Evening Echo, Friday, November 5, 2010
I wrote this article in response to hearing a women speaking about being a stay at home Mum. She spoke articulately and honestly about how difficult she found it, and how guilty she felt about that.
Of all the articles I’ve written so far this has received the biggest response.
It’s OK for stay-at-home mums to be miserable
Society is putting unfair pressure on mothers, who may not be best suited to 24-hour parenting, argues SALLY O’REILLY, an Irish psychologist and psychotherapist. It can destroy a woman’s
self- esteem to discover that she doesn’t enjoy being a full time parent, or even a part-time parent.
My attention was caught recently by an email read out on the radio. The woman who wrote highlighted a huge issue for women: She is a stay-at-home mother, and she is miserable. As an Irish woman myself, and as a psychologist and psychotherapist in private practice in this country, I am very familiar with the pressures that Irish women are under at present and privy to the unspoken agonies that we all carry around in our non-stop, chatty critical heads. We like to think of ourselves as a modern progressive country and in many ways we are. But with regard to women, and how we are treated by ourselves, each other and by society at large, we have a long way to go.
What this woman spoke of so honestly is something we have all either heard about or felt. But women don’t really talk about it. Women are expected to ‘take to motherhood’, to have the maternal instinct kick in, to know instinctively how to, and to enjoy rearing children. The simple truth is that not every woman does enjoy this. And it can be experienced as quite a traumatic shock when that realisation hits.
We are trained to believe from childhood that all of this childbearing and rearing business is at the core of being feminine, being attractive, being WORTHY. It can destroy a woman’s self-esteem to discover that she doesn’t enjoy being a full time parent, or even a part time parent. Women who choose not to have children are still either pitied or judged as faulty or strange somehow by some, granted not all, in our ‘modern & enlightened’ society. Staying at home to mind children is a change of lifestyle for more women now than ever before. It’s a choice made influenced by unemployment, peer pressure, the list is long and varied. Some women feel it’s better for the child or children to be reared by their mother in the home. Some women assume that their partner’s career is more important than theirs. It is vital for both genders that women learn to place a greater value on ourselves. This includes valuing our feelings of loss or rage or anger or boredom when we make a lifestyle change like staying at home to mind and spend time with children.
It is crucial to know that love for one’s children does not necessarily mean that you love parenting them. So while parenting is rewarding and joyful for some women, it is akin to grief for others, and the loss can be great. Loss of status in a workplace, loss of authority, of earnings, of contact with adults and the vital stimulation that that offers, loss of support, laughter, feedback, recognition and acknowledgement. In the back of the mind are probably the niggling thoughts. “What’s WRONG with me? Some women CAN’T have children! I should be grateful. My mother managed fine, my friend manages fine, everyone in the world seems to be coping except me.”
Well, they’re not. And let’s avoid the temptation to overuse the label ‘depression’. Many listeners diagnosed the woman as depressed and suggested antidepressant medication was all she needed. I didn’t hear any evidence that this women is clinically depressed. She is reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation. She has already started doing what she needs to do by contacting someone — a sign of good mental health in my opinion. She reached out and possibly unwittingly helped thousands by doing so. There is nothing wrong with her I suspect, but she certainly isn’t feeling happy. Since when did that become an illness? Many listeners prescribed chats and they were on the ball. We all need support, we need to know that we are normal. And we can’t have that if we all continue to trot around pretending all is well all of the time because that’s just not being human. And we are all human.