Choosing to leave my career to raise my baby daughter was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I loved my job, but the amount of travel it entailed felt like too much of a sacrifice – I just couldn’t bear the thought of nights away from her each week. I was just getting to know this little person, and I wasn’t ready to leave that behind.
I wrestled with the decision for months, but once I finally made my mind up I was the happiest I’d been in ages. ‘My life will be simple’, I thought. ‘I can devote my time to watching my daughter grow up. These are the most precious years and I’m so lucky that I get to be with her to experience them’.
Looking back on that decision I made, I’m filled with mixed emotions. I know I fundamentally made the right choice, for me, for my daughter and for my family; the alternative was endless days in childcare that would have almost made my salary an exclusive ‘nursery fee fund’. But I gave up more than I comprehended at the time. In the last 12 months, I’ve realised the following:
Being a stay-at-home parent isn’t the ‘easier’ option
Any experienced stay-at-home-parent will throw their head back and cackle at people who tell them how wonderful their life must be because they ‘don’t have to work’. I admit, before I quit my job I think I was one of those people. I envied parents who didn’t have to sit in commuter-traffic or be in long, drawn-out meetings until 6pm.
The reality of being at home, of course, is completely different. When you’re looking after a baby or toddler, there is no ‘down-time’. Your working day starts at 5.30am every day (or in the middle of the night if you’re really lucky). You never get a lunch-break and often you don’t have the luxury of conversing with an actual adult for sometimes 12 hours at a time. It can be thankless and it can be isolating. There are good days and bad, of course, but sometimes being a stay at home parent can be the loneliest job in the world.
This last year has made me see stay-at-home parents in a whole new light. The resilience, energy and determination you need to get through each day is astounding.
Not having financial independence is tough
Going from a position of having your own money to literally bringing in no financial support can be one of the hardest parts of leaving your job. Even with a supportive spouse that never treats you like a teenager that needs to complete chores in order to receive their ‘allowance’, it can feel demoralising to have raised a child all day and have received nothing by way of a financial reward.
Inevitably, leaving your job also means your household has less disposable income. This can put additional pressure on a relationship and can make staying at home with a child even trickier if you don’t have the financial fluidity to take them out and about and entertain them each day.
You wrestle with your identity
Whether you like it or not, the job you do comes to define who you are. At the very least, it is perceived to be a huge facet of your persona. At social events, people ask ‘and what do you do?’ – they want to know about your job because they think it is generally the most interesting thing about you. Plenty of people are parents and they also have a profession, and can, therefore, answer this question satisfactorily. If you can’t answer this question with ‘I’m a parent and I also…’, you can begin to feel like an incomplete person. I am ‘just’ a mum – I don’t ‘do’ anything else, so is that all I am?
When I meet new people now, I ask them ‘what are you passionate about?’ I find this a much more pertinent question to get a real sense of what an individual is like and whether we’re likely to have any common ground. Meeting someone and finding out they’re ‘in the finance department at the local council’ isn’t really getting to know them or their passions and pursuits.
Putting my daughter in full-time childcare wouldn’t have been the end of the world
We made the decision for our daughter to have a couple of sessions a week at nursery, despite me quitting my job, so that I’d have some time to write and occasionally earn some money. At first, she would spend the entire session clinging to her key worker, sobbing and sniffling until I came to pick her up. But within a couple of months, she had completely settled into her nursery routine and she actively enjoyed going.
This made me realise how adaptable kids really are. Being comfortable with new and unfamiliar places and people was never going to happen right away, but soon enough, going to nursery became her new normal. Looking back, I know we would have broken through the difficult settling period at full-time nursery, and she would have been no worse off for going to nursery every day.
Being a stay-at-home parent is the best and worst job in the world
Being able to work at something as important as raising a balanced, kind, engaged and tolerant person is an incredible gift. You are helping to shape the future and it’s an honour to spend your time getting to know a little person that you have created. To them, you are the most important person in the whole world. Some people go through their whole lives without ever experiencing the feeling of unconditional love and pride that fills you when you watch a child grow into the person you always hoped they would be.
But this work isn’t easy. It’s 24-hours-a-day, it’s intense and a lot of the time it’s unacknowledged and unrewarded. It takes a great deal of self-sacrifice and a whole heap of patience.
But you know what? It’s been the biggest and most rewarding learning curve of my life. I’ve learned more about me, my capacity to devote myself to another person, and my ability to summon mental, physical and emotional strength that I never knew I had. And I am unimaginably grateful to my tiny human for helping me realise all this over the last year that I’ve been a stay-at-home mum.