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Why am I a stay-at-home mum?

To all my lovely followers… I think I have to admit defeat – for the time being at least. I have so many other topics and themes about children and parenting that I wanted to cover but I am not getting to them. I don’t want to say I will never get there – I might! But for the time being I need to be realistic and I find caring for three children, working 20 hours a week and a myriad other commitments means that I don’t have time to write regularly on this blog. I am very pleased with the topics I have covered which in included ‘Why am a stay-at-home mum’, The Parenting Course, birthday ideas and lots of craft ideas, especially the Christmas crafts.

I have always had another blog which is my creative arts blog (tessacase.wordpress.com) – so if you wish to continue following me here, please do.

atworkThanks to all for your encouragement about being not ‘quite’ a stay-at-home. I thought it may be interesting to write some notes about going back to work.

  • Enjoy your time at home and don’t worry about the future as it wastes this special time. Read my previous posts about ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum’.
  • Use your time wisely at home. Pour your energies into your children but keep on eye on the future (without worrying of course). Can you do courses to aid your occupation or add depth to it? Helping with charities and committees can provide you with new skills and maintain your self-confidence. It is also a way to fill gaps on your CV! I chaired my local pre-school for 5 years and learnt a lot about negotiation, people management, interviewing and it looks good on a CV when there is a gap from formal work.
  • Have some idea of when you think you would like to return to work – you can always review this decision but it helps you to focus on being at home and enjoying your children if it is some years away.
  • Keep clothing, shoes and accessories up-to-date otherwise you need to replace everything at the same time when you return to work.
  • Look for work by thinking about what you want to do as this helps to clarify and focus what you are looking for. You could write out a ‘dream job’ or even consider doing something totally different. Keep your options open and don’t feel you can only do the type of work you did before.
  • Research the types of jobs you are interested in and sign up to relevant job sites. When you start looking for work set aside a regular time each day Monday to Friday to do research, search the internet and write a CV. There is nothing worse than vaguely worrying about it all day. Just do a bit each day and then set it aside physically and psychologically.
  • Write a very clean, simple, well-laid out CV. There is no need for it to be more than one page no matter how qualified you are. Write a covering letter to accompany your CV and be honest about the work break but give it a positive spin.
  • Be confident and relax during your interview. Be prepared for tricky questions such as ‘What will you do for childcare?’ Have some solutions or good answers.
  • Phone and research ideas for childcare. Check your local council’s website for lists of local nurseries and child-minders. Many nurseries take school age children during the holidays. Some schools and many leisure centres offer holiday clubs. Talk to friends and find out what they do. Consider employing a trainee nanny or a teaching assistant if you just need child care during the school holidays.
  • The day before you go back to work, put out everything you plan to wear right down to tights and jewellery and double-check it. Mornings are manic and you won’t have time to sew on buttons or find new tights!
  • Be organised with the children and have all their school kit and clothes ready.

Going back to work has proved okay so far although it has its own stresses but I am so glad I had this time off with my children.

allchangeI have recently gone back to work as a part-time graphic designer. By accident really. I was considering returning to work when my youngest went off to school this September 2013 and I had decided to spend January to September doing research into what was available and to update my CV and my design portfolio. I sat down to start research feeling nervous about looking for work but decided it was best to bite the bullet and start. I typed in ‘local graphic design work’. Up came the perfect job – part-time and it sounded so interesting that I thought I had nothing to lose by applying. Instead of taking 6 months to sort out a CV and portfolio, I took 2 days and before I knew it I had secured an interview and was offered the position.

It is exciting but it does feel premature as Ella is still at pre-school however my hours are short and am only working while she is at pre-school. I knew I would not be a stay-at-home mum forever and I have been able to spend just over 7 years without working and it has been so precious.

