As I lay here listening to the secret footsteps preparing mothers day I thought I’d take the chance to reflect on motherhood for me: Address the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be a stay at home parent during your children’s early years:
(Note that when I refer to ‘motherhood’, you can read ‘fatherhood’ or ‘stay at home grandparent’ etc – each of these have their unique relationship to the situation, but the situation is uniting. I am simply referring to ‘motherhood’ as it is my own experience.)
Motherhood is famous for being isolating (understandably: leaving your friends and colleges in order to stay at home and watch a little person who controls your every move can make you feel removed from the adult world that was once your home).
Personally I didn’t experience much isolation. Indeed (in a general sense) most of the connections and friendships that I formed with other parents after having children are probably stronger, more intimate, bonds than I had with my most of my work life friends. I found the commonality of having a little person controlling your life actually made parents more inclined to connect with each other at a deeper level. Of course, there are days when you are trapped at home with a child who is too sick and contagious for you to do anything, but these moments pass. Even now, standing in a park with my child playing independently I find myself making friends with the parents around me. It is not an intentional search for company, but rather – it would be ridiculous to stand next to someone for a couple of hours while our kids play and not talk to each other! I have met some of the most inspiring friends being a parent.
Gallery going becomes more of a question of finding a good gallery cafe, and interacting with your kids in a gallery setting rather than any deep appreciation for the works.
Motherhood is linked with loss of identity. (Leavening a well designed life and career of respect, to wipe bottoms and wear only jeans with glue and banana smeared on them.) Having been well respected and known in my previous life, I did notice this but for me it manifested initially as a frustration at the lack of time I had to live both lives. (As I mentioned before, due to flexible hours both my husband and I continued to work full time while caring for our first child full time, until our second was born when I took leave to stay at home.)
Once I chose to leave the workforce to care for my kids I initially felt quite empowered by the decision. Turning down well paid jobs (or referring work elsewhere) in order to spend quality time with my children meant that I knew I was needed in both worlds, and that I was choosing which one to spend this part of my life.
Travel with children is harder work, but it gives you the ultimate excuse to do things you wouldn’t otherwise have done. I could traveling with my kids to have so much more joy and purpose than traveling ever had before.
It was only when my children were a little older, and I considered going back to the workforce that I realized I had lost much of my identity as a worker. In an electronic since I have almost entirely vanished (when you Google my name there are no longer pages and pages of awards and media content about my career – all this content has expired over my time away parenting, only leaving the less impressive LinkedIn, Facebook etc). My work experience has frozen in time (technologies have changed, my connections have moved on, organizations have been born and others have died, funding has changed and things that I used to advise on have entirely different sets of criteria.) These are obviously things I can re-learn, re-forge a reputation etc, but it wasn’t until I had already taken time away from my work life that I realized the real extent of how that would effect my career. I had imagined that (having build my career at an early age to the point most people are 5-10 year my senior) that I could take 5 years off and still be in a good position – sort of returning to where I should be for my biological age! Instead I still have historical achievements under my belt, but I need to re-build from a far lower position than I hoped to return to.
It is widely believed at you bond more intimately with your children when you spend more time with them. This indeed is true, but not all the time is spent bonding. I love sitting on the couch at lunch time with a chopping board full of various snacks and a pile of kids books. Most days we’ll eat a lunch or afternoon tea in this way and it is a habit I look forward to, even on the tricky-everyone-is-screaming days. In this delightful moment I feel secure that I am nurturing my children (both nutritionally and mentally!) and I feel appreciated by my children as they snuggle in closer and look forward to taking turns choosing the next book from the pile. However this picture of parenting bliss is balanced by me spending a good deal of my life cleaning (not to have a spotless house, just a functionally clear one) and while I know my children love me, they do bark a lot of demands in my direction that (after about a month of it) can seem less than affectionate!
Renovation with kids is a challenge (and a half!), but the degree of satisfaction if you can simply build do something that lasts more than a few moments when you have kids (like just hang a picture or build some shelves) is so immense that is will keep you feeling a sense of achievement for about a week afterwards.
I had not planned to be a cleaner, errand runner, mediation councilor – but being the person at home I spend a lot of time filling this role. On the flip side I have far more picnics, conversation and cuddles than ever before.
Being a mother was an active choice for me, and while I still take the bait if anyone insinuates someone is ‘just a mother’ (indicating to me that I still feel the need to prove the value of my choice!) I think the way I am spending my one chance at life is ultimately fulfilling.
I may feel trapped when I just want to go for a jog (but the children are too snotty to sit in a cold pram) I may feel like I have lost my former self when I drop my husband at a swanky work do (and leave him there to drive home with the kids in my banana covered puffer jacket!) but I also feel connected when I make friends at a kids party and swap numbers, I feel valued when my kids bring home pictures of me gardening with them saying ‘well done’ in a badly written little speech bubble. And I feel loved as my children tip toe around the house making me a surprise treasure hunt for Mother’s Day.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone!