Right. I’ve been avoiding writing about this but it keeps cropping up in various guises.
Before I start, a few disclaimers:
- This topic has been already written about a gazillion million times. Not by me, obviously, but still.
- All I have to offer are my thoughts. They may clash with your thoughts. That’s ok. Just because we have different thoughts doesn’t make me right, and you wrong. Nor the other way round.
So, what on Earth am I talking about, then? (pretend the title hasn’t given it away already!)
It’s this whole working vs. staying-at-home-as-a-parent business. Or, more precisely, staying-at-home-as-a-mum (or mom, whichever you prefer!). I come across this a lot now that Lilly, at 14 months, is considered to be past that ‘baby-stage’, and old enough to be taken care off by someone else so that I can return to work and be a so-called responsible and contributing citizen. Hmmm…
Now, for starters, I’m not of the opinion that employment is the key to any of these qualities, nor to maternal fulfillment and happiness. I know mothers who work and are unsatisfied. I know mums who take care of their children at home and are blissfully happy. I know mums in between those two extremes trying to find a healthy balance (i.e. me!).
I struggle defining myself as a stay-at-home mum, because
a) that’s by far not ALL I do and
b) the stigma attached to the term really irks me.
I generally get the impression it’s seen as ‘the easy way out’, especially by those without kids; although my trusted mummy friends who have returned to work ensure me that it’s anything but a lazy cop out.
So if it’s supposed to be all about choice, then why do so many mums feel the pressure of having to return to ‘work’?
Well, there are the obvious rewards of a job – recognition in monetary terms, and otherwise. Don’t get so much of that at home.
And then of course not everyone feels like they have a choice.
I’m especially thinking about countries with scarily short maternity leave, such as the United States or South Africa, where you are expected to be back at your desk after a mere four months. That’s a very short span of financial compensation before you have to decide whether to put your brand new tiny person into someone else’s care, or relinquish your right to your previous employment. You may feel like you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of not working without impacting your current lifestyle (although lifestyle, by the way, is also a choice). You may be a single parent needing to provide a stable income.
In all of this, I do have to own that many of my assumptions are coloured by my ‘middle class’ background. I recently came across a study suggesting that the stay-at-home moms who are most unsatisfied are those with previous low-income jobs where their paycheck doesn’t cover the cost of the childcare needed in order for them to work. Not much talked about, that.
Equally, I need to recognize that I am currently only writing from one perspective so I can’t comment on things like mommy guilt due to being away from your child, although I do know about the needs of said child happily interfering with what you might want to get on with, like capturing that important thought about your writing, or putting up that post you are just dying to share. Or being too tired at the end of the day to do any of that.
Some people of course love their jobs, and need some sort of fulfilment beyond fulltime parenting. I do too, and in my world feeling fulfilled is not a luxury problem (as it has recently been put to me) but an absolute necessity. My definition of responsibility and contribution doesn’t necessarily look like going to the office from nine to five. I believe the choices we make don’t have to be an either/or scenario – there are many options in between if we look for them.
There’s ever so much more to write about choice, so look for that in a future post. I could also say a lot more about the responsibility and contribution of bringing up content and socially adept children, although I am not saying that staying at home is the only avenue to make that happen. I’m quite certain that Lilly will be taking care of by someone outside her immediate environment at some point, at least part-time. But I will be carefully choosing whom to trust to provide a setting that mirrors the values we hold for her.
The scary thing is, though, that in work as in motherhood you tend to get promoted just as you get good at something. I just got good at providing three daily meals, doing laundry, maintenance cleaning , girl/dog walking and having regular writing time. As I graduate into more active toddlerhood, I foresee steep learning curves. God help me when she starts to talk all day. And worse, drops the daily nap. Except more maternal meltdowns here…