I am now, officially, a stay at home mum. Today was the last day of my notice period at work, and while I’m sad to be leaving – and gutted to not have been able to work any of my notice period – I’ve started to look ahead to what the next year holds in store for me. I never considered being a stay at home mum – it was certainly never part of my plan – and since we found out that this was the only possible solution, I’ve been grappling with a hefty dose of guilt.
I wouldn’t say I judged stay at home parents; I just never wanted to be one. My own mom was at home with us all the time, but I never really thought of her as a stay at home parent, because she is a carer for my dad. She was still technically working, even though she was at home – and she’s also done Open University courses, meaning I’ve always seen her as working and studying, rather than “just” a stay at home parent.
I wanted to set a good example to my children; I was determined to be a working parent. That’s why I wasted no time in getting a full time job when university ended; in my head, I couldn’t be setting a good example unless I was going out to work. I was (and still am) adamant that childcare is hugely beneficial to children, even as toddlers, and I liked the balance we had – I would go out to work, SB would go to nursery, and at the end of the day we would all spend the evening together. I was also worried about the gap in my CV – what would a prospective employer say, upon seeing a year-long gap in my CV, when I explain that I was a stay at home mum at the age of twenty one?
It’s symptomatic of a wider scope of something that I consider very much a feminist issue; the way we see childcare in this country. If someone works in a childcare setting, there is no denying that they work. If a father looks after his child, society has a tendency to see it as ‘babysitting’. If a mother looks after her child, she is being the parent – but we don’t even see it as work, let alone an important and worthwhile job.
I’m not criticising anyone who does feel this way; goodness knows I’ve felt the same at times. Seeing people list their job on Facebook as ‘Full time mum’ (or worse, any variant on ‘Full time yummy mummy and loving it!!” or similar) still makes my teeth itch, but I can’t quite explain why. I didn’t think I was any better than stay-at-home parents when I was working, and I can see pros and cons for both sides. I think it may be the desperation to justify why they are stay-at-home parents – something I know all too well.
Even this post is a form of justification – making it clear that I haven’t chosen to be a stay at home parent; that circumstances have left us with no choice. I can’t imagine myself saying “Oh yes, I chose to be a stay at home parent for a year”, even though there’s nothing wrong with being a stay at home parent.
A lot of it stems from other people’s opinions. People without kids do tend to judge stay at home parents as being lazy – especially when they claim benefits. For the next year, we will have no choice but to claim housing benefit – perhaps, if the student finance system was clearer, and fairer on student parents, we’d be able to avoid it, but we can’t. As you can see, I’m already defensive about it.
Being a young parent just adds to that. There’s a definite stigma surrounding being a young, stay-at-home parent who claims benefits, and people won’t take a moment to consider the circumstances. They won’t look at the fact that next September, I’ll be doing a PGCE. They won’t look at the fact that D is doing the same. They won’t see that I worked full time from the day after I finished university, that I paid taxes on my wages like everyone else, that I have looked and looked to see if there is any way I can work part time, and found that there isn’t. All they will see is another young mum on benefits.
Even though I’m slowly coming to terms with becoming a stay at home mum, I’m trying to find things to do, just so that I can say I’m doing something – because we’ve been conditioned to think that just raising a child is not enough. How sad is that? I’m constantly looking for courses and activities to keep myself busy, to fill those gaps on my CV, to show people “Look! I’m not just sitting around watching In The Night Garden! I’m busy, I’m improving myself, I want to be a worker!”.
But in doing this, it draws criticism from people on the other side of the coin. Why do I want to be doing something else? Isn’t looking after my child enough? It would be easy to assume, upon reading this post, that I’m not looking forwards to spending time with my child – that I would rather be away from her and working while she goes to nursery. That isn’t the case at all. I love SB to bits, and can’t wait to spend more time with her. I’m going to work on her sign language with her, teach her more Welsh, and best of all, just watch her grow. My worries about being a stay at home mum are nothing to do with how I feel about her, and everything to do with the example I want to set for her. I don’t want her to grow up feeling that the daddy has to go out to work, and the mummy has to stay at home with the baby. I want her to have a good work ethic.
But I grew up in a home where both parents were at home, and I’ve grown up with a good work ethic – so why am I so worried? Why am I convinced that, if I spend this year at home, SB will grow up only aspiring to stay at home too? And more than that – if she chooses to be a stay at home mum, as long as she is happy with that choice, what do I have to be worried about?
I have a feeling this next year is going to be a learning curve, for me and for SB. I need to shift my attitude completely, and start seeing being a stay at home parent for what it is – a job, and an important one at that. I’d never dream of playing down everything D has done for SB in the last few months; I’ve valued his contribution so much, as it has allowed me to go back to work. So why am I so intent on beating myself up about becoming a stay at home mum? Why am I so concerned about how other people see me?
It doesn’t matter if a stranger in the street assumes that I have no intentions of working again; that I’m content to live on benefits and have the taxpayer pay for my child. That is evidence of their prejudice and their narrow-mindedness, and has no bearing on us as a family.
What matters is that SB is safe and looked after, which she most certainly will be. We can raise her to value the importance of work, but to also understand the importance of caring for children; the sheer value of the work stay at home parents do. It is an important job, and I don’t think I’ve quite realised how much hard work it’s going to be just yet. Hopefully, in a few months time, I’ll be able to write another post, with a new perspective on this.
As for whether I’ll change my Facebook employment details to “full time Mummy”… let’s not run before we can walk, eh?