‘I am sort of looking forward to the challenge again!’ This comment was from a friend when she returned to work and all my doubts resurfaced. On another occasion, I heard from an ex-colleague about the exciting conference that she had attended, and I felt so dull and unambitious. Here I am, just a stay-at-home mum. You will feel concerns about being ‘left behind’ and whether your career is stagnating and you will wonder if you will ever pick up your tattered job again.
Becoming a stay-at-home mum is like entering a foreign land where you learn a different culture and have a different set of priorities. You will be homesick for the familiar office days like that first sip of coffee as you quietly plan your working day. Give yourself time to grieve and be honest about how you feel and allow yourself time to adjust. Don’t see your working days through rose-tinted spectacles either – can you remember the awfulness of office politics?
I read somewhere the phrase: ‘If you work, who is paying the price and who is reaping the benefits?’ It helped me to reassess and focus on how I felt about myself and to recognise why I wanted to work. Every situation is different and some women need to work for financial reasons, some because they are running their own companies and some because their work is life-saving and essential. You can only look at your situation for yourself and I realised that for me, my family would pay a heavy price if I worked full-time. And who would benefit? The chancellor would certainly benefit, not only from my tax payments but also from those of the childminder. My children and husband would benefit slightly from a financial point of view, but it would be me who would truly benefit from the satisfaction of fulfilling my potential. I am not prepared to have my family pay the price for my own ambitions that can wait.
You can’t pour all your emotional energy and time into your children and a full-time job without threatening your own sanity and the stability of your family. Just because in the past women were ‘empowered’ to work does not mean it is a prison sentence of ‘emancipation’. We all need to find the balance that is right for us and work out our individual priorities. Just because you decide to focus on your family for a period of time, you still need to remember that is not your only skill and your other skills are still present. It can be just as much of a challenge to be at home as it is to work, especially if you are dealing with your own complex emotions and yet choosing to excel in this role.
I know it is troubling to recognise that technology will change and your field will develop while you are away, but there are refresher courses and you may even decide to change direction or career. Who said you have to remain in the same job forever? A friend decided to give up her nursing career for the next few years but was aware that she might not easily resume it. Her response is that she doesn’t know what the future holds and she now has freedom to develop her passion for gardening into a career.
It is important not to be so fearful that you hold onto your job at all costs. Don’t feel you have to stay on the treadmill because you are frightened of ‘What if…’ Rather consider, ‘What if I do decide to stay at home? What new doors will open? What rich experiences will I encounter?’