I have to chuckle at the ‘stay at home mum’ label, because I am rarely ‘at home’ with my toddler daughter. Every day we do something different: playgroups, parks, libraries, swimming, and so on. But I digress. This article is about the choice I made not to return to paid work after my maternity leave was up in March this year.
Three years ago, I was at a career crossroad. After ten years in the corporate world, I felt like I had had enough. I yearned to do something different… something that in hindsight I probably should have done when I finished high school. I bit the bullet and returned to university to become a history teacher.
In 2011, I fell pregnant. It was a special time. A few months before I was due to return to maternity leave, I advised my boss that I was not returning to work – not even part-time. At the time, I thought that this decision was going to be fraught with anguish. Yet all I felt was delicious relief. I dreaded the thought of going back to work, and of potentially leaving my baby to the care of others. It also made no sense; I had committed to study for a career change; I could not combine work, study and a baby. If I did, I would no doubt suck at doing all of it, not to mention probably have a nervous breakdown.
Although I was excited about my new life, at the same time, I was also nervous. I had always been financially independent, so the thought of relying on my husband for income made me anxious. I also questioned whether I was doing the right thing for our family. Would it be too much pressure for my husband? Would I struggle to find a job when our kids are at school and I’ve finally finished my teaching degree? Would I ever finish my degree? These questions sometimes still keep me up at night.
My husband and I thought long and hard about the type of life we wanted to live, crunched the numbers and resolved these questions to our satisfaction. We decided that I will care for our children while pursuing study and that we (probably) will not be using any paid childcare. Part of the decision however was influenced by my own childhood. My mother worked full-time throughout (because she had no choice) and I missed her terribly. Now that I’m a mother myself, I’m so proud of her achievements and appreciate the full extent of the sacrifices she made in raising me. Yet I am conscious of her wistful longing to have been able to spend more time with her children, particularly when we were little.
I also sense that our society has perhaps gone to the other extreme and to an extent undervalue stay at home carers. In my view, parents who stay at home do contribute to our economy, but perhaps not in a way that is easily measured or truly appreciated by our society. In essence, truthfully, at times it can be difficult to choose to be a stay at home parent these days. At the very least it is perhaps inevitable that one would question one’s choice in light of what the majority of people are doing.
Despite this, overall I would not change a thing. I love my new life, and know deep in my heart that I will not regret it. It feels right to me, even on the hardest days. Every single day, my daughter provides me with a joy and a learning experience that I wouldn’t swap for all the career achievements or money in the world. I am well aware that I am privileged enough to at least have the option to ‘stay at home’ as well as access to further education and training opportunities. It is not for everyone, but it is the right choice for MY family. I feel truly blessed to be able to enjoy these precious, fleeting, early years with my baby and combine it with study that challenges and fulfils me. For this gift, I am grateful for the work of our feminist forbears, my incredibly supportive husband and, of course, my mother.