Wednesday, 31 May 2017

In defense of stay-at-home mothers


If you look back in history to your mother's, or certainly your grandmother's generation, you will see something that, today, is becoming a very rare creature indeed: the stay-at-home mother. Back a few generations ago, it was completely normal, even expected, for a woman to stay at home with her children during their younger years. Now, such women are met with at worst contempt and judgement and usually at least a "What do you do all day?"

So, I'm here to answer that. I've been a stay-at-home mother (well, work-at-home mother is more appropriate, because caring for our children IS work! It's rewarding work, for sure, but don't doubt that it's work. If it's not work, why do people pay day care workers and babysitters?) since my daughter was born in 2011.

Thankfully, being Canadian, I was afforded a 12 month maternity leave. But once that maternity leave was up, I had a decision to make. Do I go back to work, and use the majority of my paycheque to put my daughter in day care? Or do I forfeit my career for the foreseeable future? Do I trade business for baby, money for memories, hustle and bustle for hugs and kisses?

It was a problem I wrestled with for a long time. It was a complex decision -- we don't live in a world where mothers normally stay at home any more. This is dependent on many factors, not least of which is the rising cost of living. It's hard to raise a family on one income, and even harder if you aren't willing to make sacrifices.

My husband was, at first, reluctant for me to stay at home with our daughter. He was raised by a strong, hard-working single mother who had no choice but to work. I, on the other hand, was blessed to have my mother stay at home while we were young and even into our younger years at school. We were coming from two totally different backgrounds and had two totally opposite perspectives.

In the end, we compromised -- I'd stay at home, but I had to earn money somehow. And since I had a background in working with children, I decided to open a home daycare. From the time my daughter was about a year old to when she was about three-and-a-half, I welcomed other children into my home, usually full-time from Monday to Friday. I usually had two extra children in addition to my own daughter to care for. Sometimes it was fun, but it was always, always hard work for very little pay. I can't say I loved it, but I did love the children I took in, and it did allow me to stay at home with my precious girl.

Once my son was born, I took time off and shut down my day care, and shortly after that we relocated. In our new town I thought about opening up a daycare again, but my heart really was not in it. My daughter was set to start school and I wanted her days home to be just our family. Thankfully, things fell into place and I found another way to earn money -- freelance writing. So things are going pretty well. I don't make a lot of money, but it's enough, along with my government child benefits that every Canadian mother gets, to help contribute to the household expenses, my children's education fund and my own purchases.

Despite the fact that motherhood, and being a caregiver, is hard work, many people still look askance at stay-at-home mothers. Especially in the feminist climate we're living in today, it can seem downright old-fashioned. People wonder what we do all day. Is it just making mac and cheese and watching cartoons? Is it playing and having fun and wearing pyjamas to the grocery store?

Maybe some days, but those days are few and far between. Here's a sample of what my day is like when it's just the kids and me. I'm using, for example, a day when I have both children, but when my daughter is in school, our day starts earlier and we have the school run to do in the morning and afternoon.

Between 7;30 and 8 a.m.: We wake up. Sure, this may seem like sleeping in, but when you consider that I'm usually up 3-4 times a night with a nursing toddler, it doesn't really feel like it. We cuddle in bed, I make sure they both take a morning pee, and then we head downstairs. They play and I make breakfast, after I've let the dogs out.

8;30 a.m.: breakfast time. My daughter is a good eater, but on any given day my son will either eat his meal with gusto (and plenty of mess) or turn his nose up at it and ask for "booboos". I clean up the breakfast, with help from my daughter, who also feeds the dogs and cat.

9:00 a.m.: this is usually when we read our faith books. We'll start with an opening prayer, and then we'll read a section from their children's Bible. Then, we read a section from "Tell Me About the Catholic Faith", the kid's edition. Then, we read my daughter's daily devotional, and finally we close with more prayers.

9:30 a.m.: the children play while I get some housework done: I try to start a load of laundry and fold what's in the dryer, sweep, and unload and reload the dishwasher.

10 a.m.: I try to do something fun with the kids, and usually that involves going outside. We'll either go for a bike ride, head to the park, walk to the library or meet up with a friend for a play date.

12;00 p.m.: by no we're usually back at home. I let the kids play or help me with making lunch. We eat lunch.

1:00 p.m.: quiet time. I usually try to get my son to nap, unless he's slept in extra-long. My daughter will read a book quietly while I put her brother down, and then I'll have her do a meditation. After that, we spend quality time together, either reading or playing with her toys or even baking. I might let her watch a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (her favourite show on Netflix!) while I try to put on another load of laundry, unload and reload the dishwasher, and make the beds (if I haven't done it yet). If it's the day to clean either of the bathrooms, I'll do this now. And then I'll sit down and relax a bit. I'll also read the daily Mass readings, if I didn't wake up before the kids to do it, and I'll read a chapter in the devotional I'm reading. I'll try to get some work done on a blog post or work on some freelancing.

