Why is it so hard to say it? Why do I blurt out my whole life history to justify it? There is no question I have struggled since the birth of my second child with being a, wait for it, I’m almost there, s-s-stay-at-home mum. Consequently, a conversation which even remotely touches on the topic goes like this:
“So Mary, what are you up to these days?”
“I’m a stay-at umm well ahhh I have two amazing girls and I left my job as a journalist to look after them but I’m also doing my Masters degree and I’m a freelance writer and umm I’m really, really busy…”
That’s right. I don’t even draw breath – hence the lack of punctuation. And you can forget about eye contact. It is usually when I “confess” to being a stay-at-home mum that I look elsewhere, thereby diverting attention from my “shock” revelation.
Pretty sad, huh? Well, I never thought so until recently. Not even when I referred to my journalistic heyday in front of a group of fellow school mums and declared, “See, I used to do something. I wasn’t always just at home!” did I realise how offensive such a comment was to those who had stopped working outside the home to be with their children and were damn proud of it thank-you-very-much.
As Michael Wilson explained in his article Stay-at-home dad’s get the raw end of the deal, men get their fair share of sideways looks staying at home with the kids, too.
Let’s get something straight – I love my children more than anything and they will always come first. But in the wake of a career hiatus due to circumstance, rather than choice, after bub number two I have felt enormous internal and external pressure to do “more”.
So I soon returned to university with plans of a career change and recently started freelance writing. Yes, financial imperatives have been behind such decisions. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my ego and the expectations of others – real and perceived – did not play just as big a part.
How many stories must we read about the “mumpreneurs” starting Fortune 500 companies from their spotless, colour co-ordinated lounge rooms barely a week after having triplets
And it is only now, as the cracks of exhaustion begin to emerge under the weight of all that I have heaped onto my plate that I have realised something is wrong with this picture. I am wondering why the hell I – like so many others – am spreading myself thinner than Nicole Richie (metaphorically speaking of course, what stay-at-home-mum has time to exercise?) leaving me so stressed my poor kids would probably prefer it if I did return to the office.
Sadly, I feel that I have not been able to fully enjoy the privilege of being at home with my children because doing so – with all the many personal and professional sacrifices, daily challenges, domestic drudgery and bone-aching exhaustion it entails – does not attract the same valid reverence of being a mother also juggling a paid career outside the home.
Why is it so hard to “just” stay at home and raise your beautiful children – at least in the preschool years – without feeling guilty for “not working”? Is it that we were raised on a diet of propaganda that not only could we, but that we must have thriving careers, immaculate homes and happy children simultaneously?
The same applies in the stay-at-home world – how many stories must we read about the “mumpreneurs” starting Fortune 500 companies from their spotless, colour co-ordinated lounge rooms barely a week after having triplets?
Is it the fact that we only equate being good, strong role models for our children, particularly girls, with having a powerful career?
Not even that microcosm of society – the local shopping centre – is safe as I found out when some loser touting for women to sell plastic containers implored me to, “Come on, do something!” as I walked past on a weekday with my toddler. Presumably he was referring to doing “something” with my life, and not my saggy trackie dacks. On the latter, he’d at least have a point.
Being a mother is equal parts amazing, exhausting, fun, fulfilling and excruciating. The danger is that intricate balance can be thrown out of whack when you stay-at-home, thus usually taking on – at least – the lion’s share of the child rearing and domestic chores, and then attempt to counter the angst that comes with leaving your career by plunging yourself into projects to justify your “time out” of the workforce. Put simply, nobody wins.
That’s not to say those of us at home should not return to study or use our skills to source income if desired or necessary. But surely it’s time to acknowledge that “just” being a mum at home is more than enough, and in no way a cop-out.
I’ll just have to remember that next time someone asks me what I “do”.