Am I becoming a housewife?

housewife

You made the decision to become a stay at home mother – a SAHM. You were brave, lucky and maybe it drove you a little crazy – but you chose this path, and you made it work.

On the day your four-year-old child walks into school for the first time your heart is bursting with feelings – pride, joy, perhaps relief – but also fear, confusion and sadness. Those special, intense years of full-time mothering have come to an end. What are you supposed to do now?

There’s no rule book any more

Sixty years ago, your path would have been mapped out. You’d have your children, stay a housewife – and that was (usually) that. These days women have the freedom to do whatever they want – but it’s seldom that simple, is it?

I’ve found that there’s a general expectation that once your children start school, your status will change. Suddenly, staying at home seems less admirable, and more self-indulgent. Now that I’m in this position, I feel like I’ve entered a social no-man’s land.

Things don’t change overnight

You don’t stop being a mother just because you’re not with your children. A mother who works wouldn’t say she was a part-time mother, would she? Every mother is full-time mother, but some do more outside the home than others.

After those intense years at home, it would be crazy to say that things are going to change overnight just because your children have started school.

You’ve spent years with children attached to your hip. You may have become defined by them to the extent that you don’t know who you are any more. If you’re lucky enough not to have to find paid work straight away, it can give you space in which to re-define yourself. You’ve barely had a minute to yourself for the last few years, so you’ve definitely earned it.

I decided to talk to some other women who have experienced this transition.

“My youngest son started school full time last year, and I wanted to be a constant,” says my friend Jo – a mother of two. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t have yearnings to do my own thing, make my own money – but I’m very lucky that I don’t have to. I decided to spend the first term having coffee with friends, reading books and trying to remember who the hell I was.”

And that time can be an unbelievably positive opportunity to tackle the inevitable to-do lists that go with motherhood.

“This is your opportunity to lighten that load,” says Katie – who’s been using her child-free time to feel more on top of things. “You cannot underestimate the benefit to your mood, mental health and mothering from ticking those things off and feeling successful and competent again.”

Allowing yourself a period of peace and rediscovery is ok.

But what do you do with yourself all day?

Having a tidy house makes me happy. Do I want to spend my whole day achieving that? No.

At the moment, I feel that in exchange for me doing the majority of the childcare and the housework, it’s ok to spend parts of my day doing things that make me happy. Writing this blog, crafting, meeting friends. As long as I can keep the house running smoothly, I don’t feel too guilty.

I know deep down, though, that I can’t play the homemaker forever. I was brought up by a working mother, and all around me are examples of fabulous women who are achieving more. And I’d like to do more – earn money, have stuff to talk about, spend time with new people.

So what are your options?

Going out to work is the obvious choice. It’s not simple though, especially for those who have chosen – until now – to stay at home with their children.

My mother-in-law Ruth explains how those complications quickly became obvious when she was in this position 30 years ago:

“Just as a woman begins to feel as if the world might start to open up, it dawns on her that very few jobs fit well with the school day, school holidays, and children being ill. Unless she starts using a child-minder, these three factors make full-time work pretty well impossible.”

If your children have only ever known you as a SAHM, rushing out to get a job feels a bit like pulling the rug out from under their feet. My children are occupied by school between 9am and 3.15pm, but the time that they’re with me is still pretty intense. For my eldest, there’s the ever-increasing homework. My youngest son’s expectations are more simple – warmth and familiarity at a time when everything else is changing for him. Stepping away from their needs is difficult.

Working part-time

Otherwise known as the Holy Grail.

Finding a job that can fit in with school hours is a perfect choice for many mothers. It might not be the role you want to do forever, but it’s a great way to ease back into work and rediscover yourself.

Most mothers I know juggle a part-time job with looking after their children. Sometimes this is a long-standing career like nursing, and sometimes it’s a job in a shop or an office. Unless you work in a school, the holidays are always going to be tricky. But people manage. It takes some rock solid planning, and sometimes a childminder or family support, but it is possible.

It’s certainly a lot easier if your employer is flexible. “I’m lucky that I work for a company where I can vary my day-to-day hours,” says Rebecca, a mother of two with a demanding job. “They go to breakfast club at school every day, and when I work full days they go to after school club. Working flexibly means I can pick the kids up three days a week.

“The culture of the company that you work for – and the attitude of your manager – is very important if you’re a working parent. Parenthood is full of guilt, and you don’t want the added stress of raised eyebrows when you have to dash home because your child has been sick all over the carpet at school.”

Meanwhile, Katie’s story is a good example of how life becomes a bit less complex if you can find paid work that you can do from home.

“I love running my own sewing business,” she says. “I make curtains, cushions and blinds. I can work from home and fit my hours in around the children, so it’s certainly the best option for them time-wise.”

Whatever you do, there’ll be an occasional spanner in the works – a poorly child or clashing schedules – but that’s life, isn’t it?

You can’t put off something you want to do just because it might be tricky sometimes.

Pursuing a new career

Having children young gave me a chance to postpone career decisions. I always thought that by the time I was in my thirties I’d know what I wanted to do when I grew up. Predictably, I still don’t know what career path I’d like to take, but I’m incredibly lucky to be a position of choice.

Re-training to do something practical like teaching or nursing is clearly a great option. You could choose to start from scratch or if you already have a degree, add on some practical vocational training – like a PGCE or a law conversion course. But it has to be said that trotting off to do this is not as easy as it sounds: there are childcare costs to consider, not to mention the fees. And then there’s the confidence issues.

