According to research out last month, new mums are becoming more and more isolated. I’ve been a ‘stay at home mum’ for 11 years and although I have never felt hugely lonely, I have felt ‘left behind’ when it comes to the world of work.
A column in this week’s Guardian suggested that the solution to this could be that rather than juggle both motherhood and a career at the same time, we separate them by restarting our careers in our 60’s and 70’s once our children have left home. I honestly can’t decide whether this is encouraging or depressing – I’m not sure I want to have to wait that long!
Why is it so difficult?
We women often discover too late that ‘going to work’ and childrearing don’t mix very well at all. While it is true that historical stereotypes do still play a big part in the expected norm that men are the ones who ‘go out to work’, and women ‘look after the children’, I think important physical and emotional factors are at play here too.
Personally, I think that this inequality stems from fact that women are ultimately strong – we bear the children and because of this, like it or not, also bear the largest physical and emotional responsibility too, particularly in the early years. But the emotional responsibility never leaves, and at the risk of a general sweeping statement, I’m not sure that this emotional pull is quite the same for men.
I decided to give up my career just as it was getting going to stay at home to look after my first child, and I considered myself lucky enough to be able to do so – and still do. Not all mothers have this luxury. Two years later we had another child, and then another.
11 years and a move out of London later has meant that I never did go back to ‘work’ in the traditional sense of the word, and this has enabled my husband to carry on in his chosen career, to the point where his hours are long and his salary is good – so anything I do now career-wise has to fit not just around the children, but around him too.
Which is at best a challenge and actually practically impossible.
The eternal conundrum
This decision – which was made together in the best interests of our family – ultimately finds me penalised because I can’t bring in very much money in comparison to my husband’s wage.
Most ‘interesting’ jobs often aren’t worth the commute or childcare logistics and what is left is scarcity of part-time, local jobs in my chosen field, or the option of working from home as a freelancer, which I have opted for, for now. But lets face it, none of it gives me the job satisfaction that I used to have.
If I could talk to my 30-year-old self would I persuade her to make a different decision? Not at all, because for me, being able to stay at home with my children when they were young is something that I know I will always have and I would have desperately missed had I gone straight back to work.
Even now they are older, while I can’t help feeling more and more redundant – I still get those moments when my eldest wants to ‘talk’ while we’re getting dinner ready or in the car going to swimming lessons… and if I was at work these moments would just pass by.
It’s a conundrum and right now I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I have 20 plus working years left in me and for the sake of my two daughters – and also my son – I am not going to give up trying to forge a path for myself and all mums who still want the ‘best of both worlds’.
Wish me luck.