Dear Stay At Home Mums, Speak The Eff Up!

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Motherhood is so amazing/ awful. Having children is so amazing/ awful. Being at home/ work is so amazing/ awful. Gosh darn, don’t I feel so amazing/ awful all the time.

Actually, no. Because it is LIFE. Not a cut and dried thing, as suggested at regular intervals by the media. Motherhood is a series of moments in which many different things can be felt and not one of these moments defines all the rest. Phew! That feels better. Flux. Change. I will have nothing of this fixed mentality!

This is not the post I sat down to write today. However, as I was having a quick procrastinate on Facebook I saw a friend had shared ‘Dear Stay At Home Mums, Shut The Eff Up!‘ which sent me off on a new tangent.

The essence of this lady’s argument is that stay at home mums are ‘the most privileged species on the planet’. The reason being that we get to wear what we want, avoid sexist boss’ eye gropes (what decade are we in?), and be there for our kids day in day out, catching all of those first steps, first words, first shredding of entire toilet roll and so on.

She is chuffed to be a SAHM. Great! However, in the post she is doing that thing known as venting. Just as the complainers she complains about are when they are saying that they don’t feel like mothering today. It’s the same shit, different shade of brown. We all do it when we are feeling tired or put upon, or often, tired and put upon.

Back to the actual post content. On sharing this, my friend made some excellent points about the problems with these claims: that having the choice to be a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) is a privilege, rather than being a SAHM in itself; that not every SAHM has chosen to be one; that ‘whining’ or rather ‘talking stuff through’ is a way of sorting out complex emotions, and therefore helpful; that this chat harks back to the days of women being expected to ‘shut up and put up’; this article totally misses out the whole issue of identity shifting through work and motherhood; that the writer purposefully adds fuel to the fire of so-called ‘Mum Wars’ nonsense. There were comments suggesting that complaint can also be indicative of social inequality, and the need for more parity in employment for parents of both sexes, from affordable childcare to parental, rather than maternity leave (Why is the article addressed to SAHMs not SAHPs?), to giving a fairer deal to salaried employees regarding expected working hours. All very good points.

There was also a rebuttal on the host site ‘I’m A Stay-At-Home Mom Who Can’t (And Won’t) STFU, Thanks!’ This post echoes several of these points, in particular that some women stay at home with the kids out of necessity rather than choice. Furthermore, becoming a SAHM after reluctantly leaving a successful career can lead to a diminished sense of identity, and feelings of frustration.

As a very grateful mother, wife, and home owner, who also happens to be a human being, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of women who choose NOT to ‘Shut the eff up!’.

No matter whether you are a SAHM or Working Mother, whether you chose it or not, the following things are guaranteed to happen:

1. Your identity shifts throughout your life in unexpected ways, and does a flip when big change happens, like when you have a baby.

Since I became a mother, and at other times during my life, I have had moments when I felt like who and where I was were totally in harmony with one another. I have had moments when I felt like who and where I was, created a resounding discord. It’s ok to sometimes love your circumstances and sometimes wish they were otherwise.

Linking your feelings at a particular moment to your identity by treating them as evidence that you are a good or grateful a parent doesn’t work. Feelings change too easily. I feel steadily more grateful to be awake, the more tea I drink in the morning. I wonder why that might be! The better my mood, the better able I am to adopt a loving and open mindset. It doesn’t make me a terrible, ungrateful person to wish that I could drink that tea in peace some days. Just as it doesn’t make me an amazing mother that I also enjoy hanging out round the breakfast table with the family.

Identity is a process, not a fixed point, and how you see yourself one day, might contradict the next, depending on your sense of internal strength and togetherness. These contradictions can be confusing and trigger all kinds of mother guilt if you are vulnerable to it. This only serves to dim that tenacious little inner light: our determination to do our best for ourselves and our families. Telling women that they should be in a state of eternal gratefulness is not realistic or helpful. No one feels grateful for who and where they are all the time. A secure identity comes from seeing the things you do are of value to yourself and others, not being a martyr.

