I’m a stay at home mum (SAHM), who also works from home. I often end up laughing when I have to say that statement out loud, because it’s hard to find two terms that are more diametrically opposed to one another. Throw in the fact that I don’t have my baby boy in crèche and I can see how you might wonder how on earth I do any work at all? The answer is that I’ve cut back on the amount of work I’m doing. My mum minds my son one day a week. I work weekends, evenings and the two hour block he spends napping during the day. It somehow all adds up and I manage to get it done.
‘Oh you sound so organised,’ is normally the reply I get.
In reality this is not strictly true. In fact, most of the time I feel like I just make tiny pieces of myself. I’ve often got one eye on the baby and the other on the laptop and I feel as though both can suffer as a result. I go from singing Bah Bah Black Sheep and being up to my oxters in nappies, to writing for a publication or client in the blink of an eye and by the time my husband comes home from work, I’m mentally and physically exhausted.
I’m not looking for a medal here or anything. Every parent is exhausted at the end of the day and I realise this is the choice I’ve made. I know people will say I should pick one or the other and not both, but as a freelance writer, I’ve got to keep my hand in or risk losing the momentum I’ve built up over the last 15 years of published writing.
The funny thing is, before I became a mum, I would have said ‘yep send him off to crèche the second he turns six months,’ but then I went and fell in love with this bundle of cuteness who managed to turn my world upside down. And when the time came, I couldn’t do it.
So I made a choice.
I decided that I wanted to try and spend at least the first year of his life with him as a stay at home mum, if I could. I wanted to be the one to change the nappies. The one to feed him, play with him, teach him about the world. I knew I wanted to spend this precious time with him, because before I knew it, he’d be up on his feet and out in the world.
Yeah sure, lots of us want do to that, but we don’t all have the luxury of being a stay at home mum!
Oh aren’t you worried he’ll be behind all the other kids if you don’t send him to crèche?
You must love getting to sit down and watch daytime TV!
These are just some of the responses I get on a regular basis, after people ‘compliment’ me on my organisation skills, that is.
So let’s deal with the first one. This I totally understand. I know there are plenty of women who would love to stay at home with their babies, but for financial reasons they just cannot, no matter how much jiggling and budgeting they do. They literally have no choice but to go back to work to pay the bills. But much as people would like to think my decision has been a ‘luxury’ one, nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, it’s meant sacrifice, both personal and financial. It’s meant cutting back on my work commitments, stifling my own career and ultimately it’s meant less money coming in. It’s meant surrendering my evenings, weekends and any scrap of time I get during the day, when my baby boy naps. But this is the decision I’ve made. It’s not going to be forever, because one day soon he’ll be at pre-school, then big school and then I’ll have more time on my hands to re-ignite my working life to the full and hopefully have more of a work-life balance.
Secondly, no I don’t think he’s going to be behind if he doesn’t start playschool until he is 18 months or even two years of age. It’s not as if I have him some dark cave in the house without access to toys, books, sunlight, outings and interactions with other human beings.
And as for daytime TV? I’m lucky if I get to drink a hot cup of tea at some point during the day, let alone think about sitting down to turn on the TV!
What, I’ve very quickly learned in the 10 months since I’ve been a mum is that when it comes to the choices we all have to make for our families about work and childcare, there are no easy options.
Some days I wonder how I’m going to fit everything in. Some days I question my decisions and my very sanity. The thing about working from home is, you never get to leave the office… you’re always ‘on.’ And the thing about being a mum? Well you never get to switch off from that job either! But as tough as it is, how is my sacrifice tougher than the mum who has to put her six month old baby in crèche and commute for an hour into a job she hates, so she can pay the mortgage? It’s not. But as parents we all make sacrifices every day in dozens of ways. And let’s not stereotype here either. For every mum who would love to be able to stay at home, there’s probably an equal number who are delighted to be able to go back to work and are for the most part happy having their child in a crèche or with a childminder.
Ultimately, I don’t think we should feel like we have to qualify our childcare decisions all the time. We do the best we can for both our families and ourselves. That said, working mums and stay at home mums and freaks of nature like myself who try to combine both, will probably always envy each other just a little bit. But I sometimes feel we get almost get into a sort of pseudo pissing contest about who has the harder job. The SAHM or the Working Mum? But instead of getting into a competition about it, I’d like to think we can all just agree that being a mum, regardless of your childcare choices, is bloody tough and that we might choose to support each other along the journey instead of tear each other down.