A recent survey by Mumsnet shows that childcare is a big barrier in mums either returning to work, or taking on more hours. I hear solutions offered, such as Labour’s free wrap around school care from 8 until 6. Now I am certainly not about to tell you that it is wrong to offer that, or to need childcare hours of that length. But for me personally, and many other parents out there, I don’t want my young child in someone else’s care for ten hours a day. I want to do it. There. I said it. I like being a stay at home mum. My youngest is only two currently, and there is every likelihood that I will return to work when he is at school. But I won’t want to. At least not on a full time basis. I want to collect him from the school gates. I want to be there the days he is sick, I want to be there, for him and my older children, in the school holidays.
It is hard not to feel a little peeved when childcare costs are discussed and within those talks it is taken that stay at home parents don’t have them. We do, it is at the cost of an entire income, and we cannot claim 70% of that back through the tax credit system (which I am not suggesting we should be able to, but it would be nice if it was at least recognised that there is a financial implication.) I do accept that, at least in my case, it is partly a lifestyle choice, as well as a practical solution. We chose for me to be at home versus holidays and a bigger house.We chose for me to be at home as opposed to currently pursuing my career.
It works for us. I know it isn’t for everyone. And I do not wish to denigrate anyone else’s choices in the least- I have ‘each to their own’ written through me like a moral stick of seaside rock. It is a very individual decision as to what best suits you and your family and your own personal circumstances. And my choice is based on personal experience. When my eldest was 21 months old I returned to full time work, and ran myself ragged by starting my work day at seven am, so that I could leave work on time yet still be seen to have done the expected 9 hour day, then I rushed home and tried to squeeze crafting and fun, as well as dinner and bathtime, into the two hour Mum window I had before bedtime. I wasn’t happy. I missed being with her. I resented my job for taking me away. I worked hard, was good at my job, liked my job, but I was unhappy, and that unhappiness was in part responsible for my making different choices with my other two children.
I admire working mums. I do a little freelance work that I squeeze in round the edges of family life. Take this morning for example. I got up early to watch the news in preparation for the call from my editor to discuss topics for my column for the Mirror this week. But the toddler woke up two minutes later, meaning there is every chance my piece this week will be about the lax attitude of Postman Pat re the handover of a special delivery item. It is hard trying to fit everything in to the week without adding in 40 hours of work. I doff my imaginary hat to those of you who manage it.
I think we need more than childcare solutions, we need better flexible working options, more jobs offering term time contracts where possible, and don’t even get me started on the fact that the jobs that are easiest to fit round your family are often the lowest paid. We need recognition from employers that fathers are parents too, and therefore some of the assumption that the burden falls to the mother will be lessened.
In an ideal world, should I return to proper employment when my son starts school in two years time, my partner and I would like it if we could both manage a couple of shorter days in order that 2 or 3 days a week one of us picks him up, with the slack being picked up by after school care of some kind. Yet from the experience of men I know, employers look even less kindly on a man asking for flexible working for childcare purposes than a woman asking for the same thing. It is as if there is still a myth that they are somehow less of a man if they wish to undertake traditionally female roles. While this attitude perpetuates it will remain harder for women. Sometimes fighting for women rights means fighting for men’s rights too.
We also need to respect the choice of stay at home parents, as opposed to assuming we are somehow lazy or aspiration less. I have aspirations, and sometimes they don’t even include biscuits. While aware that choosing to be at home in the pre-school years will have a knock on effect on my earning potential, I also believe it is only a few years out of a lifetime of work, and if I was someone with a determined nature and a career path in mind, it is still possible to fulfil your potential even with a break.
I know the last bit is true because I have my Mum as a role model. She left her career for 15 years when we were young. She did have a part time job in a supermarket in the evenings to make ends meet, but she stepped off the career ladder for well over a decade. Then at forty she was brave enough to go back. Her work field, computer programming, had of course leaped on without her in the intervening years, so she started again at the bottom, as a trainee. She did well, and she did well fast. Because she worked hard and was good at it, and was dedicated. By the time she retired she was at the top of her game and on an excellent wage.
A break doesn’t have to mean you can’t succeed. A flexible approach to work during the child rearing years shouldn’t mean you can’t succeed. And who says raising brilliant children to adulthood isn’t full of it’s own rewards and successes anyway?
I don’t often write about being a stay at home parent, staying mum on the topic if you like! I don’t feel the need to defend a personal decision against the implication that I am letting myself and feminism down. I also find it leads to being accused of being ‘smug’ or implying that I am somehow better than a working mum. I am not smug, I am not better than anyone. I am just being the person I want to be within the framework of my family and what works best for us. It is just my personal choice, not a statement on anything wider than that, and has no more say on what you do with your life than me telling you what my preference in pants style is. Big granny ones if you are interested, but I will defend your right to choose to wear a thong.
I read some of the hoo ha about the piece written by an American blogger on why she feels sorry for stay at home mums. Part of her argument seems to be ‘you will never excel at anything if you have kids’. I disagree. You can excel at anything you like still, and that includes excelling at child raising. My other disagreement with her is that not everyone is driven to excel. I am not, I am driven by the desire for happiness, not for validation through my job or wage packet or plaudits from peers. I just don’t have the ambition gene. Or the competitive one. And I can’t be the only one surely? I will stand up for any woman’s right to be able to break a glass ceiling, but I have no urge to be shattering any soon myself. I am in pursuit of contentment, and for me that can so often be found in the small things.
And to continue that pursuit I am off to feed the ducks with my small chap. High powered? No. High paid? No. Happy? Yes.
Love Miss Cisco XXX