I was watching a programme yesterday where stay at home Dads were being interviewed about how it feels to be the main hands on parent and how difficult it can be returning to paid work after a year or two of being at home. There was a lot said about how men in this position have been encountering the same problem that women have been encountering for many years.
Women have worked outside the home in many roles throughout history, but there have been significant differences in the last 200 years. Before the industrial revolution women worked with the rest of the family (including their children), in farming, sewing, knitting and in other trades supporting their families. With the industrial revolution women worked in factories, or in trades which supported the needs of urban life.
During the 2 world wars, women took on jobs more usually done by men as well as the jobs they were used to doing – service, office work shop work and child care (including teaching).
After the 2nd world war John Bowlby was commissioned to report on ‘maternal deprivation’ to discover to what degree children actually needed their mothers. This proved that children do need early care from one (or two) significant care-givers, and at that time it was thought that women should stay at home to look after the children, and men should be out at work to support this. There has been much written on ‘attachment theory’ since Bowlby’s original work – all agreeing that the early building of strong, bonded, loving relationships is essential for children to maintain and build good relationships throughout life.
So parents should bond with their children, and give them a safe secure basis for life. Mums make great mothers and Dads make great fathers. They are not interchangeable, but both can be great parents and give their children the security they need.
As for becoming a stay at home parent whether you are male or female, making the change from work to full time parenthood is similar in the way it affects the way that your emotional needs are met. A workplace that ‘works’ (in the sense that people feel motivated to turn up and contribute their labour) provides an environment where people get a significant proportion of their innate needs met. These include a sense of community, status, control, achievement, private time to think your own thoughts, security, emotional connection to colleagues and attention. When you enter the world of parenthood as with any other life venture it takes a while to find new ways for these needs to be met.
Wouldn’t it be great if we as a society valued the role of parents in bringing up the next generation? Giving good attention to parents, respecting their status, supporting their parenting and allowing them the choices they make. We (as a community) should recognise the huge importance of bringing up strong, confident and compassionate children who will support us and care for us later in life, when we will need their care and support in order to maintain our own health and independence.