Some women make a very positive choice to be a stay at home mum. They willingly give up work, and settle into a nonstop routine of domestic bliss, cooking, cleaning and raising their brood. The loss of income and status from their job is more than compensated for by the glow of satisfaction they get from caring for their family and keeping house.
For some of us it is not so simple. To start off with, in today’s economy, it isn’t always a free choice. Some of us find ourselves forced into the stay at home situation, by redundancy, relocation of their partner (as in my case), or simply because the cost of suitable childcare just doesn’t make going back to work a viable option.
Many women, forced into the staying home role, will do their best to make a go of it. They will tell themselves that it is worthwhile and how wonderful it is to be able to share the children’s oh-so-fleeting early years.
And so it is some days. When your child does something special – first steps, first words, learns a new skill. When they hurt themselves and you are able to comfort them. When you can take trips out on a sunny day, and visit children’s activities without all the schoolchildren and working families being there. When you have one of those days when your child is being perfectly behaved, loving and needs and loves his mummy, then being able to stay at home, can feel like a total blessing.
But those of use who are living or have lived this lifestyle will know that not every day feels like that. Particularly in the early stages, you can really yearn for and miss the working lifestyle that you had. At home, there are some very long, boring, lonely days, when you wonder if the chores are going to ever stop. When your children are unhappy, whiny or incessant, it can feel like mental torture and you can long for them to just be quiet, and some adult conversation to stop you from going mad.
Then your partner comes home, asks politely “what did you do today?”, and you can feel angry, guilty or a failure because the story of your day is that you managed to get dressed, did some cleaning and you went to the supermarket. You can see your partner thinking “Is that all?”, whether or not he says it, and somewhere deep down you agree with him.
I would like to hold out some lifelines to anyone who is living this life at the moment.
Firstly – there are a lot of stay at home mums in the same boat – most of them I expect. I honestly believe that the totally contented nest builder is a bit of a myth – I have certainly never met one.
Secondly – this stage doesn’t last for ever. It’s a few years at most. Before long they will have school and other activities and you will start to find more and more areas of “me time”. If you can just hold on to your sanity through the toddler years, you will emerge, a stronger and wiser mummy.
Thirdly – there are a few things that you can do to improve the situation. These are some ideas that worked for me, that ultimately led me to a lifestyle where I feel balanced and very happy. My children are 11 and 13 now, and I feel like I have found a solution where I can enjoy them and enjoy being me. So here are my tips:
1: Recognise and work through any issues you have with the change in your status
For me, leaving a Finance Director role to suddenly be a SAHM and not be allowed to work was horrid. I hated not having my own money, I hated not being able to get credit in shops, and I discovered that I absolutely detest the word “Housewife”.
My own solutions were not to use Housewife (I describe myself as Full-Time Mother, and never “just a mum”). I needed endless discussions with my husband and an understanding from him that I would spend some of the household income how I liked and would not come to him for every decision. I took a position of Treasurer on my local NCT committee, in order to get a small bit of the feeling of being useful. And eventually I realised that I needed to have some part time work and earn my own money, just for my own self-esteem.
2: Allow yourself to Daydream
If you do not feel fulfilled in your current role of Stay at Home mum, but your current situation does not make it sensible for you to go back to your old career, then enjoy the fact that you can start with a clean sheet of paper.
Spend some time dreaming – in an ideal world, how much would you like to work, when would you like to work, where and how? What kind of work would you enjoy doing? What are your unfulfilled ambitions? Write down and ponder any ideas that come to you, however different and silly they might sound to you (see “How to pick your Business“).If you have this exercise ongoing in your mind, then when you spot opportunities that might suit, you will be better placed to see them for what they are, and grab them.
3: Find some activities that are just for you
When my children were very little, my “me time” consisted of having a hot bath for an hour every so often, with the door closed, hubby looking after the children, and me with a good book. Later I joined a gym with a creche and was able to leave my children for an hour while I exercised. Now I run a business during the day, and pay a babysitter one night a week, so I can go up to London and sing with a choir. All these things saved my sanity.
I would urge any stay at home mum, to find some activity that she enjoys, that has absolutely nothing to do with children or homemaking, and practise it as often as possible. Take an evening class, practise a sport, learn a musical instrument, join a book group, poetry or writing group, drama, dance or art class. Rediscover a hobby from your childless days, or start a new one. You could even volunteer. These things do not have to be expensive, but can give you something else to think about and look forward to (and something a bit more interesting to tell your partner about).
4: Get help
My hubby is a lovely well-brought up , traditional Irishman. In many ways I love this. But once I started staying at home, he assumed that absolutely all the domestic duties would fall to me. This was probably the biggest bugbear in the entire set up for me – I absolutely hate housework, and really resented doing it all while he helped not a bit.
Some guys can still be persuaded to help you even when they work and you are at home. If you have a partner like that – take any help that is offered. Delegate any chores you can to those members of your family who are able and willing to do them. For our family – I ended up taking regular part-time work for 3 hours a week, while my children were at nursery, and paying someone to clean my house while I did it. This simple change improved my feeling of happiness immensely.
Whenever you can, talk to other mums – online, or preferably in person. We are all in the same boat, and no matter what issues you are facing, there is always someone who has trodden the path before you, and will offer advice or comfort. If you don’t have a child-friendly networking group in your area, then set one up.
6: Keep smiling
Hug your precious children and love your partner. Be thankful and grateful for the little things and the lovely stuff. Some people think this is rubbish, but I love keeping a diary of all the good things and fun stuff, which I can refer to when times are not so good. I also love looking through old photos. Even though I hated parts of it at the time I now look back on the toddler years with happiness and pride, and feel so glad that I was there.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post, and any more tips and advice that you might have in this area. I wrote this for a friend who is living this at the moment, and I’m sure she will be reading, and would love to hear other people’s tips, advice and expressions of support.
This post first appeared on Motivating Mum