Why stay-at-home mums have never had it easy

PUBLISHED: 08:23 07 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:27 07 May 2018

A bit of gentle dusting in a frilly pinny? Sadly, this image of the 1950s housewife was far from the truth, says Sharon Griffiths.

A bit of gentle dusting in a frilly pinny? Sadly, this image of the 1950s housewife was far from the truth, says Sharon Griffiths.


The myth of the relaxed stay-at-home- mum is exactly that: a myth, says Sharon Griffiths.

So when exactly was this golden age of stay-at-home mothers?

Nearly three-quarters of mothers of working age are now working, according to new figures last week. Full-time mothers are in an ever-dwindling minority.

But they always were.

Even back in the 1950s when very few mothers worked outside the home, they still didn’t spend that much time actually looking after their children – they had too much else to do.

Before washing machines, fridges, central heating and ready meals, that 1950s mother we think of dressed to perfection in her frilly pinny was working full-time in the home. Being a housewife those days was a full-time job.

Children just got in the way, so they were shooed out to roam the countryside like the Famous Five or William and the Outlaws – because Mother didn’t want them under her feet, dirtying her clean floors.

That famous freedom for children, about which everyone waxes so lyrical, was actually benign neglect and freedom for mothers too. If they were lucky, they’d get their work done and chance of ten minutes with their feet up listening to Mrs Dales’ Diary before the kids came back again.

Apart from meeting at mealtimes – important, I grant you – children and adults led largely separate lives.

Any child hanging round the house waiting to be entertained was likely to be given a job – brass to clean, errands to run, or looking after brothers and sisters. Children as young as eight would regularly be given a baby, a pushchair and a bottle and told to make themselves scarce for the day. Maybe with an attendant toddler or two as well.

These days those toddlers are more likely to be in nurseries with trained professional carers. Is that better? Or worse?

Flashcards and children’s fashions had yet to be invented. Children were rarely the centre of attention but expected to pull their weight and to fit around the edges of adult life.

True, there were some mothers who devoted themselves to their children and had time to fuss about homework and piano practice. And some who sent their children away to school at the age of seven.

But there were plenty of mothers – farmers’ wives, or those who ran shops, pubs or small businesses, for whom the line between work and home was always blurred. They might not have officially been “out” at work but they certainly weren’t full-time mothers either.

When mothers missed out on a career it was a waste. Pressurising mothers to go out to work is equally wrong.

But let’s not fool ourselves that there were ever many really full-time mothers. Except in the adverts…

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