2. Life is unpredictable, and plans turn out differently to how they looked when you thought them up.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I worried about feeling isolated and overwhelmed at home. Would I miss my job? My colleagues? The answer turned out to be a resounding ‘No!’. Not that I hated my job, I just really liked my new one in ways that I did not predict, because I didn’t understand what it would be like to be in my new circumstances.

I look back on that year and remember how in tune I felt about everything I was doing. I doubt that is actually how I felt all the time, but I remember it that way. I was just so amazed to have brought this little girl into the world and to have successfully kept her alive for months on end! She was a non-colicky straightforward baby, who was fun to spend time with. I found that I loved the shape my days took and relished doing something new.

When my eldest was one, I did go back to work. I had always assumed I would and never thought that being at home longer term was a serious alternative. Yet, here I am, after several years of doing just that. Given that I have spent most of this time pregnant or breastfeeding, the opportunities available to work don’t fit in well with the kids’ schedules, and my general enthusiasm for the task, I became the default at home parent.

There have been days when I have not worked and missed it, those when I did work and wished I could be at home, and days when things felt just the way I wanted. I also completed an MSc during my first three years as a mother, and that was a welcome chance to use the old brain and do something which was just mine. Right now, I am at home, and some moments I love it. Some I don’t. I am surprised often at how my feelings change around this. I also marvel at how it is not how I expected motherhood to look, but when is your projection of a future self ever accurate?

My sense of ‘job satisfaction’ depends on various things, like the amount of sleep I get, whether or not I have had any personal space in the last 24 hours. However, the greatest factor is whether I feel part of a family working together rather than a domestic drudge. When I value my work, feel that my needs are being considered, and can see how I am contributing to our vision of how we want to live our lives, then I feel pretty good about everything.

3. Everyone is making up their life as they go along and doing the best that they feel able at a given moment.

When someone is complaining often and at length about something it means that they need support because they are depleted, burned out. Changing their thinking might help, but being told they are ungrateful and tiresome is not going to make them feel positive, understood, heard, or valued. Being subjected to this kind of tirade only exacerbates the problem.

During my most recent year of motherhood and I felt out of sync a lot of the time. After years of broken sleep, less freedom over how days were spent, and husband working long hours away from home, I felt less than fabulous. Now, I set the bar a bit higher than ‘keeping kids alive’ to include stuff like making thought out parenting choices, trying to get the children to eat healthy food, trying to do what seems the optimal thing for their mental and physical wellbeing present and future. Plus now there is all the older kid stuff to figure out, like dealing with tantrums and toilet learning. Not that I didn’t try hard before, just now I have a lot more to do, and more information than ever about it. I got lost for a while in trying to balance everything and felt like I had to give up on my own interests. I don’t think that has to or should be the case, but if I hadn’t talked about it, then I would not have been able to return to a sense of wellbeing so readily.

In normal circumstances, caring for small children is demanding enough. Given that I have had the privilege of choice to some degree, and a whole bunch of support, I consider myself pretty lucky. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a single parent, or to be forced into leaving a career you loved, or to suffer from Post Partum Depression, or to struggle to support a child with special needs. Despite knowing I am blessed, I like a bit of a vent now and again with my friends. Employees can usually rely on a cathartic chat with one another, and stay at home parents have their  colleagues AKA other SAHMs. It is crucial that women feel they can turn to others in all kinds of situations, not feel they should ‘suck it up’.

Complaining is a symptom of feeling low and confused. It shows that the person is in need of open minded, open hearted support. When people feel supported they are empowered to take action which shows respect for all persons involved, and tries to take into account their best interests. Parents already have a fair bit of responsibility and give themselves even more. This is because they ARE grateful for their kids and want to give them a wonderful start in life, even if they are having a not so great experience. Each person does the best they can at a given moment. 

I’d love to hear what other people made of these articles. How do they resonate with your own experiences?

Here’s to you SAHMs and WMs, (and dads too!) and the support you can give one another with a bit of compassionate listening xxx

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