Sunday, 10 August 2008

Be warned - this post rambles even more than usual...

This morning at breakfast Boy #1 was intrigued to learn that he shares his second name with his beloved older cousin, J. He was even more enthralled to learn that this very same name is also the first name of his paternal grandfather and a maternal great-uncle. The icing on the cake was supplied when he discovered that his younger brother's first name was also passed down from his maternal grandmother and her father, his great-grandfather.

We're not talking of any unusual names here, by the way, and we don't have big hang-ups about our children having to bear 'family names'. But both Husband and I like the idea of 'belonging' to a family, of sharing more with our predecessors than just a tendancy to loud nose-blowing, or an obsession with hoarding useless items of furniture that should have been given to charity long ago. And it helped a lot that the names in question work in both the UK and in the Netherlands. And finally, that they were - more or less - the only ones we could agree on... I mean, Husband profferred Tybault as a realistic choice. You can see what I was up against... So family names it was...

In any case, this discussion on names led to the following conversation.

Me: "So, maybe when you're grown up, if you have children, you could give them a name you like from your family."

Boy #1 (pondering for a moment): "Maybe.... But I won't have children."

Me (oh god, what have I done? Is this my fault? It must be my fault...): "No? Why not?"

Boy #1 (in a laboured way, as if to say; isn't it obvious?): "Well, because I'm going to be a zoo keeper, of course! Like F's daddy!"

Me: "Well, yes, but you could be a zoo keeper and have children too. F's daddy is a zoo keeper, and he has children."

Boy #1: "Not with him, he doesn't. Not at the zoo."

Me (Health and Safety, very good...): "Ah. I see. But you might get married and your wife might want children."

Boy #1: "Well, of course I will get married. J - from nursery - will be my bride (her mummy tells me this is a forgone conclusion too, actually), and she will look after the children."

I was, of course, horrified, not just by his automatic assumption that all mummies stay home and look after the children, but by his use of the incredibly outdated expression 'my bride'. It sounded like something out of a bad black & white horror movie, or 'Mad Men' with it's look at life in unreconstructed pre-feminist America.

Muttering grimly under my breath about how I really need to get back to work to bring my children out of the 1950's and into the 21st century, we had a further discussion about all the different forms of childcare available, and how in some families the daddy stays home, how in others the children go to a creche or a childminder, and how in some a nanny looks after them.

Boy #1 was unmoved. He's still going to be zoo keeper. And gorillas are much more fun than babies.

For some reason what has stayed in my mind about this is not Boy #1's conclusion that because his mummy stays home, then all mummies stay home - he can be forgiven for that, since it's all he knows - but my horror at the prospect.

It seems that I still hadn't quite lost that gut reaction I was afflicted by - as a working woman, pre-children - that staying home to care for your brood is the 'easy' way out. That women who do this are probably just pulling a fast one over their husbands. That the life of a stay-at-home mum consists mainly of sitting around, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and arranging flowers. Interestingly, that is exactly - exactly - the phrasing my father used to use when he was trying to - jokingly -wind up my mother, and interestingly, it's stuck with me as the definition of a stay-at-home mum.

And yet, I know that was not the life my mother lived. And now I am one of those 'stay-at-homes' myself, and I can't remember the last time I 'sat around'. I don't drink coffee, or arrange flowers (why would you, when most of them can be bought pre-arranged these days?), though of course if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that eating chocolate is in fact a major hobby of mine. But overall, I know that staying home with the kids is in no way the 'easy' way out.

Of course there are fun times, and I do get to socialise with mums of my Boy's friends on occassion. I also have my hair cut regularly, get to go the gym 3 times a week, and even - sometimes - go out in the evening with my Husband or friends. But you know what? Working women without children get to do those things too - without the guilt that they should really be home in sack-cloth and ashes - and no-one tells them they have an easy life. Heaven forbid!

Apart from working mums, that is, compared to whom we all have it easy. Having been one myself I know that when you are trying to cram children and a full time job into your life, non-essential projects like self-maintenance and a social life tend to get somewhat disregarded, until your bikini line is down to your knees, your fringe is in your eyes, muscle tone is a distant memory, and your best friends only bother to text in your 'down-time window' between 5.30 and 6pm in the tube on your way home from work... (Is it any wonder I didn't go back after Boy #2 arrived?)

But you know, I made a decision this morning after that conversation. I've finally stopped believing that doing all these things - the gym, the hair cuts, the occassional interaction with grown-ups who want more of you in the way of a civilised conversation than a discussion of whether Bob the Builder prefers Muck or Scoop - should make me feel guilty.

Because I may not be flying off to and leading meetings with international clients, pushing a team of difficult creatives to deliver designs against a deadline, or issuing invoices for millions of dollars, but I do have a job to do. It involves constant laundry, tidying, school runs, nappy changing, bottom wiping, bathing, mediating, negotiation, cajoling, supermarket visits, household admin jobs, diary management, tact and diplomacy, mouse-killing, spider-removing, rubbish bag removing and recycling. And mostly it involves taking responsibility for the greater part of the day for 2 human beings in the making, and trying not to mess up turning them into decent people. And I fail to see how that makes my life an 'easy' one.

So say it loud and proud. I'm a stay at home mum. And I'm worth it.

(I would finish with 'Roaaaarrrr!' but Boy #1, fascinated with the Olympics, has trademarked that word to use when he finishes his 'Liongymnastic Displays' - which is actually what I intended to post about but will save for another time - so will just round off with a gentle 'squeak!' as befits a stay at home mouse like myself...)


  1. The agony of the 'stay at home' mum - oh I know it so well. (A misnomer, I always thought, because it's not as if I stayed in the house all day with my children!! To be brutally honest, I think my kids were very lucky that they were able to get out and about with me than if they'd been in a long day care centre five days a week!)

    I often wonder why it is that a choice for one parent to care for our children full time is so devalued by society these days, and that we have to present arguments (to convince ourselves, as much as anyone else) that it IS an important job. (And one that we otherwise WOULD BE PAYING SOMEONE ELSE TO DO FOR US! - well, unless we have willing and compliant extended family to do so for us...!)

    As if peer pressure wasn't enough, then you have the worry of how the children interpret it. You're doing ok, PM. Keep chipping away at teaching them that feminism is actually about choice!!! Maybe by the time our kids grasp the notion, our peers will have too!
    (says me who is doing a course to figure out what sort of job I can do so I don't feel like an old fashioned 1950s wife! - how's the irony there?!)

  2. I think motherhood is hard whatever route you choose or are forced to follow, because it seems there are those in judgement on every decision that is made - whether it be the stay-at-home vs career choices, the childcare vs family care options, the immunisation or not debate, breast vs bottle, cloth vs disposable, tummy time vs attachment - I need not go on, as we know EVERY SINGLE choice made, even if we did not know it was a choice, is judged and there will ALWAYS be some part of the world (and sometimes ourselves) that will find us at fault.

    I am a WAHM due to both choice and choice thrust upon me - and there are days when I wish I didn't have to work and days I wish it wasn't at home but in a big office where everything was taken care of and I wouldn't have to do laundry in between looking for more clients to make it all worth while.

    I think the only solution is to stop listening to the judges except those we really care about - ourselves, ones who love us enough to care and the bank.

  3. And of course there's the modern day myth that we can have it all (career, quality time with kids, fab body, exciting social life...) IT'S A MYTH! There. I feel better now. Bits and pieces here and there is the best one can hope for.

    When the children are little, it makes sense to appreciate them and spend time with them, because, as we all know, it goes by very fast. You just have to hope that you'll get some of the other bits and pieces later on, and be grateful for the ones you had before the baby years.

    And I know we're not allowed to say it, but I think a lot of us feel that actually, it's best for the children. (I'm with Tracey on the day care centre five days a week thing.) And why wouldn't you want the best for your children? And why do I keep starting sentences with 'and'?

  4. Right on mamma! I wish I could be a stay at home mom. I look at you lot with envy and disappointment in myself. Right not we need the money, not want it but need it.

    Yet, I'm still looking for ways to be at home with my little guy.

    This was a great post....loved the funny intro. Kids are funny, aren't they?

  5. I agree too that being home is best for the children...adding even more to my quilt..this belief, not anyone who says it, I mean.

  6. Stay at home mom's are never given the credit they deserve. My hubby leaves for work at 6am, by which time I am already involved in the morning routine for the children, with changing nappies and getting breakfast. At 7:30am the older one goes to creche and I spend my morning trying to do my university work and keep the house in order and entertain, feed and change nappies for my baby boy, at 2:30 I fetch my 4 year old from creche and I play all afternoon with the two of them until bath time. At 5pm the bath time, supper time, bed time routine starts. During this time, usually about 5:30pm hubby comes home, exhausted from his days work (he works in a physically demanding job so I don't blame him for a second!), and gets to stop. At 7pm, when the kids have gone to bed, I finally get to stop being mother, and then it is time to be wife. When bed time comes, I fall into a deep sleep from which I am awakened periodically in the night to feed the baby boy. And the cycle is never ending. I take my work on holiday, I work all week end and I am on night duty every night. I love my role of mother. I wouldn't swap it for the world. But it's not EASY!!!

  7. I've learned it doesn't matter what you choose, some family and friends will chatter endlessly about your decision. My husband decided to be a stay at home dad for various personal reasons and I've been pestering my co-worker for tips on how it was for him as he raised 2 children. He's an artist as is my husband and work comes inconsistently but being home allows them to do projects as they come in - with the balance of handling the ton of responsibilities with children. I think it doesn't matter what other people think, as long as you are personally satisfied.

  8. And I also want to say the biggest judgement I've received from EVERYONE is encouragement to breastfeed. It's like everyone I meet is pushy about this. It's alot to demand of ones body and I'm doing my best to keep up with it, thus blogging in middle of night as I finish pumping (not actual breast feeding b/c it takes twice as long), but it seriously boggles the mind as to how this could be such a concern to so many people as to how I feed my child. I wonder if I will get so much fuss about what I choose to feed my baby after one year. Is it going to be comments of - oh you really MUST feed the baby carrots with every meal and blah blah blah. When does the attention of others as to my decisions for my baby stop???

  9. SAHM or WM it's a tough job. Sometimes I wish I was a DINK again, but then I hear "Mummeeeeeeeee" ................. You know what I'm saying, don't you?

  10. I could have wept several years ago when my daughter said she wasn't going to bother going to college, she wanted to be an at-home mother like me!!!! Seven years in undergrad and post grad education - agh!!! Not to mention the blood, sweat and tears she never saw me put in in the corporate world.
    Also wanted to warn all you mothers of wee ones, that there's a saying - "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems". And it's true - they may not need you to wipe their bottoms, but they definitely still need you!

  11. Brilliantly written post, PM. (Working part time, I feel like I recognise a bit of both your world and that of the stressed out woman on the tube with the unrecognisable bikini line. And sometimes, I feel like I'm doing neither job particularly well.)

    Samurai Beetle, I don't think the 'advice' from fellow parents ever stops! It'll be schools next, then before you know it universities and whether they've taken a gap year....

  12. Just throwing this in here - sorry PM - wanted to show you the bag from Mulberry that blew me away with the price...

  13. I try to live with the philosophy that you do what is best for your family. I work part time, partly for my sanity and partly because I supply the health insurance. For us it is ideal. My kids have never been in day care. We have a nanny once a week, otherwise hubby and I juggle care of our kids. It is never easy no matter which route you go.

    Samurai Beetle - The people who annoy me are the ones who share their opinion without ever having traveled the parenting path. I've had some friends that wanted to breastfeed, but couldn't and then were made to feel bad when giving their babies formula. Arghh.

  14. Hi Tracey, very good points, especially the one about paying other people to do it for us. Hope the course is going well, btw! (When you find out what you want to do with the rest of your life, can you let me know? I'm fresh out of ideas for mine...)

    Hi Jeanie, you're right about ignoring the unwanted advice but of course it usually comes at the time when we're feeling at our most vulnerable - I believe that's called Murphy's Law...

    Iota, welcome back! Are you home now? You're right of course about having it all being a myth (at least for normal sensitive human beings), it's just a shame that no-one tells us that when we're younger. Oh right. Actually, they did. I was just to young and optimistic to believe them...

    J's Mommy, the last thing you should do is feel guilty. You are doing the right thing for your family, which at this moment in time means paying the bills. And from your blog, it sounds like you have a pretty good childcare arrangement going, so don't beat yourself up about working. Hell, you're a mum - you already have a million other reasons to do that, I'm sure!

    MdP, god, your day sounds EXHAUSTING. I think I might print your comment off to re-read if I ever start to feel broody for number 3... It's SO good to be out of the baby jungle (cute as they are!)

    SB, you guys really sound like it you have your situation all worked out to be the best for everyone. And as for the breastfeeding advice, just ignore it. Do what feels right for you, not what other people tell you to do. Sure, wouldn't it be great if we could all breastfeed our babies for 2 years like the WHO says (actually, no it damn well wouldn't, ow ow ow!), but really, you should do what works for you. Were you breastfed? I wasn't - and I'm OK (sort of!). Tell the breast feeding Nazis your baby's food is none of their business!

    WM, I know exactly what you're saying. And I wouldn't change it. Though having Husband home to do the potty training would be nice...

    EPM, sounds like a piece of advice that I don't want to hear - but know is true! You're just echoing a number of my friends with older kids, btw. Oh well - onwards and upwards!

    VG, think what an insufferably smug supermum you would be if you felt you were getting it right all the time. We're only human, surely?

    Aims, in Dulwich Mum's words, OMG!!! Mind you, it is alligator. If you have such expensive tastes, what do you expect? You would think, though, for that money they could make it look a little less like a school satchel...

  15. HI Ped, sorry, I missed you whilst I was tapping away to everyone else. You're right; the grass is always greener. If you work, you want to work part-time. If you work part-time, you want to stop. Or work more, so you can buy the alligator bag Aims pointed out. If you don't work at all, the bag is a distant mirage, and you're desparate for some time away from the kids to interact with other grown-ups. And to talk about the bag, obviously...

  16. I'm with you PM. A big squeak from over here! At the end of the day a happy mummy and daddy makes for happy children whatever the set-up for childcare. Children learn from what they see around them in their own little worlds. They need to see happy grown-ups!
    I think your little boy, in his little world, wants a bride to make his children happy just like his mummy does for his daddy. I see nothing wrong with his interpretation of your example whilst he is still so young! Well done you! x

  17. Hi Potty - good point, now that you mention it, I wasn't breast feed for more then 4 months b/c mom got pregnant w/ my brother. It just seems like their is so much pressure to breast feed. Peer pressure after high school - ha!

  18. Thanks KP. Am off now to scrub the floor in my flowered apron and bake fairy cakes for the local 1950's mothers throwback competition...

    Ah yes, SB. And I'm afraid the peer pressure doesn't let up when the breastfeeding stops. Busy bodies will always find a way to make some kind of comment...

  19. I think being a 'stay at home mom' when my kids were little, was the hardest thing i ever did and also the most boring, not for lack of work, but for lack of intellectual stimulation. Dull, grinding, never ending, long days with little bits of sunshine here and there.

  20. Can I send you a vintage pinny to complete the look?! t.x

  21. ...drinking coffee and eating chocolate! You mean you DON'T do that all day? Help! How can I rescind my resignation!!

  22. Bra-bloody-Vo Potty M!!! a well-reasoned, tear-inducing defense of the sheer bloody tedium (punctuated with fantastic highs) of the life of a stay at home Mum.

    I think you should be on the top step of the podium for that one.

    and OHMIGOD, did you see the french guy take the world 100m freestyle record, and then the kiwi TAKE IT BACK AGAIN????

    gotta love testosterone!


  23. Bloody well said PM. I shall be quoting you for years to come.

    Coincidentally, i have literally just got off the phone to a (childless) friend and during the conversation i said something like: 'the thing i didn't like about teaching was the school holidays because i would get so bored after the first week as wasn't very good at motivating myself whilst everyone else was at work etc' and she replied with: 'well, you're not working at all now so you must be constantly bored'.

  24. Irene, I wouldn't change being here. But you're right - sometimes the tedium can be exhausting... I guess you just have to move your parameters for what = excitement in an ordinary day. For me, it used to be a trip to Paris, a new business win, seeing a toy roll out of production that you thought of. Now, it's playing monsters in the garden with the boys, and a skype call with their grandparents...

    Hi KP, nice idea - just not sure I'm trim-waisted enough to carry it off...

    Hello Tim - thanks for visiting, and whilst chocolate eating does happen frequently throughout the day, I'm afraid it's usually crammed in when the boys' backs are turned (share it? are you crazy?), not at all matching up to those cadbury moments we all yearn for. So don't rescind the resignation - but do make arrangements for the odd afternoon off!

    Hi Pig, thankyou for my virtual medal and I agree, the Olympics are fabulous. I even found myself getting into the boxing this afternoon - what's that all about? Time to find some balance and go shopping for girly stuff, I do believe.

    Elsie - send her over here. I'll pass on a few home truths... (though the sad thing is, once upon a time I was probably capable of thinking - if not saying - something similar. I got mine, didn't I?)

  25. Completely brilliant as ever Potty. I adored the potty intro. As to the WM v SAHM argument, it'll be around until eternity: your sons (zookeeper or not) will be dragged into the debate as will my daughters. As Iota says: that we can be all things to all men, women and children is a Myth. You do your bit as you see fit and hope to hell it's enough. At least I do. x

  26. Honey! Believe me, I have vintage pinny's - those 50's waists were all about corsets and glossy magazines. In the real world ladies had WAISTS! You've seen Darling Buds?..... xx

  27. Thanks RM - particularly since I was at least partly motivated to write this by your post on jam-making...

    KP - and therein lies the rub. Waists. The reason I'm going to the gym 3 times a week is to try and rediscover mine. (Who am I kidding. Rediscover? Like I ever had much of a one in the first place...)


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