When I was asked what I did before I had children, I sounded educated and interesting. Even when I was working part-time I could still take kudos from my job. I glossed over the fact that I was a mother and focussed on the interesting aspects of my part-time career. But in the early days of being a stay-at-home mum when I was asked what my line of work was I would stumble on my words. I would see something come into the eyes of this stranger who labelled me. My heart would sink and I would wonder how I could bring my previous career into the conversation. I felt pigeon-holed when I told people that I was caring for my children. Why did I feel obliged to justify what I was doing anyway? But we are all so polite at drinks parties, so I wouldn’t respond and I would feel annoyed with the questioner and angry that I had allowed my self-image to hit rock bottom again.
Many of us have worked and concentrated on a career before having children. Our careers and subsequent financial rewards have developed, we have met life-long partners and then entered a new chapter of children. When the new role of mother is taken on and you decide to drop your occupation label ‘mother and wife’ doesn’t sit so easily: inner conflict sets in. You feel as if you are losing your identity and being a ‘full-time mum’ doesn’t hold much weight in society.
To put it bluntly, your self-esteem as a stay-at-home mum can plummet and you can feel as if you have lost your identity. You lack self-worth, you aren’t using your education and are unfulfilled. The bald fact is that anyone can be a stay-at-home parent, BUT and this is a big ‘but’ which you must grasp and cling to, you know in your heart that there is more to it than just surviving and treading water. You can embrace and excel in this job of caring for young children who are absolutely reliant on you physically and emotionally. You can pour your heart into being a brilliant stay-at-home mum and allow yourself to believe, quite rightly, that you are doing the job well. I am not saying that your children should be the limit of your horizon but if you can accept that this is a season in your life, remembering that it is not forever, then you can decide to do this job to the best of your ability.
By being self-assured and confident in your role you will raise the status of parents who stay at home. It is essential to care for children, whether it is done for money or for love. Society benefits enormously from happy, loved children, especially as they mature into well-rounded adults and yet society places very little value on the caregiver.
Perhaps part of the difficulty is because our self-esteem is so tied up in our career and we have learnt very early that work defines our identity and thus our self-worth and success. Be wary of thinking your career will provide self-esteem and help you to fulfil your potential, this may just be a myth fuelled by the economy. Self-esteem comes from who you are and not from what you do.
You may not feel as if you are directly using your qualifications that took years to achieve, but your training taught you to reason and to make intelligent decisions. If you are assessing your role as a mother, the direction you are taking your child and the destination you wish to arrive at, you are reasoning and making decisions all the time. Pour your energy, creativity and your skills into making yours and your child’s day interesting and challenging.
Friends around you will judge and label you. Stop caring what others think. You can be a ‘stay-at-home type’ that thinks deeply about the world around you, strives to improve your place of influence and be an interesting person. At the end of the day you need to be strong and know why you have chosen to be a stay-at-home mum. Stop making excuses and feeling that you have to explain. You can keep it simple and say something like, ‘I have decided to take on the challenge of being a stay-at-home mum for a few years. Although it took a while to get my head around it, it has been an excellent career move.’ Then move the chit-chat on so that your answer to the question, ‘What do you do?’ doesn’t become a conversation stopper. If they are really interested then explain your thoughts and feelings but don’t feel that you need to justify what you do. Does it matter what others think, as long as you are at peace with yourself?