Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Worker

I recently read a blog post by a woman who wasn't sure if she should say it but, oh, heck it, she was a stay-at-home mum and she loved it. She'd found since having kids that all of her career aspirations had gone out the window and she wanted nothing more than to be at home raising her babies and nurturing her family. Good for her. But I was taken aback by the response - comment after comment of stay-at-home mums saying how misunderstood they felt, how they were made to feel ashamed because they were no longer in the work force, and that society only values you if you work etc etc. I was shocked by how divisive the topic was, and how much the word 'choice' was bandied about. 'Cause from where I'm sitting, if you're lucky enough to be able to choose not to work, then what's the problem?

Most of my friends and acquaintances who have kids work in some form or another, be it full-time, part-time or in their own businesses. I know a few stay-at-home mums, most with very young children, all who plan to return to the work force some time in the future. And the handful I know who don't work have the financial freedom to be able to make that choice. The reality is, for most of the women in my world, working is a necessity. Sure, there's a level of fulfilment, even sanity-preservation, involved in heading out to the office, but most just need the cash. Perhaps it's a Sydney thing - the city that demands a double income. There just isn't a choice.

And yes, yes, I know, there are always choices. There are always changes that can be made if something is important enough. You could leave the city, move somewhere more affordable, look for ways to cut costs around the house, eat beans three nights a week. Forgo the annual holiday. Get rid of the car. Sell a kid. It sounds so simple, but it never is.

I wonder how these working women would be if money was no longer an issue. Would they happily remain at home with their children all day? I guess it depends on the work they're doing, whether they consider it their career, or just a job, whether they'd feel fulfilled as a full-time mum, whether they have good childcare options.

I've been thinking about this stay-at-home/working mum dichotomy, and I don't think it's so cut and dried. And I also think there's a side-effect that the stay-at-homers aren't really delving into, and that's the dads. One thing I know for sure is that, unless you're really swinging in the big-time, if you're a single-income family then one of the parents is working out of the house a lot of the time. It's all very well that kids get their mum all day and night, but do they get any quality weekday dad time?

The GM and I have a slightly unusual arrangement. We're double income by necessity, and  while my job isn't always fulfilling or inspiring, I do ultimately derive some satisfaction from it and look forward to my working days as a necessary 'break' from all the kid stuff. The GM is a rare breed - I know he isn't joking when he says he'd happily be a full-time stay-at-home dad.

This is a bit about our situation: We've both always shared the load when it comes to bringing home the bacon, though the GM has carried a bit more of the burden since I had our babies. We both work for the same company, and because the job isn't 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, we were able to manage things after Lola was born so that we could avoid childcare. I returned to work one day a week when she was four months old, and when she was eight months old, I picked it up to full-time while the GM had a few months of paid parental leave. After he resumed working, we began the juggle - with a bit of help from aunties and grandparents. There were a couple of days a week when I would drive to work with Lola at 3pm and do the baby handover at the office door. In I went to work, home went the GM and Lola for dinnerbathbed.

Things have been very different since Pearl and Stella came along. The twin effect meant that our company agreed to let us work from home, and now the GM only goes into the office two days a week, then he jams his other three days into two at home. I work three days a week, upstairs in the 'office' - spread out over an evening here and there and two full days when the GM looks after the girls. I haven't set foot in the company office, aside from a couple of social visits, for nearly two years.

We're both tired most of the time. Weekends are not sacred, though they should be. I am always working on Saturday, and often Sunday becomes a work day for one of us too. The reality of our situation is that when we're not working, we're usually single-handedly caring for the kids - two or three, depending on whether it's a preschool day. The GM and I get about 17.5 minutes* together each week, if you don't count sleepytime, and none of those 17.5 minutes are child-free. 

And yet, this is our choice. And yet…we don't have a choice. We need the income. We're not comfortable putting our babies into childcare. We can't afford that childcare, at any rate. We are lucky enough to have an employer that accommodates us and a job with flexible hours. But what's most important, I think, is that our kids get both of us equally. They don't get me all day and Dad for half an hour before bed and on weekends. They don't get rushed out the door each morning to day care, then raced home in time for dinner and bed. And for all the downsides of working at home (and that's a whole 'nother post), even when we are working, our kids can still see us, talk to us, come up for a cuddle or a chat when they need to. It's like the best of both worlds - we're full-time stay-at-home working parents, by choice, yet without a choice.

And I think most other families - be they single income, double income, stay-at-home, work-from-home, home-schooling - don't have a whole lot of choice either. They're just doing what works for them. And making it work as best they can. Those that do have a choice about whether they work or not, lucky for them.

* This figure is slightly exaggerated.


  1. I'm posting this to my FB page - you've summed it all up, as only you know how!

  2. Great post. I think it is true what you say, 'doing what works for them.' Thanks for your honesty, reason and truth. It is what we/I need to hear, again and again. Katie x

  3. Great words. In many ways I would love to be able to work. We cannot afford for me to go to work, since the fella works some 70hrs running a hotel and would mean childcare costs that we cannot afford plus less mumma time and no extra daddy time which would not be fair. For now we just manage 'cos it's all we can do and make the best of it. They'll only be this little for a little while, right?


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