I have a confession to make: being a stay at home mum isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I hate housework, loathe laundry and haven’t baked a cupcake in months. My carpet is unhoovered, there are cobwebs in every corner of every room and I have even started to avoid doing the weekly shop. And I haven’t even mentioned the kids yet.
I left my job in August after having worked pretty much continuously since the age of 13. I pride myself on having a pretty good work ethic – a product of growing up in a working class household where money was short. If you wanted something you had to go out and get it. I was pretty enterprising as a kid and as soon as I was old enough I would knock on people’s doors begging them to let me clean their car for a fiver. As a teenager I had a paper round, worked in a cattery, and spent hours on Sundays folding clothes for River Island. I started my first bar job on my 18th birthday and had a succession of mostly disastrous positions throughout my time at University. I managed to secure a job before I had even graduated, so great was my fear of not having enough money to pay my rent or buy food, and I have never claimed benefits.
Leaving work to devote my time to being a Mother was therefore no small deal. I spent 10 years working with drug users but when the service I worked for was effectively privatised, I decided enough was enough. My partner had started working full time and after taking childcare and tax credits into consideration I realised that I could just about afford to take a year off, and decided I would spend it looking after my kids. I felt anxious about the loss of my independence and more than a little worried about how the balance would shift in our household but I took the plunge, feeling relieved that I would at least be free of the endless guilt of the working mother. Finally I would be able to do what every Mother knows she should be doing: walking the kids to school in the morning, being there in the event of an emergency and attending every little school activity with enthusiasm and love. I even went to the Nativity play twice, just because I could.
The guilt may have gone but it has been gradually replaced by an increasing sense of isolation and resentment. I have found myself getting addicted to social media and have developed a slight obsession with arguing on Facebook. My kids noticed that my eyes were drawn so often to my smart phone that they have requested that I delete certain applications so that I can give them my undivided attention. I pick my daughter up from Nursery every day at lunch time and feel this intense pressure to be enjoying the precious time we have on our own until I go back up to school to collect my son. I envisaged a world of arts and crafts and baking, a world where I would suddenly develop endless patience and an inclination to play imaginative games, a world where I would revel in making up stories and dressing up as a Princess: instead I find myself clock watching, obsessively checking Twitter and relaxing my rules about how much TV I allow them to watch in a day. The long and the short of it is that I am bored out of my mind and if I have to play another round of Guess Who or Uno this week then I may well not be responsible for my own actions.
I read a blog recently by a woman who said she felt a pressure to constantly write about how amazing being a Mother is and that this worried her. She didn’t quite go as far to talk about how boring and lonely it can be but I think she was making a good point. Women seem to feel bad about telling the truth about parenting. I love it when I see one of my friends crack and really shout at one of their kids as it makes me feel better about all the times I’ve lost it with one of mine because they’ve done something terrible, like you know, lost their shoe. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids with a ferocity that shocks me – the realisation that I would willingly jump on a grenade to save either of them, has been one of the most amazing revelations I have ever had, but this doesn’t mean that I am deeply fulfilled by every moment that I spend with them. I find my son’s incessant questioning and complete inability to see that asking me to log on to his tablet when I am in the middle of making his breakfast may not be the best idea, utterly infuriating. I feel terrible that when he gets up for the third time that evening, crying about feeling scared of the dark and all I can think is “But this is my only time to be on my own and not think about your needs, just go away”, made worse by my own memories of doing exactly the same thing as a kid and never understanding why it made my own parents so angry. Parenting is amazing, transformational and hugely rewarding but it is also challenging, tedious and full of routine.
It wasn’t always this way. Before we decided to have kids, I worked out that my partner and I could both work 3 days a week and share the childcare equally. Until we actually did this, I had no idea what a radical idea this was. I had assumed that most of my friends would follow a similar pattern if possible and was surprised to see that we were unusual in our choice to parent in this way. We managed to maintain this working pattern until the recession hit and took away our lovely comfortable public sector jobs. My partner retrained and suddenly the balance swung. Previously we had had an equality that I took for granted. We divided out the household chores and did our fair share of night duties and things felt balanced. I never knew what to say when someone asked us who the primary carer was as we shared that role together.
Psychologist Oliver James thinks it’s important that kids are raised by their parents as much as possible but he also acknowledges that this doesn’t always mean Mum. I now know that I am actually a much better parent when I am working, than when I am at home full time. I am active in the community and I do some voluntary work, but I do feel under pressure to be the one that keeps everything going on the domestic front. My poor partner knows that if he tells me he’s run out of underwear again he risks getting an earful from me, as I am simply starting to resent the idea that this is now my job. I understand that it isn’t fair to expect him to come home after a week at work to piles of dirty washing, but this does not help in the motivation stakes. I hadn’t realised how important those days at work were in helping me to maintain a sense of my own identity as separate from my role of mother. The time I spent at my office or in my car was time spent simply being me and it’s this that I am missing.
I think it’s important that women don’t feel scared to say how bored and lonely they get at home because I believe passionately that men should have to experience some of that boredom too. We should not have to pretend that being a Mother is the most rewarding job that we have ever done and it’s time men stepped up to share the load. I am hopeful that things will equalise again when my daughter starts full time school in September and in all likelihood we both revert back to part time working. When I get the headspace and independence that work offers me, I find that I am kinder, more patient and generally nicer to my kids, and I’m sure that everyone will breathe a sigh of relief.