Looking back, I have always had a natural assumption in me that when I had children I would stay at home and be their primary caregiver for the first few years of their lives, that I would be a SAHM (Stay-at-home-Mum). I had never given any thought to the logistics of it, I didn’t think about whether finances would allow me to take time off work, I didn’t think about whether I’d have a partner who agreed with my decision, I didn’t even think about if I’d actually want to. All I thought, somewhere in the back of my mind is that of course that’s what I would be doing.
It’s a very topical issue at the moment this one. It’s everywhere, at least it’s everywhere in the world of a mother. It seems to be something that whichever way people have gone they feel guilty about their decision. It’s also something which everyone feels like they have the right to comment on, even strangers or people you barely know.
Stranger: What do you do?
SAHM: I’m a Stay-at-home-Mummy
(this now goes one of 3 ways)
Stranger: Wow you’re lucky, your husband must make some money for you to be able to afford it. I’d love to be able to do that but we can’t afford it.
Stranger: Oh god, I don’t envy you, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I had 6 months mat leave and I was crawling the walls, I need adult conversation. I was desperate to get back to work, I think it’s important to have a life outside your kids for your own self worth if nothing else.
Stranger: Oh. What did you do before that though?
All three of these have happened to me (more than once) and they all make my blood boil. The common factor of irritation they share is that because of my answer of ‘I’m a stay at home mum’ for some reason people think they have a right to launch into their opinion about whether being a SAHM is worthwhile etc. This wouldn’t happen if you said, ‘I’m a teacher’ or ‘I’m a shop manager’ or ‘I’m a nurse’. If you answered one of these things, people your barely know would follow the normally accepted set of social boundaries. They would know it was ridiculously rude to ask what your husband earned or to say they think your job is an awful one or to completely ignore what you do now and ask what you did before, as if what you do now doesn’t count.
Individually, they annoy me in their own unique ways as well.
First things first, let’s talk money.
I know people who genuinely could not afford, to not work. One woman I know has to work opposite shifts to her boyfriend. They can’t work the same shifts as their combined income isn’t enough for them to live off. They have a small rented house, one car and despite the fact that they both work, still can’t afford any luxuries. They can’t afford to do the same shifts as then they’d have to pay for childcare, which of course, they can’t afford. I have no problem with these people saying to me ‘I’d love to stay at home with the baby all the time, but we can’t afford it’
I also know people that say to me ‘I’d love to stay at home with the baby but we can’t afford it’ when they have two (nice) cars, go on a few holidays a year, own a big 4 bed detached house in a lovely area, get expensive beauty treatments regularly, have very frequent meals/nights out and can afford to do/buy whatever they want, whenever. I have a problem with these people spinning me the ‘I can’t afford to not work’ line.
This is not to say that I think that they should be choosing to stay at home with their kids. On the contrary, I believe that you should do whatever you want. Who is to say a mother should want to stay at home with her children rather than work? Who is to say people should do without to be able to afford to do this? Certainly not me, each to their own I say. But don’t tell me its because you can’t afford to when what you mean is ‘I can’t afford to do this and still have the lifestyle I want’ That is a very different thing.
I am exceptionally lucky that Hubchin makes enough money for us to be able to have a child and for me to be able to look after her everyday, But we are by no means rich, we have enough money to pay for the things that we need and occasionally the odd thing we want. We can’t often afford luxuries but that is a sacrifice we are happy to have made, we always knew there’d be things that we simply wouldn’t be able to afford. We made a few big calls that would enable us to do this
If I were to work, based on my experience and qualifications, I would currently have the choice of two professions. One, where I could earn a ‘decent’ wage and thus with both our wages we could afford to have all the luxuries we want and one where I would literally make enough to pay for Little Beans childcare. So obviously if this was the choice, to make it worthwhile, I’d have to choose the big money option.
