am·bi·tiousadjective1. having ambition; eagerly desirous of achieving or obtaining success, power, wealth, a specific goal,2. showing or caused by ambition3. strongly desirous; eager4. requiring exceptional effort, ability,
A week ago I read Mia Freedman’s column, Birth of New Era, in the Sunday Mail. It started off good, talking about how the word ‘ambitious’ is seen with a negative view when it applies to women, though it is a virtue in men. In fact, a lot of the column is good, pointing out once you get pregnant everyone starts asking you what you want to do about work – and that it’s impossible to know the answer to that until the baby comes along.
Then the second last sentence comes along: “And more women are better educated and actually WANT to work.”
In that one sentence she swipes a paintbrush full of generalisations over those women who choose to stay at home with their children. She paints them as less educated and refuses to acknowledge their work as work. It immediately sends your mind back to earlier in the piece, when she talks about being concerned with nothing more than tiny socks or which breast you fed from last, like that’s the kind of thing that always fills the minds of stay at home mothers.
It’s not going to be surprising to anyone when I point out the stupidity of this. While those small socks are amazing, and those early days are a bit of a haze (lack of sleep induced, usually), there’s plenty of highly educated mothers who intend to stay at home. There’s plenty of stay at home mothers who are interested in the world outside (or the parts that matter, anyway.) And there’s plenty to learn from our children, as well as plenty of work to do with them.
Like the development of language skills. Squirm couldn’t communicate in any way but crying when he was first born. Now he babbles to us, experimenting with a wide range of sounds. Every day, there seems to be a new sound he can make. He’s at a point where he babbles, then stays quiet while I talk, then babbles again – he’s learning how to hold a conversation. At a time where more and more children are coming to school without adequate speech skills, I think that learning from and participating in this is pretty important work.
Like watching him work out how to move more effectively. In the last month, Squirm has gone from waving his hands at thing and being amazed if he made contact with them, to reaching deliberately for things and accurately pulling them towards him (usually towards his mouth). He can even turn the pages of a book, now. I think learning from and participating in this is pretty important work.
And it’s this kind of work I want to be ambitious about. I am ambitious about being the best mother I can be, just like I used to be ambitious about being the best teacher I could be.
For me and my family, my staying at home is the best choice. For other families, both parents working is the best choice. For other families, the father staying at home is the best choice. And, I bet for most of these families, they are ambitious to do the best by themselves and their children, no matter what choice that might be.
Mia Freedman didn’t need to make it an us versus them thing. She didn’t need to make it into ambitious versus not. It comes across, quite frankly, as a way to be controversial and throw another punch against other mothers. Or, otherwise, it was just lazy writing, which is just as bad. Working at home or away from home, women are working their hardest to do the best by themselves and their families.
They’re ambitious that way.