One of the questions that new mums often hear is ‘so, when are you going back to work’. In the group of mums I met when Daniel was born, I was the only one who opted to finish work to stay at home, something I still find strange to think of a group of 15 mums. I also only know one other person locally (via twitter) who stays at home (but also works in the evenings)
When I was pregnant with Emma friends asked if I had thought about going back to work after Daniel’s maternity leave to claim another year of maternity pay (well, 39 weeks maternity pay). I would have been back in work for about a month I think before taking maternity leave again. It didn’t cross my mind.
Some people found it really hard to understand that it was an active choice from my husband and I that I would finish paid employment to care for Daniel and the new addition. Now that Emma is five months and Daniel 21 months, I’m beginning to have this question asked again…. people often assume I am on maternity leave with Emma.
It’s funny the assumptions that the choice to give up work brings. Prior to having Daniel, I had a good job that paid well in excess of national average earnings. My husband and I earnt a very similar amount, and had I returned to work on a full time basis, childcare costs would have been around 40% of my take home pay – a large chunk I guess but still leaving me with a decent amount – enough to comfortably cover the mortgage and other bills.
On hearing I stay at home, other mum’s reply that ‘oh, that’s great. I really enjoy my job so I’m looking forward to getting back’. There is an underlying implication that I didn’t enjoy my job. Don’t get me wrong it frustrated me but I enjoyed elements of it and the translation of what I was working on and writing as it became policy was great. Seeing the personal development of colleagues as they secured promotion or achieved something was another thing I enjoyed. I have seen the shock on other mums’ faces when I tell them what I did prior to having Daniel – I think sometimes they wonder if I had a mundane or basic job or perhaps one paying minimum wage that made the process of working to pay childcare a bit pointless.
Some people (mums, Dads etc) find it really hard to understand that I chose to leave the job I did. Other comments include about it being ‘fair’ that I ‘rely’ on my husband to pay for me…. and I even heard one mum mutter that I must be claiming loads of benefits (I’m not… other than child benefit). I don’t see that I am reliant on Damian for money. We have always had joint banking arrangements and both spend the money as we see fit, of course larger purchases are a shared decision but day to day I don’t ask Damian for an allowance. We manage the finances jointly.
Whilst I was at playgroup on Monday some mums were talking about putting their children into nursery one or two days a week. This idea has never crossed my mind, although some people did wonder when Emma was born if Daniel would go to nursery for a couple of mornings a week. The mums I was talking to have differing reasons for thinking about nursery. One mum is expecting her second baby later this year and another was worried about whether her child was socialising enough and learning enough being at home. I think that sometimes we expect too much from our children. Daniel doesn’t yet ‘play’ in the traditional sense with other children, by this I mean it’s not play that we would recognise as play. He does however interact with children and he and his friends at playgroup enjoy using the play kitchens together, be it one closing the play oven door and another opening it. They are not playing in any real imaginative way, assigning role to each other and interacting. Yet. That will come. And I’m really relaxed about it.
For me, Daniel and Emma don’t need to be in a nursery environment yet. They will likely join when they are four – in preparation for school. Again, shock sometimes registers with other mums when I say that they won’t automatically go when they are three. Some can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to make use of the funded education place. The choice for us is simple; we don’t believe that, at the moment, a nursery can provide more for Daniel and Emma than I can at home. We go to groups where there is a structure to the activity (Jo Jingles) and we go to groups where it is very much free play. We go swimming, to the park and spend time with family. We do arts and crafts, visit the library and talk about our expeiences of the world that day.
There is enough activity for Daniel and Emma to stretch their minds and to help develop their knowledge, understanding and experience of the world around them. My role as a stay at home mum is chief carer and educator (amongst many other things!) to Daniel and Emma. At the moment, Daniel and I are working on colour. Not in a sit down here and you will learn colours way, but more a gentle approach to introducing colour into our discussions. A gentle approach that is working. Emma is learning how to sit up – and she is getting there, much to her delight. As we move into the coming months Emma will be in the weaning process and become more and more engaged in the books that Daniel and I read – she already enjoys our multiple daily readings of Room on the Broom. She doesn’t, at the moment, need any more formal education than that.
Daniel’s knowledge and understanding astounds me daily – we use sign language (of which I will write more soon) and he is now signing on Emma’s behalf – I can’t wait until Emma does her first sign for me (most likely milk). It’s been a really useful tool for communicating with Daniel but also to extend his knowledge and for him to demonstrate his understanding of what we are reading, talking about and doing.
It’s always a difficult discussion to have with other mums about the choice to use childcare. I know for some, there isn’t an option but to use childcare. Some mums don’t want to be at home all day, and like many jobs, really aren’t suited to being at home (for example I know I would be useless working in a doctors surgery or a hospital. So I don’t. The same is said for parenting. Some people just aren’t suited to being solely mum and are far better parents when they work elsewhere in the day). I am really fortunate that I have a lot of help from my own parents; even just another pair of hands at playgroup is a godsend.
People also often wonder how we can afford for me to not work. I make no apologies that careful financial planning over the past 5/6 years has enabled my husband and I to get to the position where we can comfortably reduce our household income by around 40%. We acknowledge that having children means we miss out on some luxuries such as multiple holidays a year, a flash car (we ave a boring but practical family car) and we both have basic mobile phones. For us, me being at home in the day ensures that Daniel and Emma are in consistent environments, that they enjoy the time together (Emma already adores her big brother and welcomes him with huge smiles whenever she sees him) and that they have chance to just be small and to play. I take my responsibility to be their primary educator seriously and try to be led by their interests. Currently this means a lot of animal and sticker based activities! But for us, this process works.
Being at home with the children has taught me so much more than my previous job did or ever could. I understand more about how children learn. their schemas and I realise I am more patient and imaginative than I had previously realised.
So, when I am going back to work I perhaps should reply with ‘I don’t think I ever really stopped; just changed the job that I do’.