So let’s say I did. I would be working 7-7 on weekdays and probably bringing work home. I would have to put in at least one weekend a month. To do my job well I’d have to be committed and put work first as I’d hate to do it poorly. Day to day I’d leave before Little Bean was up and get home after she’d gone to bed, she’d spend 9 hours a day in nursery. We would be able to afford to have a huge and lovely home, have two nice cars, go on several holidays a year and buy whatever we wanted whenever (within reason!).
Compared to now. I get to spend every minute of every day with our little girl. I raise her how we want her raised, I see everything she learns. When she is poorly she has her mama at her beck and call, actually even when she isn’t poorly she has her mama at her beck and call….She is always cared for by someone who loves her. We don’t have a huge house, though it is lovely. We have one car which hubchin takes to work, meaning Little Bean and I go by foot or not at all during the week. We go on maybe one holiday a year, in this country not abroad. We have to budget, we don’t have money to spare but we don’t go without either. Little Bean has beautiful clothes and toys and wants for nothing. We eat healthy, good food everyday. Our house is warm and comfortable. We go swimming or to soft play etc regularly with Little Bean. We are lucky to have my mother who is both materially generous as well as generous with her time. She buys for Little Bean during the year and she is always on hand to babysit at the drop of a hat, despite working full time in a demanding job and caring for her elderly mother herself.
Secondly let’s talk crawling the walls and self-worth.
I understand that some people don’t really enjoy the company of children all day everyday, even if they are their own. I have several friends who could not wait for their maternity leave to be over so they could get back to work and get their life back. That’s fine. I don’t mind, it’s their decision and if its right for them its right.
Personally nothing would break my heart more than missing out on Little Bean (and any subsequent children’s) first, important years. I could imagine nothing worse than dropping her off at nursery at breakfast time everyday for her to stay there till tea. I miss her when I have a quick bath or when she’s napping for an hour. So, my decision is to be with her and not at work. That should be fine with other people, just as their decisions are fine with me.
And as for self worth??
If I was a nurse, I’d look after sick people. If I was a teacher, I’d teach children. If I was a manager, I’d organise peoples time, motivate them, discipline them. If I was a chef, Id cook for people. I do all of this and more all day, everyday, week in, week out. Except instead of do this for others, I do this for my own child.
And by choosing to stay at home with her, choosing being the operative word, my daughter will one day know that I made that choice happily for her. I hope that by giving her this start, by giving her secure roots, it will help her going forward. If it does that’s brilliant, if it doesn’t I tried my very best. For me, that’s more of a ‘self-worth’ factor than I’ve had from any job.
Lastly- What did I do before?
People ask this as if staying at home with Little Bean doesn’t count, so because that’s the answer I’ve given they need to know if I did anything worthwhile with my life before wasting it at home with a baby which obviously isn’t a viable occupation in their opinion. I suppose it’s not, in a lot of the ‘traditional’ ways.
I don’t think I need to go into the whole ‘staying at home with a child all day is the hardest work you’ll ever do.’ area. Some days it’s hard, on the whingey days, the days you find yourself saying ‘what’s the matter now?’ a hundred times before 11am, the days Little Bean won’t eat or sleep, can’t focus on an activity for more than 2 minutes and its freezing and pouring down so you can’t even leave the house. But even on those infrequent days, cliché as it seems, it’s still more rewarding than anything else could ever be.
Instead let me point out that I am never off duty and can go for weeks on end without having at the least joint responsibility for Little Bean. (I know that when parents leave their children in childcare they still have ultimate responsibility but they can to an extent, zone out for a few hours while someone else takes over, even if their work requires their full attention while they’re there, they still have the commute or their lunch hour alone with their thoughts. I get no such time out). I don’t get sick days or benefits like healthcare or share schemes. I don’t get praised when I do something particularly well. I don’t get paid for my efforts. I don’t get time to talk to adults on a daily basis who know me as someone other than Little Beans Mummy.
I don’t care.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that counts.