A friend recently said to me “I’d love to be able to cook as much as you do (if I wasn’t working).” It wasn’t meant to be vindictive, but a comment like that really stings. This motherhood gig, for anyone who has tried it, is the hardest job you will ever do...
It’s funny, this new generation of stay-at-home mothers who are not really stay at home mothers at all. Somehow we have collectively decided that being a stay at home mum isn’t enough anymore. It’s old fashioned and anti-feminist and who could possibly allow their brain to slide ankle-deep into a mindless, repetitive world of nappies, Bluey and school drop off. (This is 2020! We can have it all!)
We have decided that we need to work on ‘projects’ in all of the spare time we have. I’m sometimes unsure if this is feminism working for or against us. The generations before us worked so hard for equality in the workplace and in life, but now that we have achieved it (in some ways), we are more stressed and anxious than ever. Most stay-at-home mothers have made an active choice to be just that. So why do I sometimes (ok, often) feel that I’m an inferior woman and an inferior mother because I don’t actually work in a 9-5 job?
I chose this. I want to be home with my children. So why I do feel the pressure and the guilt?
I listen to the brilliant and inspiring The Grace Tales podcast and hear extraordinary women like Teresa Palmer talk about writing her book during breaks on set while raising her tribe of children and I can’t help but feel that I’m not doing enough. Who is putting this pressure on me? Society? Myself? What am I trying to prove? Who I am trying to prove it to?
I absolutely feel a responsibility to my daughters to keep tinkering away on something that I will be able to pursue further once they are at school and I’ll have more time. I want to show them that women can do it all, but they can’t always do it all at the same time. While they are young, I want to be there. It really does go by so, so fast.
I don’t take it for granted that our family has the means to allow me to be at home with my children. Yes, they frustrate the hell of out of me, they exhaust me, they drive me to tears with their desire to play ‘make-believe’ but I would not have it any other way. I want to be the one dropping them off at kinder, bathing them, cooking their dinner and tucking them into bed each night.
There is a common misconception that there is a certain amount of downtime for stay at home mums when in reality, most stay-at-home mothers spend their days racing against the clock. We are not just spending our days in a fairy-tale land with our children, as lovely as that would be. We are generally juggling a thousand other things while trying to entertain and be present with our children. Another The Grace Tales podcast that resonated with me was Darcy Lockman who talked about the inequity of domestic life and also Dr Libby Weaver who discussed the invisible load. The thing with mothers, working or not, is that our minds do not rest. We are always thinking about what needs to be done next (and then doing it). The Invisible Load is real and it twirls through our minds from the moment we wake up until the moment we collapse into bed. It’s happening while we are simultaneously performing all of those tasks throughout any given day. It’s relentless. I think I’m organised, but I find very little downtime, ever. There are no days off. Writing this short article, for instance, took me weeks.
Because we have decided that it’s not enough to be a stay at home mum, I, like many others out there, have taken it upon myself to get involved in things outside of family life. I have loved many aspects of this: the stimulation and the change of pace it provides, but the pressure it puts upon myself and our family is immense. It is simply not feasible for me to be a stay at home mother while juggling other projects on the side. Trying to take urgent phone calls while wrangling kids into the car is impossible. There are no set office hours. There is no office!
Since having children just over 4 years ago, I have overseen a major renovation of our house (moved out, then moved back in again), have worked on several small developments with our business partner including a recently completed 4 townhouse site interstate. I sit on the development board of a not for profit in children’s medical research and have co-chaired two of our last major fundraising events. Yet I still freeze if I’m at a corporate event with my husband and the host suggests we go around the table and ‘say a little about ourselves.’ Why do I feel a sense of dread when someone asks me “what do you do?”
At the beginning of 2020, someone asked me “so what are you working on this year?” and without giving it a huge amount of thought, I simply said “me.” For the first time, I felt relief. It’s an answer I’m going to try to use more often, without the guilt, without the explanation. So my point is this: let’s try to accept our choices. If we choose to be a stay-at-home mother, let’s be stay-at-home-mothers. It’s enough. We’re doing enough.
Finally, a disclaimer: this article is not intended to create a rift between stay at home mothers and working mothers. I’m acutely aware of how sensitive this topic is to many. I haven’t discussed working mothers because I’m not one and in no way am I suggesting that one group is inferior or superior to the other. I am in awe of working mothers every single day (one of my best friends in particular). This article is about how I feel as a stay-at-home mother. It is based on my experiences and is in no way suggesting this is how the majority feel. I’m not trying to create differences of opinion, instead, I’m actually being very vulnerable by writing this and by doing so, hope that other women out there will think “that’s how I feel too.”
Words: Elizabeth Briskin