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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stay-at-home parenting: where’s the intellectual stimulation?

 

(There’s still time to enter the giveaway! Free book, anyone?!)

2013-02-14 15.37.44This is not an advert for stay-at-home parenting. It’s not even an argument against those who might suggest that parents who stay at home with their kids run the risk of becoming bored. It’s actually just me asking myself a question: How is it that I don’t feel bereft of intellectual activity? Because on paper it looks like I don’t have much of it – and yet, three-and-a-half years in, I don’t feel intellectually inactive as a stay-at-home parent. So here’s me trying to figure out why that might be.

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1. I’m still me. It sounds obvious, but I have the same kind of thoughts and ideas as I always had. My brain, albeit a little slower and more forgetful, still runs through discussions and arguments in the same way. I’m interested by the same news articles, the same ethical debates, the same life philosophies.

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2. I’ve met a wider range of people. Parenthood, for me, has been incredibly social – I’ve not made this many friends since Freshers’ Week. And I meet new people every week. When I was in a paid job, I had many colleagues – but, largely, my work was independent. And the colleagues I socialised with were from a similar background to me – mainly white, middle-class, university-educated. As a mum, I’ve met others from all around the world (Japan, Korea, China, America, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Romania, to name a few places). I’ve met people with PhDs, and people who left school at 16. I’ve met people who were raised in a whole variety of different situations – and who are raising their kids in a whole variety of different situations. This has made my life and conversations rich in diversity and, I believe, intellectual interest, as I’ve absorbed a whole new set of ideas about life, as well as other countries’ histories and ideologies.

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3. My kids stimulate my mind. It might sound mind-numbing to hang out with pre-schoolers and do nothing but slot shapes into holes or read picture books – but the development of my children is fascinating, and requires a good deal of thought. I don’t tend to do a lot of reading on parenthood and child development, but I pick up bits and bobs, and simply how my children respond to things causes me to form ideas about what will be beneficial for them in the future, and how I can encourage their interest in different areas. I’m not a ‘natural’ when it comes to parenting – I’m pretty slow on the uptake, and so it takes a lot of brain-power to keep my kids alive…or that’s how it feels!

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4. There’s a lot to do if you’re available. Society can’t function at its best unless some people do things voluntarily. There just seem to be a lot of things needing to be done which can’t be paid. I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to engage with a bit of voluntary stuff since being out of paid work, most recently running a toddler group. In the last few months I have: worked in a team, led initiatives, chaired meetings, organised rotas, communicated with a variety of people by phone and email, used social media for publicity and negotiated discounts. It’s intellectually stimulating to have an idea and see it take off, regardless of whether or not you’re being paid for the work. Yes, these jobs do eat into my evenings, as I try not to short-change my kids by doing them in ‘their’ time, but these other commitments do help me keep my brain active in different ways.

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5. Work wasn’t always that stimulating. I need to remember that, much as I enjoyed my paid job, it didn’t stimulate me every day. In every job there is the humdrum routine, the tasks you repeat over and over, the lack of variety and the days which drag. Likewise, some aspects of my life now are dull. Some days seem really long, and sometimes I get fed up. But, overall, if anyone asks whether I’m bored since leaving paid work, I’m confident in answering with a resounding ‘no’!

What stimulates you about the time you spend at home with your kids, whether all the time or part of the time?

Do you empathise with any of my feelings about being at home with kids? What’s mind-numbing? What’s interesting?

Oh, and did I mention the giveaway?!!