I don’t always find it easy to say I’m a full-time stay at home mother. Let me explain.
So much of our identity is tied up in what we do – our profession, our skill-set. A career is often short-hand for the type of person you are – mathematical, people-person, artsy. How well we are doing within that sphere is a yardstick against which we measure and compare ourselves with each other. It’s one of the top conversation starters – ‘So, what do you do?’ – and an indicator that you’re leading a progressive, contributory, worthy life.
Being at home just doesn’t seem to carry any kudos, a kudos I must need.
Right after my daughter’s birth I made my way, slowly, down the hospital corridor to the small office where I could register her birth. A rather stern, impatient young woman was on duty – no time for pleasantries or cooing over the new born baby in the rolley cot. She completed the on-line paper work, prompting information with words – ‘Name?’ – ‘Address?’ – ‘Partner’s Date of Birth?’ – I replied quickly to each, eager not to hold her up. (She seemed in a big hurry). ‘Occupation?’. (Silence). ‘Occupation?’ – ‘Well, my background is marketing and I do a bit of freelancing but I suppose, really, I’m mainly at home…’. She looked at me, just short of rolling her eyes. “Homemaker’ she asserted. I felt knee high.
Having read some of Victoria White’s writings, she has made two points with which help to articulate my own struggle with the title of ‘Homemaker’ (I still cringe even typing the word…ick).
Firstly, she believes that as young women we are not encouraged to put having a family to the top of the list. Quite rightly we are encouraged to work hard in school and continue to work our way into a good job that will provide us with a good lifestyle and secure our future. This encouragement is extremely important, but we might not be getting the balance right in terms of emphasising the great satisfaction that comes of having a family.
When my little boy was a very small baby I bumped into an old school friend at a hospital appointment. The last time I had met her had been about seven years previously when we had randomly met on a street in Dublin on our way to work. She had just moved back from London and continued to work in a high-tempo finance job. I was a few months into an extremely stress-y role at a PR firm. Here we were in our later 30s with a small baby boy each and she said; ‘What have we been doing all this time?’.
We were living our lives – working hard and living hard, what we were supposed to be doing at that stage. We were becoming ‘someone’. And as modern society would dictate, being ‘someone’ means having a job and making money in the outside world.
When her first baby was very tiny, a close friend of mine – amid all the chaos and the exhaustion – said; ‘Nobody tells you what joy it brings’. And she was right. Maybe because that would be an impossible message to convey, but also because you’re compelled to make something of yourself first and foremost. Kids are an after-thought. Part of the old ‘you will have it all’ promise.
White has also made the point that, within our society, money making is more highly valued than home making. That made a lot of sense to me. Work done at home is not measured, rarely seen and totally underestimated. There is no financial reward. (Our own Government is willing to pay absolutely everyone and anyone to mind our children, except parents in their own home.) I have no doubt but that many people would genuinely wonder what I actually do all day. And I can see their point! I’d find it hard to tell you myself – and the sheer mundanity of it would put even the most polite to sleep. I know I spend a lot of my time stooping down – to wipe noses, put on shoes, pick up toys, put clothes in the dryer, sweep stuff up. I listen to the radio all day long, but take in very little. I negotiate, alot. I throw together meals, run the odd errand, clean up (again), maybe go for a wander over the road or to the playground. I know there’s a lot of Paw Patrol role playing going on at the moment… But to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur. In most jobs your achievements are measurable, tangible. When you stay at home, a good day can mean a hot coffee was consumed.
When I had my daughter, I relaxed a little more into the role. Maybe I felt that having two children, and the doubling of work that entailed, was more worthy of my staying at home. Perhaps with two I could now justify the breaks I crave, the exhaustion I feel and the money I spend. Perhaps. Because I still feel pressure to say I’m looking forward to getting back to work, someday. You can see it in people that they yearn for you to say you’re at least thinking about doing a course. And I’m a people pleaser. But I’m gradually starting to wear my role with a little more ease.
We go to a local playgroup on a Friday morning. I get a lot out of it. We’re all only getting to know each other so each introduction usually covers children’s ages, their personalities etc. but quickly moves to chats about us Mums ourselves. After the basics – name, who you had a baby with to end up living here (weirdly we’re mainly interlopers, a compulsion to bond) – I usually ask them if they’re at home full-time or part-time… if they stall, which they sometimes do, I now pretty quickly volunteer that I am at home full-time. The relief sets in – ‘Oh I am too.’ Full stop. No excuses, no attempt to pretend you’re still in the market for a job, or hoping to go back to college asap. The chat flows about the ins and outs and ups and downs of the job. Because that’s what it is. A job, where you’re working hard and doing your best. A job I maybe need to take a little more pride in.
There are no Dads at Playgroup and I know we’d all welcome them if they arrived. Maybe there aren’t many who have the opportunity to stay at home, maybe they have no interest in joining a Mummy-dominated ‘club’, or maybe it’s even more difficult to be a Dad who stays at home to raise children. Whatever about us girls, to our shame, it’s not a role men are encouraged to take on.
The nanas get it. The women who did it all their lives because they probably didn’t have any choice. They were a generation of acceptors – they weren’t promised it all. Most wanted a happy, healthy family and took immense pride and joy in making a home. As you do, I meet them as strangers in town, the supermarket queue, collecting grandchildren from playschool and we make idle chat. If it ever comes up in conversation what I do and I tell them that I stay at home, they don’t tell me I’m lucky – they don’t tell me they wouldn’t possibly want to do THAT. Uuurgh! (Because some people do say that, to my face). More often than not they say “It’s great isn’t it?”
It really is. I guess I’m just struggling with the job title.
This blog post has appeared on: huffingtonpost.co.uk & The M Word