expelling two myths of the stay-at-home parent

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The pros and cons of stay-at-home parenting are something that’s never left my mind since I quit work to have kids six years ago, but recently – perhaps prompted by Shared Parental Leave and associated press articles – I’ve been working through two particular lines of thought often expressed by those who would want to see me back in my teaching profession and paying for external childcare.

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Please understand that this is not an argument against those who work/use childcare! We’re all raising kids in different situations, and what’s best for one family won’t be best for the next family. Personally, I don’t think whether parents work outside the home or not makes much difference to the kids – it’s what you do in the time you have together that counts.

No, this definitely isn’t an ‘anti-working-parents’ article – instead, consider it a bit of comeback for those times when the media makes us stay-at-home parents feel just a little less worthy for making this decision. I’d love to hear your comments. 🙂

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1. It’s much healthier for your kids to see you working then staying at home.

The other day someone I don’t know very well said to me “Well, you see, our mum worked so it’s just natural for us to want to work”. Yeah, right. Whilst my slouch of a mum just bummed around feeding me, playing with me, taking me to groups, keeping the house reasonable and running a number of community initiatives – and I’m just following her lazy layabout example.

My kids see me running toddler groups, serving drinks to others, stacking chairs, setting out toys and other activities, washing up, leading songs and stories, scrubbing play dough off the floor, leading discussions and forums. They come with me when I go to the school office for governor business. They’ve shared their home with others as I’ve led Bible studies in our house. Whilst I do try and keep my commitments to evenings and when the youngest is at preschool, they do occasionally see me writing emails and making phone calls. And this is aside from the ‘obvious’ work of making their meals, clearing the kitchen, tidying their rooms and washing their clothes – which they observe on an hourly basis.

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In short – my children are under no impression that I am free from work. In fact, as part of a Facebook meme which did the rounds recently, I asked my son ‘What is Mummy’s work?’ and he said ‘Being a governor’. This is only a small part of my week, but interesting that he recognises this as work. Perhaps kids of stay-at-home parents simply grow up with a broader definition of ‘work’ – that it doesn’t have to be paid, or full-time, or purely devoted to one area. It can be voluntary, fitted around children, in and out of the home. This is healthy, right?

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2. You’ll lose confidence if you take time out of your career to raise your kids.

If you leave paid work to spend all your time with your children within the confines of your own four walls, then yes, I can see how your confidence will drop. But if you instead use the time to make new friends, explore your community, see how you can contribute your skills in new ways, and discover new gifts as well, I think it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience a confidence drop.

My stay-at-home parent friends run groups for other parents and kids, they fundraise for the NCT, they write blogs and books, they visit prisoners, they connect with local charities to support vulnerable people, they volunteer at their children’s schools, they campaign for things they feel passionately about, they start toy libraries. All these things – and there’ll be plenty more examples in the lives of those you know – increase confidence through building upon existing skills and liaising with a more diverse population than might have been possible in the workplace.

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Make no mistake: as a result of pausing my career I have lost my salary, recent training, the opportunity to acquire new skills and a fair chunk of my pension. It’s fair to say that this former teacher now largely gets her education news through Twitter. But let’s be clear: for all I’ve lost, I haven’t lost my confidence. If I were to go back into the classroom tomorrow, to teach a lesson as opposed to dropping my son off, I think I would be more confident than when I left, six years ago. OK my skill-set would be a little rusty, and the GCSE syllabus would have changed beyond recognition (six years, three governments), but, essentially, my professional toolkit is just brimming with new skills and ideas that the experience of the last six years has developed in me.

What other stay-at-home ‘myths’ do you encounter? Go on, give me some fodder for a future blog post…!

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7 Replies to “expelling two myths of the stay-at-home parent”

  1. Thank you for expressing some opinions that I’m sure lots of of us think but don’t often say. When people ask me when I’m going back to the paid profession which I left to have my son over five years ago (also teaching), I sometimes fudge my responses because my situation doesn’t seem to fit any of the criteria which the media would deem ‘excusable’ for such a long lay-off – further babies, workplace strife, illness, inability to afford childcare for example. The honest answer (which I’m going to use more boldly from now on, flying in the face of the tiresome old media!) is that teaching was ideal for that chapter of my life between university and having a family. Then I had a baby and wanted to spend time with him and with the fun friends we were both starting to meet. I was lucky enough not to ‘have’ to work as my husband earns enough to cover everything and does so cheerfully. So I resigned, but seeing as I now had extra time on my hands I started doing voluntary work as it gave me interests outside the home, was a good fit around my son, and wasn’t a full-time commitment. Most of it back then was done as part of my son’s activities, e.g. leading a postnatal coffee network where he hung out with other babies – the more admin-y stuff could be done while he was asleep, and eventually at pre-school. Later my voluntary work was coloured by my new relationship with Jesus, and again I tended to favour roles which formed part of my son’s activities, such as running a church toddler group with Desertmum! Now that my son is at school all my reasons for doing voluntary work rather than paid teaching still hold water, so I still do voluntary work. My child-free hours have more than doubled, so I have taken on several not-huge commitments – I love the variety of this. As your son wisely points out Desertmum, this is my ‘work’, even though it’s not teaching. If and when I return to paid work is in God’s hands, and he’ll sustain my stay-at-home parenting for as long as he chooses!

    Myths I’ve encountered?
    1. That it’s worrisome that I’m not earning money and paying into a pension/making NI contributions etc. I disagree because my family already have more than we need and more than most other people. The question of giving our money away is hazy due to my husband not sharing my faith, but I personally have something else to give – time. What we have is God’s anyway – he’s provided for our needs amply since I stopped taking a wage, so freeing me up to give my time. I trust he will continue to be faithful as he’s always come through before. This makes sense to me, but I appreciate it won’t do to everyone.
    2. That it was a waste of my time and public resources to undergo teacher training only to do it for a few years before leaving. I disagree because my teaching skills have come in very handy in several of the voluntary positions I’ve held – leading story sessions/French sessions/worship/activities at toddler groups/holiday clubs/Messy Church/church creche/my son’s school; going back into the school I used to teach at to lend a hand; leading adult Bible studies; pastoring a student from the local university; launching a social enterprise with a speech and drama coach in order to make her courses accessible to all. God provided me with high-quality pedagogical training and experience, and then gave me opportunities to use it in voluntary contexts. Also, my time spent teaching at a local school massively informed our decisions about where to live once our son was born, what schools to choose for him, and how to support him and the school.

    1. You’re so right on every level here! If every volunteer in our country stepped down today, a whole load of our systems and infrastructures would break down immediately, I’m sure of it. The fact you’re able to afford not to work, that you can then give your time and numerous skills to benefit the wider community – essentially footing the bill yourselves – is a massive benefit to your neighbourhood and city (and country) – not something to be sniffed at!

  2. Interesting thoughts
    Very very few of the working mums I know (and I am one), would choose to work over being at home with littlies if their circumstances allowed a real choice. So I see you both as being very fortunate, and if I have said any of the ‘myths’ you refer to, it is purely due to the huge guilt that I carry at not being able to offer my kids what you do, an effort to justify my position and at the fact I just do not have a choice in how I parent – I *have* to work and use childcare.
    I think we could all be a bit kinder and less judgemental with each other’s choices and circumstances – we are all doing the best we can.

    1. Thanks for commenting Claire! Yes I do feel very lucky and try not to take my situation for granted. But actually, as I’ve observed lots of friends do a variety of things with work/childcare, I really genuinely feel that, as I said in the post, it’s not whether we work outside the home or not which makes the difference, but what we do with our kids in the time we do spend with them. And therefore no guilt necessary! (Although sadly not as simple as that, but you get my drift!) Don’t feel you can’t offer your kids what I do – you offer them something I can’t offer mine. As you say, we’re all doing our best, and hopefully with more honesty from both sides about the pros and cons, we can all understand each other better and recognise the good in a variety of different set-ups.

  3. Hi Lucy

    I find it very interesting that you ‘stay at home Mum’s’ do feel society’s pressure (judgement??) on you for your decision? Because my ‘working Mum’ wife has often felt the opposite pressure. That society looks down on her for NOT giving up work to look after our kids full-time. One phrase that has often been used that particularly bugs us (not by yourself but by a lot of people we meet), is so you’re not a ‘full time Mum’? As if you stop being a parent just because you go out to work?

    I completely agree with your comment, that the number of hours spent in a week with our kids is not important. It’s HOW we spend that time? What are we doing to really invest in our kids and develop our relationships with them?


    1. I agree Andy – what a strange question! sometimes people’s phraseology is what is insensitive – of course she’s a full-time mum, she doesn’t biologically stop being one when she gets in her car to go to work! It’s like that old chestnut new mums get, ‘are you feeding him yourself?’ ‘Well yes’, says the mother who bottle-feeds, ‘I’m the one who makes up the bottle and serves it up to the baby so I am feeding him myself!’ 😉 Often people’s way of addressing others can really hurt. Claire, I’m sorry that you’ve found this painful too. As you say, we’re all doing the best we can.

    2. Thanks Andy. I think what you’ve pointed out is the sad truth that, unfortunately, whatever we do or don’t do as parents, we’re still under an awful lot of judgement/pressure/guilt from others (and ourselves). Yes, I’ve definitely felt that as a SAHP – and I know my working friends feel that too. It’s really very ridiculous, because one path does not necessarily lead to more contented kids than the other. I know many families, such as yourselves, where both parents work at least part-time, and the kids are thriving, secure, happy, loved and absolutely blossoming at every turn. Most of the kids at my son’s school had stay-at-home parents – but, sadly, lots of those kids enter school with very poor development, low levels of speaking and social skills, and having had very little attention/stimulation. So, whether a parent works or not is clearly not the biggest factor! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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