Do YOU Have A Choice?

stay at home mothering choice,
Today’s guest post is by Karyn Van Der Zwet from New Zealand. Her parenting advice is brilliant, based on science and loving interaction, and I can’t wait until her e-book is ready.  

When Germaine Greer wrote  The Female Eunuch, at the height of The Feminist Revolution, she suggested that motherhood should not be considered a substitute to a career. By the time she wrote The Whole Woman in 1999, she had done a complete 180 degree turn and called for proper state-funding for Stay at Home Mums.

She realised full-time mothering is as valuable to many women as being in paid work. She also realised there were benefits to society as a whole.

Children who feel well attached to their mothers do better at life. They make better decisions; they chose more mature friends and partners, and their relationships are more likely to last; they have a work ethic which is balanced with a sense of play; they are physically healthier and they have a stronger sense of community. And becoming properly attached takes intense commitment from one main carer for a long time.

Of course, just being at home doesn’t automatically mean that we’re doing the job that our children need us to do. Likewise, being at home doesn’t have to mean being a house-slave or turning off our brains. Attachment Theory (the science) suggests that a great mother is one who understands (intellectually or not) what her children need, according to their biology, and does her best to provide it. When she can’t manage  the full-time commitment (or chooses not to make it), she is the one who finds nurturing care for her child and does what she can to connect when she is at home. Great attachment can happen, and often does, but it’s a much more emotionally demanding experience for mothers when they aren’t around 24/7 for the first few years.

Truly giving children the emotional support their biology demands, especially in the first three years, is tough going for many of us. What we can give emotionally and consistently is largely dependent on the amount and degree of positive emotional experiences we have received. It’s the difference between intellectually understanding that we are loved by our parents, and feeling/knowing/living that experience of love. Remembering that our mothers had their own burdens to carry, and as adults we can make sense of their stories and understand they did the best they could at the time.

It’s much easier to understand how difficult things may have been for our mothers, when we’ve been mothers ourselves. We’ve all lived it: the act of mothering can be overwhelming, intense and, at times, threatening to our sense of self.

It seems odd to our modern-day western lives that the biology of human babies is so intensely demanding of their mothers. Of us. For many women it seems unfair. But equally, human biology never expected that we would have to mother in isolation or that we would have to do everything. Alone. Or that we would have to make the unnatural choice between our children and social isolation, and paid work and social contact.

Modern women were told we could do anything.

Which evolved into – we should do everything.

And now many of us have no option: we have to do everything.

The point? Well, to me, the main tenents of feminism are: honouring and respect women’s bodies; equity; and choice. Western women did not have the choice to work or to be educated in the past. Now many of us do not have the choice to stay at home as full-time mothers for as long as we want to.

Ten years ago in New Zealand when I was pregnant with our eldest son, the average single income could service a mortgage or pay the rent and still feed and clothe a family. Because of this, we have a much smaller mortgage than most people, and I have been able to choose to stay at home. It’s been tough going at times and luxuries are definitely luxuries – but I am content with my decision. Since we bought, house prices have more than doubled. Most New Zealand women cannot be at home with their children beyond basic maternity-leave for financial reasons. I understand this means we have ‘caught up’ with the rest of the western world. I am not convinced it’s progress.

In light of all this, here’s my questions for you all:

Have we traded supression by men for suppression by economics?

Did you have the choice to stay at home with your children for as long as you wished?

time crazed moms, lack of choice for mothers,

This was originally posted to World Moms Blog by Karyn Van Der Zwet of Napier, New Zealand. Karyn can also be found on her blog, kloppenmum on twitter @kloppenmum and on facebook: Karyn At Kloppenmum. 

The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer, Anchor Books 1999
The Developing Mind, Daniel J Siegel, Guilford Press, 1999
Becoming Attached, Robert Karen, Oxford University Press, 1994

19 thoughts on “Do YOU Have A Choice?