2:30 p.m.: I wake up my son, who is usually grumpy and clingy for upwards of half an hour after waking up from a nap, bless him! So we'll snuggle and read books for a good twenty minutes to half an hour.

3:00 p.m.: we usually head back outside for some fun in the sun. The kids will run around the yard and discover worms and other creatures, or we'll go for another walk or bike ride, or we'll do some gardening. Sometimes I sit on the porch and read a novel for fun.

4:30 p.m.: we all head inside and I start cooking supper. They either help me cook, play, or if they're being kind of difficult and they haven't had a lot of TV earlier in the day, I'll put a half-hour show on for them. I like cooking -- I listen to a podcast and enjoy creating something healthy for my family.

5:00 p.m.: we eat dinner. I like to do this early, right at 5, so that we have time for an after-dinner walk. During dinner, my husband will not be home if he is working a day shift (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). We talk about our day, and ask silly questions, "What's an animal that would be the hardest to carry in your backpack?".

5:30 p.m.: I clean up the kids, clean up the table and clean up the kitchen. Then, we head out the door for our after-dinner walk.

6:30 p.m.: bath time! My kids get plenty dirty throughout the day, and while in the winter I can get away with bathing them every second day (this really helps with my son's eczema as well), they need a bath every day in the warm months. I let them bathe together and play in the bath.

7:00 p.m.: I get them out of the bath, dry them and put them in their pyjamas. I get them an evening snack and they eat it while I read them a bedtime story and "Little Visits at Bedtime", a Catholic devotional I got for my daughter. Then we brush and floss teeth and say our evening prayers. Every night after prayers, I ask my daughter three questions: What are you thankful for? Why are you proud of yourself today? How were you brave today? Then, I bless her and wish her goodnight, and take my son downstairs so she can fall asleep.

From 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. (when hubby walks through the door), I hang out with my son downstairs. I'll play with him or read to him, or sometimes watch Coronation Street (if I'm lucky and he is happily playing independently).

8:15 p.m.: my hubby gets home. We greet each other and he holds our son, who is always excited to see him, as we fill each other in on our day. Then he heads upstairs to see if our daughter is sleeping, and if she's not, he cuddles her in her bed and they talk about her day for awhile.

Around 8;30 I go have either a bath or a shower, and after that get a meditation in. I'll try to spend some quiet time in prayer with God now, if I haven't done it earlier in the day. Then, my husband and I will relax and watch one of our favourite TV shows, a movie, or, if we're lucky and our son falls asleep around 9, we can even play cards (we like to play cribbage!). I head to bed around 10 p.m., and it all starts over again the next day!

It's a pretty full day of "work". I clean, cook, teach, supervise, care for and love my children. I get very few "breaks", but I don't mind. The children don't often thank me for what I do, though my daughter is learning to express gratitude now that she's getting older. Thankfully, my husband, who was once so recalcitrant for me to stay at home, now praises me, uplifts me and whole-heartedly supports what I do. He appreciates all the work I do with the children and the freelancing work I do to earn extra money. He also helps me out tremendously on his days off, and loves spending time with the kids. He doesn't shy away from housework, and ensures I have time to work or relax when he's home.

I may not be paid in money, but I am paid in memories. I'm paid in the satisfaction of knowing that I'm the one helping, teaching and guiding my children. I'm the one who is there for them if they scrape their knee, or if they're sad or scared. I'm the one who helps them unleash their creativity and their curiosity. I'm paid in their smiles, hugs and kisses, in the respect, love and support of my husband, and in the support I get from my own mother, who always helps me feel that what I do is of value.

Being a stay-at-home mother isn't easy. It can be lonely, it can be boring, and it can be extremely tiring. But those moments are far, far overshadowed by the joy, laughter and togetherness I get to share with my children. So the next time anyone asks a stay-at-home mother what she does all day, she can just smile, and think to herself, "Oh, if only you knew!"

Disclaimer: I'm not in any way judging any mothers who return to work after their maternity leave. Being a stay-at-home mother isn't the path for everyone. God calls us all to different things. One of the best mothers I know works away from home and puts her son in day care, but every moment she spends with him is so rich, and their bond is as close as mine to my own children. I wrote this because no one should feel guilty for the choices they make regarding how they spend their time -- whether they go back to work or elect to stay at home (which we should really call work from home). We need to support each other, and respect each other's decisions, even if they're not what we ourselves would do. Our differences are what allow us to learn from one anther, and it's my hope that all mothers -- stay-at-home, work-at-home, part-time or full-time workers -- can accept each other with no judgement or criticism. Instead, we should spend time together and see what we can learn from one another to help us on our individual journeys of motherhood.

photo credit: tais.pires <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/131890383@N02/16966004339">cor-2</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>

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