Stay-at-home mums 'made to feel guilty'
11 November 2006

Society stigmatises stay-at-home mums and makes them feel guilty, according to a new report that calls on the Government to stump up extra cash to help parents.

A Families Commission study on parenting, employment and childcare, published today, interviewed 40 mothers for their views on balancing paid work and parenting.

The report, by Massey University researcher Mervyl McPherson, said there was a "widespread perception" among participants that mothers were expected to both work and care for their children - and that they were made to feel guilty if they chose one over the other.

"We're damned if we go out and work and abandon our children, we're damned if we stay at home and don't go out and earn the bread and get off our backsides," said one mother.

Another said staying home to raise children was seen as "old-fashioned" or "a cop-out, and something you do if you can't get a good career".

Wellington mother of three Anne Johnston agreed society looked down on stay-at-home mums, but said the negative feedback mainly came from men, not other women. "I was at a wedding once and a man who I didn't know sat next to me at a table. He said to me, 'What do you do?' and when I said I was an at-home mum, he turned completely away and just was not interested. I felt terrible ... I felt he was thinking, 'She's not worth talking to."'

The report said the New Zealand ideal was for women to work part-time in their normal occupations, and for fathers to share responsibility for childcare while working fulltime. Affordability and availability of childcare, and the timing of school holidays were identified as problems.

Women in the study said they wanted employers to offer more flexible working hours, more part-time positions at senior levels, and on-site childcare and holiday programmes. They also wanted greater support from the Government - including higher childcare subsidies, longer paid parental leave, and more funding for after-school and holiday programmes.

However, the report's author conceded the study's sample was too limited for its conclusions to be generalised to all mothers. Most participants were tertiary-educated, with a household income of more than $70,000.

- The Dominion Post