  1. I feel very blessed to be able to stay home with my children and even more so to have the choice to not send them to school. We saved my salary for three years before we had the kids and paid down most debt, so sometimes there has to be an intense plan to make it possible to stay home. We live in a tiny house and will stay here at least until the house is paid off. Things are better now financially, but it’s still not easy at time. Society has been set up so that we think both parents have to work to have a set lifestyle. We are told we need all these material things. I wish we could go back to living more simply, and that people would value their family and free time more than earning a lot of money and working a ton of hours.


    • I admire your foresight Christina. We thought we had a sturdy financial plan in place, but couldn’t account for chronic health problems or long-term unemployment that came our way. Just a generation ago, jobs were more stable, health insurance was almost assured, and a single income was generally enough to raise a family. It’s not always the desire for material things that sets families on this course, circumstances often take away the choice entirely.


      • Hindsight is so frustrating, at times, isn’t it?! I agree, that circusmstances can dictate what our options are – I just wonder how many mothers with young children don’t have the choice to stay home anymore, just to in order to feed everyone and put a roof over their heads.


  2. I’m sorry things were so hard for you financially. I know there are families out there where things would be next to impossible if there wern’t two incomes. I just see so many people, at least 80-90 percent of the people I run into that say they need both parents working really would be fine if they’d just live in a small home, use thirft stores and garage sales for clothes, take advantage of free entertainment in the community, shop sales exclusively for food and other things. As I said before, we’re blessed that we can have some luxury things in our lives these past 2-3 years, but if it meant living in an apartment and hardly eating out at all, that’s what I would do to stay home with my kids. Maybe because we had to go through invitro to have the kids and I’m an older mom I feel more of a feeling for how precious time is and how fast it can go. I have a lot of health problems and have to have many surgeries, so it might be easier to just send the kids to school and have more time to rest. But I know in almost all situations if you want something badly and are passionate about it, you can usually find a way to reach your goal.


    • Well said Christina. Despite your struggles you are following your passion. That in itself is a powerful example for your kids.

      What we do (including how we spend our time and money) every day is a way of affirming our priorities. I knew when I held my firstborn that I’d rather live in my parent’s basement or a tiny apartment than leave him, putting my career goals on hold. Each one of us have a unique situation that changes as our family dynamics and our financial needs change, and I know we adapt as best we can. Often it’s the mother who struggles to balance her children’s needs with the economic pressure to earn, and it’s the mother who ends up exhausted, frustrated, and guilty. Over the years as even the most stringent frugality wasn’t enough I’ve worked part time (around my husband’s schedule so a parent was always home), provided daycare in my home, taught classes, done freelance writing and editing, even sold sock monsters, anything to earn some money while still being the primary parent. And I’ve wondered how much choice (as Karyn asks in this post) there really is for many of us. I have a friend who had two children while in medical school. She planned to take over her father’s practice when he retired, working part time. She discovered, to her horror, that malpractice insurance was too expensive for her to do anything but work the standard 70 hour physician work week. She chose to stay home with her little ones and still struggles to find part time work now that they’re older.

      I also agree that many people don’t see that economizing might allow them more choices. But I’d like to see societal changes too, that allow parents more choices. Jobs with living wages, decent parental leaves, good health care, flex-time careers, and the recognition that stay-at-home parents are contributing to the social good in ways deeper, richer, and more valuable than any salary can measure.


      • This is kinda off topic, but I just want to say your Free Range Learning book was beyond fabulous! You crammed so much useful and interesting content in that book. It was awesome! I have a once a month book club with other unschooling mothers and I’m going to suggest that we read your book. Thanks so much!


      • I’m enjoying reading this discussion – and would like to add more job-sharing opportunities would be great too. Especially like your comment about acknowledging the work of at home parents. Perhaps governments could pay a lump sum when the child/ren reach 25 – a variable amount depending on how much trouble those kids have caused (or not) during those 25 years!


