I used to be a working mother but after spending a number of years balancing work with looking after my children, I finally gave up work after the birth of my third baby. The cost of childcare for three children hardly made it worthwhile returning to work and the demands of a special needs son made things even more complicated. Such was my son’s hyperactivity at the time that I didn’t feel that childcare providers would be able to properly look after him. With no diagnosis for him either, I decided it would be easier if I devoted these early years of motherhood caring for my children though I always had the intention to return to work when my children were older.
However, it was at this point that I started to encounter negative attitudes towards me. Whenever I stated my occupation as a SAHM I often encountered patronizing responses to the effect that I must spend all my days watching daytime telly or gossiping over a cup of coffee with other mums.
Equally offensive was meeting people who no longer thought I had anything else to say beyond weaning and toddler development. As important and as wonderful as our children are, I am also capable of discussing issues such as current affairs but for some reason people seemed to assume that my brain had morphed into a cotton wool ball, unable to hold an adult discussion.
Such stereotypes are damaging and unfounded. Being a SAHM involves work. Yes there is the odd cuppa with a fellow mum or a bit of telly but most of the time I am looking after my children and running a home. And this entails a whole host of skills: cooking, cleaning, teaching and mentoring our children, providing basic nursing and psychological support, organizing social lives, planning meals and shopping, chauffeuring, managing the family budget. On top of this there is also the myriad of other duties that comes with being a special neeeds parent.
As an ex PA, running my home and bringing up my children is like an epic version of my offce management role but with the added responsibility of caring for other human beings. And of course the hours are longer, the perks nonexistent. No 9-5 here or weekends off, no minimum pay, sick pay, holiday pay or overtime. There are no bonus schemes, health schemes or pension schemes to opt into and any pension we have is the paltry government scheme which is hardly sufficient to maintain us when we become elderly.
Being a SAHM can be a tough and thankless task but one that, for me, is one of the most important jobs I’ll ever do. Nevertheless I have had times when I felt quite demoralized. The idea that we can have it all – a career and motherhood – was just not possible for me due to my husband’s long working hours and the particular needs of my children. For a while I felt inadequate that I had chosen what society regards as the lesser of the two vocations. That somehow I was a lesser woman for not being able to handle a career on top of my home and children. I felt as though I had failed though I now think that it is society that has failed me. By creating a social norm and expectation that women return to work, it has, I think, made parents like me feel unnecessarily inadequate at times.
Even more disappointing has been the tension between working mothers and stay at home mothers. Nothing makes me so annoyed than this futile SAHM versus working mother row that seems to emerge every now and then. Why are we tying to out do one another as to who works the longest or the hardest or who is the most caring or dedicated to their children?
Having experienced both roles I can honestly say that in both capacities I worked equally hard and cared equally hard too and that both roles had their challenges, albeit different ones.
As a working mum there were the logistical challenges of balancing work outside the home with caring and domestic duties inside the home. As a SAHM I had the challenges of raising my children (two with special needs) without any childcare as well as running the house without the status and much needed income from paid work.
It’s time we accepted that families differ, their needs differ and that this has an impact on what parents can or can’t do. But above all we need to acknowledge that the work being done in the home is no less important than paid work outside the home. To care for our children and to run a home is not menial work – it is work that is multifaceted and utilizes a whole range of skills. It is also something we all do to varying degrees, whether we are stay at home parents or working parents.