Mother Guilt

Reporter: Laura Sparkes

It's the modern day dilemma -- what is best for the children, having a stay at home mum or a working mum? Do children thrive in day care or does it stunt their growth? We've fought for equality but now we have it, we feel guilty. And so the debate begins: on one side Alice Schneideman, the traditional stay at home mum to Federica and Willa; on the other side is Melissa Davis a full time working mum to Tyler and Chloe.

Its 7.45 am at Melissa Davis' home and in just under half an hour she has to be out the door with 7-year-old Tyler and 6-year-old Chloe. It's just another usual, chaotic morning. "Busy is an understatement. It is very full on I really enjoy weekends because then I can breathe again", Mel said. "I've actually got a list of what we do -- if I didn't have this we wouldn't function properly", Mel added.

Leaving her cereal half finished, they're out the door at 8.15 and after a quick drop-off at school, Mel ends up at work -- teaching high school students full time. "I would love to drop back to three days, I do love my job but again I do love my family and it would be great to be able to spend more time with the kids. However we have a mortgage, a recent mortgage we've undertaken that's locked me into full time work", Mel said.

Alice chose to leave her career of 15 years when she became a mother -- her morning is a little less rushed. "I think going to work is easier than staying at home, because you don't have someone at your legs 24/7 and you can do things by yourself", Alice said. She quickly casts aside the myth that stay at home mums watch daytime television and spend time in cafes -- her day begins at 6.30am and doesn't finish until bedtime at 7pm. "I don't know any of my friends who would sit down at lunchtime and watch TV because were always trying to get organised and doing the next step ahead of ourselves", Alice said.

Stay at home mums like Alice were the norm back in 1981 when they accounted for 57% of mothers and only 43% worked. But fast forward 30 years and now working mums have overtaken the stay at home mothers at 63%, just 37% stay at home. "Seven out of 10 working mothers are very rushed and pressed for time most of the time. So they're holding together a household; they've taken on a day job as well; they aren't getting help they need from the home front on average, so we still need a change", said Professor Barbara Pocock from the University of south Australia's Centre of Work and Life.

Equality in the home is something working mothers have still not achieved according to Professor Pocock, but she says mother guilt is the ongoing problem. "We find there are guilty mothers, whether theyre in the labour market or whether they're at home. A lot of women assume that every other woman has got it together and they're the only one who's busy and stressed and pushed. In fact women are across the board, are feeling they've got young children, they're fairly time poor and pretty rushed and pressed", Professor Pocock said.

Some of the latest research points to part-time mums as bringing up the healthiest children. In terms of intelligence, other studies find stay at home mothers and again part-time mothers bring up the most intelligent children. "If you dig deep, you'll find a study that will say day care is bad, you'll find studies that say day care is good, you'll find studies saying part time work is the perfect mix, you'll find other studies saying mums should be there for the first two years -- none of these studies is definitive", said Editor of Practical Parenting Magazine, Mara Lee.

Mara is a full-time working mother -- her advice to mothers generally is "Its really true that saying -- happy mum, happy family -- so I think you choose what works for you. And be proud in what you do, whether you're a stay at home mum or whether your are a working mum, whether you're a part-time mum and blow a big silent raspberry at all those that criticise you because in the end its about your and your family", Mara added.