What is it about the way in which our capacity for guilt increases exponentially the minute we set eyes on our first child?
It strikes me that this is not something that women in the past (and when I say past I’m obviously referring to some vague, romanticised bygone era, as opposed to a concrete period of time), would have felt as acutely. Back then, before women’s liberation is I suppose what I’m talking about, being a mother and a home maker was a given for the half of the population with the ability to give birth. The division of labour was simple: Men go out and make the money, women stay home and deal with the domestics. I’m not naive enough to think that these were equally valued roles, because read any advertising copy from pre1960s and it is immediately obvious that they weren’t (‘The Kenwood Chef does everything apart from cook – that’s what wives are for!), BUT, there was no stigma attached to staying at home. There was no judgement from other women, because communities were full of them, in the home, in and out of each other’s kitchens, providing support and gossip and cups of tea.
Now, post liberation, we have choices. There are still enormous issues around managing a career and a family (maternity leave, the cost of childcare and the attitudes of some employers towards women of child bearing age to name a few), but there is no longer a culture of women being resigned to life as a housewife. And thank God right? But what about those of us to choose to stay at home? How do we manage the dual expectations of being career woman on the one hand, and domestic goddess on the other? What if we choose to opt out of one of them?
My eldest child is three and a half and it is only recently that I am becoming comfortable with my choice to be a stay at home parent. I no longer feel compelled to follow up a question about what I do now, with a statement about what I plan to do in the future. I no longer feel that I have to remind others (and myself), that I did have a career and that I am an educated young woman, who just happens not to work. I no longer feel obligated to validate my existence to strangers at parties. Mainly because I don’t go to any parties.
Enough is enough! I am at home, because I choose to be! My husband values my contribution to our family as highly as he does his own. We both work, but only one of us gets paid.
There are days, Lord knows, when it feels like bedtime will never come. As soon as one stops whinging the other starts crying, I gave someone water in the wrong cup, they both need to play with the exact same dinosaur toy NOW, the baby’s nappy explodes and blah, blah, blah, I can bore myself with the minutiae of my day, let alone anyone else. Mostly though? I have a pretty nice life. We wake up and often have nowhere in particular to get to, so we stay in our pyjamas until we have reason not to. The boys are increasingly self sufficient and play together happily, while I potter about (who am I kidding, dash about frantically), doing the things I need to do, before getting roped into some game or another. If the weather is nice we get to go to all the good places when everyone else is at work or school and I catch myself, on a Wednesday afternoon, throwing pebbles into the sea, and I cannot believe that this is my life. That things can be this good.
But then the guilt.
Where did this puritanical idea that we are supposed to grind ourselves to the bone come from? That it is normal to be constantly tired and stressed and over worked? Maybe it’s because I was, all of those things, for as a long as I was a teacher, that I found it so hard to get used to being free of all of that. And felt so guilty for not being on my knees at the end of every day. Surely I was doing something wrong, I should work harder! Life should be harder!
I’m writing this in the evening. The last of the sun is shining through the trees and into my bedroom. The kids have had a good day, mostly free of cup related drama, and are now sleeping, more than likely until a (reasonably) civilised hour tomorrow morning. It is easy to think about life in soft focus, maybe with a nice vintage Instagram filter over the top of it, and to gloss over how incredibly difficult I found the first year after my second baby was born. About the feeling of utter exhaustion when attempting the heady combo of parenting a nearly two year old while heavily pregnant. The dark, dark days of waking six times in the night and then getting up and attempting to get a tiny baby and toddler out of the house, so that I didn’t go completely insane. I have done my fair share of hard work these past years and I do the work of being a parent relentlessly, day in and day out, and damn it, I put a lot of effort in. I have been a shark with a bad New York accent for the past WEEK to get my child to get dressed y’all. And yet, there is still a voice in my head that says I don’t do enough, because I don’t go out to work. Even though I don’t want to go to work! What special brand of crazy is this that we mothers inflict upon ourselves? IT MAKES NO SENSE!
So I have stopped. I have always loved the line from Jacqueline by Franz Ferdinand that goes, “It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday, that’s why we only work when we need the money”. I listened to it a lot after I finished my degree and was dossing around New Zealand for a year, but I am beginning to apply it to this phase of my life too. Being a stay at home parent is not what I would call a holiday (hahahaNO), but I love it. I choose it. I am in a position of immense privilege to be able to choose it, and I refuse to waste a second more of it by feeling guilty for doing so.
These photos were taken on an actual holiday. Where we swam every day, and walked in the countryside and let the kids watch too much TV and drank more beer than I have in the last year. It was brilliant and at the end of it I just felt so incredibly thankful not to be going back to work, and that my days at home, don’t look that dissimilar to my days on holiday.
This post was not actually supposed to be some braggy brag fest about how wonderful my life is, so sorry about that tangent, I will now return the original subject of my inner turmoil about letting down my feminist foresisters. Because I do feel like I’m maybe letting down my feminist foresisters, with the not working and the distinct lack of smashing through glass ceilings. But guys, it’s okay, I’m not here, repressed in my home, crying over the mangle and mourning my inability to vote. I’m HERE, liberated, making choices and raising my family and contributing to society and all that good stuff. I just don’t have a job, but it’s cool.
Bottom line: I know that in ten, twenty years, when retirement still seems a million years away and I am back at the daily grind, that I will look back at this time as so golden. I will have forgotten how many times a day I had to say, ‘please use your normal voice’, about the times I lost my patience and had to shut myself in the bathroom, and how I once sobbed at a toddler group with a baby crying in my arms and a toddler crying on the floor because ohmygod this shit is real and hard and exhausting, (no wait, I will NEVER forget that one). But I will forget the relentlessness of it, and the guilt and the worrying, and I will remember the cuddles, the stories, the trips out in the afternoon, the buzz of my children’s first words, first steps, first I love yous. It will be so, so golden. And I will not waste it feeling guilty.
Don’t waste it feeling guilty.