Should mothers go to work?

Are we failing our children by pursuing careers, or is personal fulfilment the key to good parenting? Sarah Ewing hears both sides of the story.

'All under-threes should be cared for at home’
The psychiatrist: Oliver James

Right now, being a stay-at-home mother has a lower status than that of streetsweeper. The current government has pursued policies that encourage more parents of young children to enter the workplace and put the demands of their careers before the needs of their children.

In most of mainland Western Europe, nearly all children under one are cared for by a parent. There is little question that children under three should be cared for by one person who knows them well.

Toddlers need to feel secure that their needs will be met, and that they will be loved in later life. In my view, what we need is a less consumerist society, where both parents do not feel compelled to work during the amazing early years. That means rethinking both our workaholism and our materialism.

Oliver James is author of The Selfish Capitalist (Vermilion)

‘Women can’t afford not to go back to work’
The author: Joanna Grigg

It would be foolish not to keep your foot in the door regarding your career: nearly half of all mums will end up as single parents, and with the gender pay gap still more than 12 per cent, if you let your skills lapse and don’t go to work at all in your children’s early years, this gap widens even further.

We are still a ‘presenteeism’ culture that values bums on seats at regular hours – often, the longer the better – so part-time workers can be perceived as ineffective.

There is a growing skills shortage in the UK’s workforce, and employers can no longer afford to ignore working mums who feel alienated and undervalued.

The bulk of research shows that nursery doesn’t harm children, the real issue being that your child feels loved, and you don’t need to be a stay-at-home mum for this. If you’re miserable at home, you’ll be a terrible parent.

Joanna Grigg is author of Collapsing Careers: How The Workplace Short-changes Mothers (Vision).