Before having children, I was a dedicated, passionate primary school teacher.
I felt an enormous sense of responsibility and commitment to my students but was constantly spread too thin, exhausted to my bones, without the energy to enjoy my students or the tiny pieces left of my personal life.
No number of productivity hacks made the job more manageable and after eight years, I threw my hands up in defeat.
What helped me to let go was knowing that teaching was my Plan B.
Plan A had always been to be a mum. Not long after resigning, I happily learned I was pregnant.
Nothing filled my heart more than the prospect of having just one child (maybe two) to care for and meeting their needs so they could thrive.
The dreaded question
While I still had a pre-schooler at home, I felt little tension between my choice to stay home with my boys and society’s expectations. Since my youngest started school in March this year, that has shifted.
The inevitable question upon meeting new people –
So, what do you do?- fills me with dread.
I do loads, but I don’t think anyone wants to hear about the miles of washing I hang, the numerous admin emails I send or the multiple trips to the supermarket. I always forget something!
Sometimes I mention the volunteer teaching I do at my sons’ school or the work I do to help run my husband’s business or the essays I write about parenting.
But none of these things earn money or prestige so usually don’t get taken seriously by others.
Without a job title and an organisation to attach myself to, I am quickly written off and the focus of conversation returns to the person with an income and position.
I usually find myself feeling embarrassed and inadequate in such situations, glossing over information about myself as a stay-at-home parent.
In an era in which people are expected to keep constantly busy and in which our value is measured by our wealth and influence, I feel decidedly insignificant.
The truth is I have never been ambitious. My deepest satisfaction has always been in the intimacy of personal relationships and the experience of a spiritual connection with life – both of which I get through parenting.
Feeling undervalued by others, from choosing to be a stay-at-home mum, opens up other insecurities too.
I feel guilty that my family has the financial option for me to stay at home while other parents work two jobs to feed, clothe and shelter their families, with much less time to spend together.
I hear the voices of women from the past who fought for our freedom and who determinedly warn me, “never depend on a man for your money” (which, let’s face it, I do). Am I letting them down?
I wonder about the example I’m setting for my boys around women, roles and work.
And, one that caught me by surprise – the feeling, with all this time on my hands, I should at least be keeping a pristine house, making meals from scratch and keeping myself in particularly good shape. (For the record, none of these things happen.)
Why I want to be a stay-at-home parent
Recently, I had a day of chores and plans ahead of me but my son woke up sick and needed to stay home from school. I felt so grateful that I had the flexibility to clear my day and care for him. I thought of the many families for whom having a sick child places significant stress.
Because I am home, I have the capacity to deal with unexpected things. I pick up extras from the supermarket while my boys are at school. I can be home for the electrician’s visit so my husband can focus on his business. I can deliver my husband’s drill to the other side of town when he forgets to take it to a job (true story – and I’ll admit to being a bit grumpy about it).
As I’ve been writing this, I also remembered making a bucket list in my early twenties. The list is long forgotten but I remember one item – “Be a fully present mother”. Being a stay-at-home parent has enabled me to reach closer and closer to this desire.
Living my dream
It was only last week I realised, “Oh, I’m living my dream, my Plan A! Why am I squandering it by entertaining my ego’s concerns about being perceived as lazy and insignificant?”
Maybe I’m old-fashioned and uncool but I’m also sane and engaged with life in a way I never have been before. I am living in accordance with my highest priorities and desires.
I am not for one moment suggesting that staying at home is the best choice for everyone.
What I am advocating is knowing what works for ourselves and our families and designing a life based on that, rather than restricting ourselves to convention and standard measures of success.
I know that, as my family and I inevitably change, the time may come when being a stay-at-home parent may no longer fit.
In the meantime I am going to give myself permission to enjoy it while I can.
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Check out our piece here: The Life of Stay-At-Home Parents