But my blog – it is all about staying at home – and I still had so much to talk about and most importantly I have loved connecting with mums out there. Am I ‘allowed’ to continue a blog called ‘Stay-at-home mum’ if I am working albeit it very part-time?

balloonDuring a family crisis a few years ago, I very much wanted to help my mother with the difficulties that arose. However, with two young children in tow it became impossible to be of proper assistance and in jest I referred to the children as my millstones. Although it was a light-hearted comment, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and asking many questions about my role as a mother. At a church service we were invited to blow up a balloon until it burst if we wanted to see a breakthrough in our lives. It sounded crazy and I wouldn’t recommend ‘trying this at home’, but sometimes a practical, tangible action can help us to recognise what can be achieved in the immaterial world. I plucked up the courage to do this mad thing and I blew up a balloon. At the point of most resistance when I felt so tired of blowing, the breakthrough came and the balloon burst. As my head shot backwards with the force, I felt release and had an epiphany.

I had viewed my children as a hindrance to my personal fulfilment and to my work, but they were my work. I shouldn’t be growing them up so that I could get on with my own life, I should be enjoying the process. Children are not an interruption but a development and can enrich life immeasurably. Even though I had been joking when I called my children millstones, the connotations were negative. A millstone around your neck prevents you from doing what you want to do and drags you down until you sink into a mire of despair. My children were to be my hot air balloons. I would inflate them and together we would rise to new heights and fresh adventures. Because of them, I will see horizons that would otherwise be impossible. With a positive attitude and a renewed mind, your child will give you the ride of your life!

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

mazeThe challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – your choices

One friend of mine returned to part-time work when her baby was two months old and was working full-time by the time Zara was four months. I couldn’t help feeling, “If she can do it, why aren’t I able to? It is hard enough to meet all that is demanded of me and yet I am at home all day. How does she manage a full-time job and to be a mum?” Melba has a dynamic career and I admire her enormously. But there is a high price to pay: Melba does not see as much of her daughter as her husband or her own mother. She has had to deal with lack of understanding from work colleagues and the tension between her demanding job and the desire to be with her daughter. Melba is drained and tired at the end of each week and even her recovery from pregnancy seemed to take longer than most women.

You may feel envious of friends who go back to work and it can be hard to see others working and managing to be mothers. I think the reality is that we all have choices, and you would be able to work and be a mum if that is what you choose to do. However we need to make our own choices based on our own situation and priorities. If you decide not to return to work even if your friends make different choices, stick with what you believe is right for your family.

Going back to my friend Melba, although her lifestyle appears alluring, I have stopped envying her, as the reality is gritty hard work with a high price tag. I didn’t want to be exhausted or leave my tiny baby five days a week. Friends like Melba need my support and I need not to feel undermined but rejoice in my own decision to be at home.

Just because mothers have the right to work and no longer automatically remain at home does not mean that society should frown on those who choose to stay at home. I am not against mothers being in the workplace, but rather it is about having a real choice. The feminist revolution has achieved so much for women, but don’t allow it to remove your right to mother your own children if you wish to. It used to be a traditional role, but now it feels more rebellious to stay at home with your child. If you are pouring time and energy into the next generation, it is just as valuable as working outside the home. Hold your head up high stay-at-home mums!

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

Image credit: efffective.com

moneyThe challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – Income

One of the main difficulties of staying at home is the drop in income. In some families it is essential that mothers work, either because they are single parents or because they are the main breadwinners. Phoebe, who is a good steward of money and earns more than her partner, said to me that they can only budget for her to take six months off, then her salary will be needed again. I greatly respect that because they don’t live extravagantly and Phoebe’s income is necessary, but they were still prepared to budget for her to be with their children for a period of time.

As a society we have become used to living on two incomes and items that were luxuries a generation ago are now considered necessities. Too much value is placed on money, possessions and appearances and we end up working for these luxuries believing we owe it to ourselves.

For some families, choosing to have one parent at home will not have serious financial implications, but I think that many mothers could consider not working for a period of time if they make financial sacrifices. We may need to stop buying new clothes on a whim, buy cheaper brands of food and sacrifice overseas holidays for a period of time. By giving up these items we can give children what they really want – our time.

