Cherie Blair

It seldom comes out quite as blatant as this, but the UK’s ex top mummy, Cherie Blair, has been scolding young women who want to be full-time mothers for their lack of ambition and independent spirit.

The Queen’s Counsel and mother of four, who maintained her own legal career during the premiership of her husband Tony Blair, told women at a Fortune magazine Most Powerful Women event:

“Every woman needs to be self-sufficient and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”

“Yummy mummies” are Brit talk for women whose husbands are wealthy enough to devote themselves full-time to their children — and their own appearance.

Mrs Blair partly justifies her attitude by invoking her own childhood when her father walked out on her mother. But she says, “Even good men could have an accident and or die and you’re left holding the baby.” Besides, she says, full-time mums are setting a bad example — of dependence — for their children.

Well, as the daughter of a widowed mum who always went out to work, I can hardly criticise her first premise — that women should remain employable at least as a backstop. In fact, research shows that most married women with dependent children want to work part-time. It’s a necessity for the family, in many cases, not just for the woman’s career maintenance. And The Telegraph notes:

In fact, despite Mrs Blair’s worries about non-working mothers, official statistics show that the proportion of mothers who work has actually risen steadily in recent years.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 66 per cent of mothers are now in some form of paid work. In 1996, the figure was 61 per cent. The number of working mothers is now around 5.3 million, up from 4.5 million in 1996.

Also it’s beneficial to society, I think, that at least some women who are mothers participate in the paid workforce and demand conditions that make family life possible for both mothers and fathers.

Furthermore, the helicopter parent syndrome among the upper middle class suggests that being “best parent” to a couple of kids can get out of hand.

The trouble with Mrs Blair’s speech is that it sounds like the rant of a bitter old feminist — “I did it the hard way so you should too!” And it seems to tar all stay-home mums with the same brush.

Telegraph columnist Cristina Odone notes the important unpaid work that the home brigade do:

This is unfair; not all work is exciting and remunerative, and not all stay-at-homes spend their day at TriYoga or Starbucks. Many crucial if unpaid jobs are carried out by so-called yummy mummies: they volunteer to help children with special needs, they organise the school book fair, they are tireless Sunday school teachers. Their nails may have just been polished and their foreheads Botoxed, but these mothers are stepping into a long tradition that women’s increasing employment risks snuffing out. When David Cameron talked of the Big Society with its small battalions, I wonder if he realised how many women would be doing their bit in between taking Rufus to baby yoga and picking up the catered dinner from Baker and Spice.

Finally just a Brownie point for Mrs B: she has set up a charitable foundation to support women launching their own firms in developing countries.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet