Thursday, 24 September 2009

The angst of the stay at home...

You may have noticed that every week I pick out one of the members of the British Mummy Bloggers Ning to be British Blogging Mummy of the week. This means that I get to check in on lots of new bloggers and have a good old rummage around to find out what they're writing about. Recently I've noticed that a lot of them are touching on the angst of the Stay at Home Mum.

Then this morning I noticed that Sandy Calico has also written of how telling people she's a stay at home mum makes her feel awkward, and that sometimes she feels the need to justify her role. Checking in on her comments box, it seems that she's not alone in this.

Now, this post is not about the advantages or disadvantages of being a stay at home or a working mum. I've written before of how I see each individual's choice as the business only of those involved, and if it works for your family, then it works - end of conversation.

But I am a stay at home mum; I have been now for getting on for 4 years, and I totally identify with those comments and posts. It's hard, when for your working career you've been driven by tangible targets, regular feedback, appraisals and pay rises, to suddenly find yourself in a situation where none of that happens. And it's especially hard if you discover - as I did, when I stopped working - that you have previously almost totally defined yourself by job. It was who I was; the woman with the interesting career, who got to go to interesting places, and made fun products.

Obviously, in reality my job had as much crap involved with it as the next person's, but that's not what you share when a complete stranger asks the question 'What do you do?' You don't tell them about the boring spreadsheets, the early starts, the schlepping from one meeting to the next, the utter frustration of being mediator between clients with unreasonable aims and creatives with unrealistic ideas. No, you tell them about the foreign travel, the liaison with fun people at happening companies. You tell them about the great toys you've made, the exhiliration of being able to say 'I made this happen - and look, here it is, solid, real, in my hand.' In brief, you give them a good story.

But try making a good story out of being a stay at home mum to someone who hasn't done it, and never plans to. Not easy. Their mind is made up, and very little you can say or do is going to change their perception of your choice.

It took me a while to work that out. And once I did, I realised that frankly, there is no need to justify my choice to anyone else. If it's right for me, then it's right for me. Easy to say, of course, not so easy to actually believe it myself. And that's when my second epiphany happened. Until I began to respect my own choice, to see value in it, then what hope did I have of anyone else doing the same?

Suddenly I began to see being a stay at home mum / full time mother / domestic engineer as a job. MY job, in fact. It won't be my job for ever, I will definitely move onto other jobs in the future, and some of them might even - gasp - pay me, but for now, this is it. And, after 3 1/2 years of practice, I'm good at it. Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I even enjoy it. I have made a worthwhile choice.

Like any job, some of it stinks (quite literally, hence the title of this blog), some of it's OK, and some of it's great. OK, so I don't get performance appraisals (other than 'I'm not eating / drinking / tidying this up'), and I don't get time off. I can't walk away from it and close the door on the world in the same way I might be able to if my job were in an office elsewhere, and I most definitely can't throw a sickie. But this is still my job. It's not for ever, and there will come a time when I will need something else, but here and now I am caring for my sons and it's working; they're still alive and what's more, they're happy.

When I reached that understanding, guess what? I stopped feeling the need to justify my choice to others. If they don't get it, that's their issue. I'm at peace with my role, and that's all that matters.

I'm a stay at home mum - and I'm worth it.


  1. Agreed, although I used to say "For now, I'm at home with the kids...." giving the impression that I had something fabulous to go back to. Now (two weeks into complete day time freedom) I don't give a rat's --- what anyone else thinks.

  2. Now I know I'm not the only one who was feeling uncomfortable, I think we should all be proud of what we do.
    I found the transition from paid work difficult, until I realised (when my son was a few weeks old) that this is my job now.
    I'm going to hold my head high the next time someone asks me 'what do you do?'. 'Because I'm worth it' - oh yes :-)

  3. Love this post. I struggle with justifying my SAH status - mainly to myself, but also to my ex, who was primarily attracted to me as an ambitious, go-getting professional and now works with hoards of amazing working mums.

    It's time to stop seeing what I do through his eyes I guess. My boys have loved me being around and still do. I have also loved being around them (well...most of the time).

    I think I would find it easier if I KNEW for certain that one day my other working skills will be called into action - that all this time at home isn't totally eroding my chances of having a challenging and satisfying career again. If I knew that for sure then I am sure I would value and enjoy this precious time so much more.

  4. Bravo, PM. I think your attitude is great. My problem is that I tend to think of looking after my sons all day as being a chore rather than a job that I have to perform well at, and of my part-time work as 'real work'. But your post reminds me that I could be trying just as hard with both....

  5. We live in a society that equates value with money, so being a non-earner is always gong to be low status.

    One antidote I've found helpful is to remember to compare like with like. So you have to compare your BEST mummy moments with the best office moments. Guess which win? Then you have to compare your WORST mummy moments with those hideous days when it was all just total crap in the office. As you point out, we often remember the highlights and forget the rest.

  6. yes pm, i agree.

    sometimes i have thought that the very presence of a stay at home mum is a threat to those who are not sure of their happiness in going to work.

    i don't justify much to anyone; we're too busy living the way we do, and i know our lifestyle is off template, but it works for us. yet i have had some pretty unpleasant treatment, largely i suspect by people who are struggling to make school work, trying to convince themselves it is right, knowing in their instinct it is wrong for their child, but what can they do if they need to work?

    ...then i turn up with my jolly brood, all clearly happy, and i don't even have to say anything. i sometimes feel like banquo's ghost.

  7. Oh, this post took me right back to the 'and what do you do?' conversation I recently had at a party. The glazed expression when I said 'erm.. well, I'm a Mum and sometimes a food writer...' in a very apologetic fashion made me VOW that I would come up with a better explanation next time!

    But you're right when you say 'I realised that frankly, there is no need to justify my choice to anyone else'.

    Next time I'll just say 'who me? Oh, bugger all, really!'

  8. I'm finding it hard, too. Especially when the house is a mess and I feel like I'm not doing my job very well.

  9. EPM, ah, the attraction of implied future fabulousness-ness. I know that one all too well...

    SC, I've found that the more positive I am when I answer the 'what do you do?' question, the better a response I get. If I mumble 'SAHM' and look away, I get nothing. If I look them full in the face and say I'm home looking after the kids, doing some writing in my spare time, and loving it, it doesn't matter what they say next - I feel better!

    Nicola, you're right of course. And I'm not going to lie about it; there are days (most days) when the rose coloured specs go back on and I think wistfully of interesting projects, office banter and pay cheques. But then I realise that the only person putting a limitation on what happens when this SAHM gig comes to an end is me...

    NVG, thanks, but I don't want to come across as mrs smug. It's easy to sound positive on the page, isn't it, whereas in reality I find the constant round of negotiation and organisation as wearing as the next person. It's just that now I've stopped apologising for my choice I find it's so much easier to live with all that. Plus, when you think being a SAHM as a job, you've put a limit on it; it won't be for ever, and one day - as you have throughout life - you'll change this job for another.

    Iota - and a blog about those 'worst' office moments would never be as entertaining as the worst parenting ones...

    Grit, you're right, the people who are rudest are usually the ones who feel most threatened by a choice different to their own.

    EM, you see, what you said was not the problem, it was the way you (seem to have) said it. You could give exactly the same information and say 'I'm home with the kids and in my spare time I'm a food writer' with a smile on your face and I bet any money you would feel better... Or maybe that's just me being thick-skinned? Because let's be honest, either of those roles are far more interesting than most people's jobs. Obviously if you are chatting to someone who is doing ground-breaking research on giving surgery to children, well then they might have the upper hand in the 'top trumps jobs' game, but they probably would have whatever your job could be!

    Mwa, gosh I'm glad I never have days like that... (!)

  10. You're a stay at home mom and you are more than worth it.

    I wish I was with you and I would take the unpaid work over the paid work any day. I know I might change my mind the day I really made the move and the days where being with a toddler ALL DAY LONG dragged and pulled on me. But right now, as much as I do enjoy my job, I'd love to be home with my son.

  11. Maybe I'm very lucky but...I am friends with SAHM's, full time working mums, part time working mums (like me), SAH Dad's and so on. The working status of my friends isn't something I'm that bothered about! It doesn't seem to concern my friends either. I would never judge someone for choosing to work or stay at home.
    There's an award for you over at mine x

  12. It's taken me all too long to stop trying to justify it, and start saying it with some pride, and a 'how lucky am I?' tone. Many days still though I feel a lot like Mwa, as if I'm supposed to be fulfilling this 1950's ideal of a SAHM, with the immaculate house and all. But I'm not that sort of SAHM and never will be. (I think I'm far more interesting though!!!)
    It does help to keep reading the thoughts of others. Keep up the good work PM!

    [PM - can you set up your comments for Open ID as well!! I did set up a blogger account just so I could comment, but I can't remember the sign in! Guess I have to go back to being crazy!]

  13. I enjoyed this post, like I enjoyed Sandy's too. Getting some ideas for my own now - there's a SAHM post bug spreading! Like you I've been a SAHM for 4 years. I have two friends who are also SAHMs, the others work part-time and a few full-time. So I do feel in a minority among the people I know and I often feel the need to justify why I'm not working. When my ante-natal class friends went back to work after the birth of our first children I felt left out but also felt I wanted to be at my home with my son. Now a third is on the way and I feel a lot more confident about my status. And, like you say, it's not forever. They grow up and pretend they don't need you much any more (sob).

  14. Well said, PM. I have really struggled with this one and often think I've only got my little jot of paid work so that I can tell people about it at drinks parties and somehow justify my existence ...very hard to kick against the flow of belief that mothering is the least important job in the world, whereas in reality it is the most important. We definitely need some kind of SAH makeover ....

  15. Lisa, I know, I'm fortunate to have this chance. It's just taken me a while to have the nerve to stand up and tell people that's what my choice was...

    Thanks CB - for the award and for it not mattering what a person does.

    Tracey - what, you mean you're not standing there in a flowered apron with your perfectly coiffured hair and a g&t ready for hubby when he gets home?

    WJ, I know - I am so not looking forward to the not being needed...

    DD, what, using writing for ratification and recognition outside your home mothering role? Who would do such a thing?

  16. You are absolutely right, I often assume that people will undervalue what I do when actually they don't at all. It's me that says I'm 'just a mum' not anyone else. A shift in attitude is definitely in order.

  17. I am just at the point of trying to decide what I will do when my maternity leave is up. I have always wanted to be a SAHM and I hope that we are in the position that this will be possible. I will find it hard not to be earning money myself, because I have always been so independent. You are right though, it is not what you say, it is how you say it. If anyone asks me I am going to say I am watching my baby grow up!

  18. Thank you. You've made me re-think my attitude a bit and I will tell people I'm a stay at home mum with pride.

    I am worth it may become my new mantra!


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