend to do the best for their kids whatever situation they find themselves in.

Yet I’m dismayed that Ellen White is branded a ‘silly woman’ (that’s one of the politest put-downs I could find) because she believes in a method of parenting that has been tried and tested in many cultures for thousands of years.

For some, the ideal may well be that one parent stays at home. Raising children is surely one of the best, greatest and most demanding jobs there is. Not everyone wants to juggle that with a career. Some do, some can; some don’t, some can’t.

Maybe in time Ellen’s views will calm a little, and she’ll see that there are other valid, unselfish ways of bringing up children.

Perhaps those who believe that the idea of stay-at-home mums should be relegated to the last century (or the 19th century, preferably) might see that there can be benefits to that method of parenting.

And finally, particularly in this time of austerity, we’ll all take a long hard look at what it means to live, to love, and to be family.

Consumerism and rising debt is not a recipe for happiness, even when the Western world’s financial health was good.

Society as a whole needs to honour parents and the children they’re raising.

Whether it’s stereotyping dads, talking down today’s kids, ignoring the vital role of grandparents, or laying into healthy methods of parenting that don’t quite agree with what we think is right in the 21st century, I wonder whether “family” as a whole is under attack?

Surely we should take a lead from other cultures where respect and care for the extended family is much stronger.

As someone recently commented here regarding respect for fathers: “I think this is a phenomenon that is, thankfully, restricted to the UK. Having been brought up in Nigeria and spent a lot of time in the US both cultures have a much stronger respect for the father figures in the family.”

Now I’ve lit the blue touch-paper, it’s over to you. What do you think?