You and your partner are a team with different roles; one is earning money while the other is caring for the children. I think we have got confused into thinking that if you are not given a monthly financial reward, you not earning your keep. We consider a salary to be the determining factor of how important our work is. Rethink your banking and if you have separate bank accounts, consider making them joint accounts: after all, you are meant to be interdependent. When I have felt frustrated that I am not ‘earning anything’, my husband has looked at me surprised and said, “But, you’re doing a much more important job! You’re caring for our children.”

There are not always easy answers or solutions but we can still challenge our own preconceptions of how much money we really need to survive.

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

boredThe challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – Bored and Frustrated

‘I find it difficult that at the end of the day I can’t say what I have achieved’ is what a stay-at-home mum said to me recently. I agreed that sometimes being at home is as exciting as watching paint dry. The enemies of stay-at-home mums with young children are tiredness, frustration, impatience, discontent and boredom. They strike between the dead hours of 3:30pm and 5:00pm when you have exhausted your stock of games, you are tired and he is whining, your eyes droop closed but it is too early to start the evening routine. The days ahead stretch out relentlessly and you wish you were anywhere else but here with a pre-schooler. The idea of working seems especially glamorous if you can be removed from your dull routine. You pause to allow a new emotion of guilt to arise – shouldn’t you always desire to be with your child?

We all have days that we feel tired, lack energy and being at home is tedious. Recognise this and cut yourself some slack. Keep a few easy activities in reserve for dull afternoons such as jigsaws or board games. During my second pregnancy, I didn’t have energy to constantly entertain a boisterous toddler and it was then that I introduced ‘Bambi Hour’. In the late afternoon, we would watch a video for about 45 minutes. When I say ‘watch’, he gazed while I dozed comatose. As my energy returned, I reduced the length of time and regularity of television, but during a difficult period it was a helpful tool.

If you are feeling frustrated over a longer period of time, explore your feelings and try to decipher your difficulties with being at home. Write a list of everything that is bothering you and talk it through with a sympathetic friend. Sometimes sharing your frustrations will help, or it could galvanise you into action. Maybe you need to find activities outside the area of children or participate in a part-time course to gain personal space. You may even decide to try working part-time.

Remember that it is hard work to care for children and recognise that you will not enjoy every moment as it can be a struggle to accept your role and joyfully repeat dull chores. Remain calm and don’t chastise yourself if you feel grumpy at times but don’t allow a negative angry attitude to take hold. A sense of perspective and humour will see you through the next few years of mess and muddle.

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

The challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – Ambition

‘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?’

The challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – Self-esteem

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?

I picked up the book Mum’s List by St John Greene expecting a light-hearted holiday read but was deeply affected as I hadn’t realised what the book was about and nor that it was a true story. When Kate Greene, a mum of 38, fell seriously ill nothing was as important to her as her two little boys and her husband. In her final months of life she wrote her Mum’s List – a guide to her thoughts, her wishes and her longings for the boys she had to leave behind. I wanted to cry as the subject matter is so painful and yet the book is written with a light touch, humour and hope as Singe, her husband, expresses his love for his wife and uses the list as a springboard to a new life.

It made me think about what I would put on my list and I realised what a good idea it is to have a list – mental or otherwise. We can whizz through the days and lose the bigger picture of our desires for our children and our family. I postponed the idea of writing a list as it seemed to be an insurmountable task but then I thought I will write out my longings for my children – big and little. Before I knew it I had a ‘Mum’s List’ which is a plumb line to refer to so my greater desires don’t become lost in the day-to-day. Things on my list include go backpacking as a family around Europe on a budget, have self-confident and assertive children, be kind to others, have a strong faith and relationship with God, create rich, happy memories and family traditions, visit South Africa again, enjoy outdoors and biking. Big things and little things, specific goals and general characteristics… what would be on your ‘Mum’s List’?