Being an Ambitious Mother




1. having ambition;  eagerly desirous of achieving or obtaining success, power, wealth, a specific goal, 
2. showing or caused by ambition
3. strongly desirous; eager
4. 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.



  1. You shouldn’t be labelled as “unambitious” because you have chosen to take time out of your career while your baby is very young. Its so wonderful that you can – celebrate the choice that you’ve made.

  2. My thoughts exactly when I read this. I am loving this stage of life and the thought of going back to work to pay for childcare fees is ridiculous. Thank goodness her column got the axe as every week I vow not to read it then I do and it angers me!!

  3. This is a fantastic post Melina. I am so glad you wrote this. Most of the stay at home mums I know are very educated and very ambitious. Ambitious to be awesome mums, and what amazing children they are creating. I get frustrated by the endless government and social incentives to drive women back to the work force. I understand that many women want to work. I have enjoyed studying and working in combination with having babies, but such pressure to return to work undermines and undervalues the role of mothering. Elka wasn’t ready for day care at 18 months. We didn’t need to use it, as between my husband, mum and I we made it work. Her period of shyness passed and we have an extremely extroverted girl on our hands. And I don’t want to miss a moment with her. I respect everyone’s choices, but this is mine. Thanks for sharing with Heart Mama x

  4. This totally resonates with me, Melina. Very well written, very thoughtful.
    I feel great ambition, and I also want to stay with my children as long as I can and experience as much of them as possible.
    We can have it all if we want to, but we don’t necessarily have to have it all at once.

  5. I hope no one is upset if I comment on this from a males point of view.
    My wife is a very ambitious woman, she is determined to be the very best mother she can be and I must say she is doing a fantastic job of it.
    She (or really both of us) has now taken on home schooling our kids as she knows it will only strengthen her (our) relationship with them.
    I work with a lot of people in the public service although I am not one of them and I would tend to disagree that ambition in men is positive.
    From what I have seen, many ambitious people, both men and women tend to be very self centered and sly about getting the promotion they feel they deserve.
    Then the office politics and back stabbing start and seem to be encouraged by incompetent managers.
    Anyway just my 20 cents worth.

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