  3. What a wonderful post! I also am from New Zealand and feel very blessed to live in a country where I could still manage to stay at home with my baby, and then go on to homeschool her. I have found our society supportive to families – until recently, that is. Everything is now going downhill in a very sad way. I believe our former Prime Minister Helen Clark (yes, a woman) summed up the modern political attitude when she said, regarding paid parental leave, “let these mothers have their six weeks at home with their babies, and then get them back in the work force where they belong.” I was appalled by this. NZ’s problems for children and youth are spiralling rapidly out of control and I believe it is because we have lost respect for families, especially mothering.


  4. Fantastic article!
    Suppression by economics is still suppression by men and male culture. It wasn’t feminism that drove my father to push me to become a ‘successful’ career person – it was economic imperative. He wanted his kids to transcend the working class barrier, do ‘better’ than he did in life. At the same time I wasn’t a proper woman unless I was the perfect housewife and mother and never wore trousers… These mixed messages from confused fathers have done a lot of damage. I don’t blame the feminists for putting us in the position where women have to be and do everything. The feminists were always on the fringe doing great and important work (like most minorities with integrity) – I blame class culture and the huge upheaval in society resultant from two world wars, a devastating flu epidemic, a severe depression (that occurred within a single generation).
    As a child in my heart I knew I was going to be a parent – that was my job, my career, my life’s work. I’m a writer too – I knew that as a kid too. Parenting came first so I write about parenting and education. My father doesn’t see either as ‘successful’ or careers – largely because neither earns me hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m still working class, like him and mum. I see myself as highly successful. Choosing to live on a low income, with a do-it-youself and frugal lifestyle, doing what we want when we want, enriching our environment, treading lightly on the planet… I don’t see that we needed to sacrifice anything – we live comfortably, we eat well, the kids didn’t ‘go without’, etc. We opted to be stay-at-home home educating parents working from home because kids need access to both mum and dad – there is so much to learn from both. We made calculated, wise choices. We choose a different economic to the one my father and many other fathers were pushing. And it worked. Live simply, down-size, focus on needs, re-use, recycle.


    • Don’t you love the way we redefine success as a life of meaning and fulfillment? The old rigid worldview of success through money, possessions, and career status is giving way. Couldn’t come soon enough!


      • I really love how you’ve redifined success too. We have made similar choices and I am really pleased with the relationship we have with our boys because of those decisions. Our kids eat well (and a lot!!) and have enough stuff – there is definitely more to the world than money.
        I am not so sure about economic suppression being suppression by men – I know plenty of women who consume a lot and push the money wagon. You have definitely made me think on that score. 🙂


  5. Dear Karyn, I left the corporate world the day my water broke. I nursed each of my daughters for two years and was a stay at home mom until they were 6 and 9 at which time I became a single mom and began working full time. I chose attachment parenting and have never regretted the price I paid to become a mother to two of the most gracious, kind and incredible young beings…Thank you for your post. You inspire me. Karen Steinke Burlington, Ontario Canada


    • Thanks Karen. Being a full-time single Mum is one of the hardest roles to have – I am so impressed that you have managed to keep true to your attachment-parenting beliefs. I am inspired by you.


  6. Hi Karyn,

    Yes, I do feel like I have to do it all! I love this article. 🙂

    Part of it is my fault, too. I take on too much outside of just raising my children as a stay-at-home mom (like running a blog!). My husband and I are getting better at sharing responsibilities at night and on the weekends, but it’s taken a long time to get to that place, and we still have a ways to go!

    Jen 🙂


    • LOL It’s taken me 10 years and to accept that I have to tell Craig what needs to be done in order for him to do it!
      There is so much pressure (internal and otherwise) to do it all and be it all…and I think we underestimate the emotional drain (love those babies as we do) that mothering places on us. Plus, I never understood just how frustrating it would be to never be able to complete something all at once instead of in fits and starts – for years and years and years. Thanks for your lovely comment, Jen. 🙂


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