I only recently became a stay at home mum. I used to work. In fact, I started work at 16 (Saturday girl in F. W. Woolworths) and left my last job (Practice Director & Head of Marketing for a local law firm) at 43 – that’s 27 years’ experience of the working world.
But since I became a stay at home mum, it appears this counts for little. Once you become a stay at home mum (SAHM), you experience subtle shifts in your friendships – particularly if your closest friends still work. Not only do priorities change but time itself seems to shift.
|Baby Caitlin, born 2007|
Irrespective of the fact that full-time childcare is bloody hard, albeit endlessly rewarding, work, it is seen by many mums as a privileged position – and in many ways, I can’t disagree.
No dreadful early morning commute, no adherence to petty rules and regulations, no mind-numbing office politics. But the truth is things are mighty different between the routines (and children) of mums who work and those who don’t.
Come the holidays, those children who are cared for by childminders seem to experience little change to their routines, save for the precious week or so holiday their parents are able to carve into their schedules (and fleeced nicely by the UK Holiday Industry for doing so).
It seems that children who are cared for outside their immediate family develop social skills quicker and benefit from a wider network of friends. These benefits also help the parents who probably get to know each other a little better since their offspring spend much longer periods of time together.
Working mums seem to be able to do more, to fit more into their days, to juggle. When the term ends I am always worried that my kids face a period of social isolation, deprived of their friends – even though I try my hardest to ensure that they meet their buddies over the holidays, I am aware that they usually have only each other for company.
Today, in particular, I have heard the “I’ve nobody to play with” refrain from Ieuan over and over again. It sometimes feels as if I am trying to force their friendships whereas ‘minded’ children appear better ‘networkers’ even at this age and seem to have no problem finding playdates outside of school hours.
When I used to attend Mother & Toddler Groups (which, hands-up, I found awful), there used to be a row of childminders one side of the church hall with the other side comprising grandmothers and perhaps one or two other Stay at Home Mothers (SAHMs).
Occasionally, (whisper it) a MAN would appear to the great consternation of the throng and would be duly scrutinized, ostracized, subsequently pitied and possibly given a cup of tea. The children would run amok, playing in that strange isolation made bearable by sharing a hall with 20 other screaming children, waiting patiently for their reward of a half cup of extremely dilute squash and a biscuit.
Needless to say, Ieuan was happier scaling the stacked tables and trying to dismantle the fire extinguisher to the barely muted ‘tuts’ of the childminders.
Yup. Stay at Home Mums, these days seem to be quite a rare breed. Particularly women embracing motherhood over the age of 40. This creates a further divide because the other SAHMs you do meet are, generally much younger than you are. I can hear you all shouting – “well, what did you expect” and, as an older mum, I know you are right.
The weird thing about being pregnant (at least for me), is that the entire focus is about getting the baby out safe, well and with as little pain as possible. I cannot for the life of me fathom those women who look down on mothers whose children were born by caesarian as if a ‘normal’ birth is some kind of badge of honour. They rank as low, in my book, as those who judge women who are unable or unwilling to breastfeed
My point is that I really had no idea of what was coming. I was not one of those women anxiously researching nurseries for junior. I had a major panic attack just at the thought of packing my hospital bag for the birth.
If you’re feeling the same at the moment, don’t worry – a pack of muslin squares, a couple of nappies, a babygro and some earplugs for you should cover it. You don’t really need an iPod of ‘birthing songs’ or an Evian spray for your face unless you simply must look moisturized at the height of physical discomfort or when you’re high on gas and air.
I also find that friendships with those who do not have children require careful nurturing. It is easy to vanish into the bosom of your family and their routines and not emerge for weeks, if not months. This is natural to you but incredibly rude to them.
Something as simple as a visit to the local pub for a couple of hours requires careful planning. You can forget spontaneity. If you need to pay a babysitter, time with your friends comes at a cost, which can be hard for them to accept (and some may even be offended by this). And when they visit, noise levels are carefully monitored and God forbid that they may accidentally drop the ‘f’ bomb in case junior is scarred or repeats it when the grandparents visit.
You can also resign yourself to the fact that many will view you as less intelligent because you do not work. Even surveys rarely have a box for ‘stay at home parent’. You may find ‘homemaker’ but generally you have to select ‘unemployed’ as the status option. Well, sorry, but I don’t consider myself ‘unemployed’!
Do I want to go back to work? Eventually perhaps. Working at home would be my preference but there seems to be very few stay at home mum jobs. Part of me thinks I should just relax more and take every day as it comes because I am very lucky to have the opportunity to raise my kids full time.
But there’s a tiny part of me that remembers who I used to be when I worked – and misses her.