Back to Ruth. Her story is an interesting case study:

“For me, with A-levels, but no vocational qualifications, the possibilities basically came down to part-time cleaning, bar-work in the evenings when my husband could take charge, jobs in schools, and self-employment. By the time my son went to school, my confidence and self-esteem were pretty well zero, and I really didn’t know who, or what, I was, so it took me a long time to get going.

“To begin with, I did cleaning, gave casual violin and recorder lessons, and worked in a pub. I did musical games at children’s parties, and also tried working in the kitchens of a factory and a school.

“A lucky break eventually led to a job in a band. The deeply unsocial hours were difficult, but we managed, and I gained some confidence from travelling, and from playing on stage. By the time I was 37 I could see that my career as a musician wouldn’t last forever, so after a lot of thought I began training part time to become a counsellor. During my training, which lasted seven years, I did a lot of voluntary work as a counsellor and supervisor, and an MA in counselling finally enabled me to secure paid NHS work that fitted around the rest of my life.”

There are so many success stories about women who have returned to education after having children. It’s not going to be easy path though, and I know that if I go down this road I have to do some serious research.

Don’t define your value solely in terms of the money you (don’t) earn

Don’t be ashamed to stay at home if you can – as long as it brings you happiness. It doesn’t make you a failure. Looking after your home and your children’s needs are enough to keep anyone occupied, and you’re worth more to your family than any salary.

But are you using your children as an excuse to avoid challenges? In reality, children are very adaptable. I suspect it’s usually much harder for the grown ups.

And if you do want change, remind yourself that it’s ok to feel scared about stepping out of the cosy bubble of family life.

I need to follow my own advice here and start making sense of my future. For now, that’s going to mean carrying on with my blog – and finding some voluntary work. I’m going to see where that takes me in the short term and stop beating myself up about the long term.

What’s right for me might not be right for anyone else. We’re individuals. But for every one of us, the important thing is to be self-aware – to recognise that we have choices – and to make positive decisions that are driven not by the fear of the unknown, but by our hearts.

The Twinkle Diaries

29 thoughts on “Am I becoming a housewife?

  1. Ruth

    Lizzie, this is a brilliant, thoughtful and really well-written piece. I honestly think it’s worth submitting to a relevant magazine or two, or two, or maybe the Guardian. Really impressive XXXXXXX

    Reply
  2. Fiona

    lizzie. I love this piece. It’s very insightful and manages not to judge any choices that others have or will make. I agree it is worth thinking about submitting it somewhere. Hope you are well. Lots of love.

    Reply
  3. Lisa@intotheglade

    I have always been a working mum, except I went to uni when the youngest went to school so that I could have the summers off with the girls and, it was the best thing I ever did. It’s such a dilemma and I think as mothers, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Good luck lovely xx

    Reply
  4. Lins @Boo & Maddie

    What a brilliant, brilliant read and I think it’s so hard to find the right balance. I look enviably on the lives of those who are not at work because I perceive so much more time – time to blog, to craft, to clean and make nice meals. A parent would tell me the opposite, that it’s a million times easier to go out to work every day than to look after children and I think there’s probably an element of the grass is always greener. I absolutely appreciate your need to want something else and to do more for yourself, as much as I moan about having my job I’d be lost without it. It gives me independence, both intellectually and financially, opportunities and challenges. I know that as you’re so thoughtful with everything you do, you’ll definitely come to the right conclusion for yourself and your family X

    Reply
  5. Rachel @ The Ordinary Lovely

    Such an amazing and amazingly written post. This is playing on my mind a little at the moment because my littlest will be starting school in September. I don’t have to go back to work so that leaves me with the luxury of choice. But is there really a choice if I want to be the person that drops the boys off at school, picks them up and spends all holidays with them? So that really leaves me with the option of working for myself in and around the school hours. But what to do?? I have a while to figure it out though.

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      You’re totally spot on there – if you want to be the one to be there for all those things then your choices are much more limited. I wish politicians/society etc would start patting us on the back for this, rather than belittling our role! x

      Reply
  6. Imogene

    I resonate with this so much, my youngest starts Nursery in September and my friends automatically assume I’m going to be running out for a part time job and I’m a little taken back how unpopular the whole staying at home thing is within our generation. I have this friend on Facebook and she went back to work when her son was 10 weeks old and moans about what ‘job’ a SAHM is. ‘Housework and being at home isn’t a job it’s lazy, there are people with full time jobs that do housework and are there for their children’ – part of me agreed and the other was sod off. It’s an individual choice. My mum was a SAHM and still is now my siblings are at Uni. I’m torn as I’m studying because deep down I’d love to do something as well as being mum, I feel too young to not do something else too – but we’ll see how it goes!

    Lovely post with lots of thoughts – you’re a wonderful writer!
    Xxx
    P.S sorry for the essay!

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts Imogene…. It’s just finding that balance, isn’t it? I really admire you for getting stuck into your studies, and I hope it all goes well for you xx

      Reply
  7. a touch of domesticity / katie sparrow

    Oh Lizzie I just want to shake life by the shoulders and shout Grrrrr!!! at it! Where are those magical 10am-2pm jobs for women who have chosen to be stay at home mothers? When our children go to school if we suddenly start working full time then we turn all those values on their head. We still value time with our children but we are intelligent and employable during the school day! I’m still looking for the magic answer. I’ll let you know if I find it! Thanks for featuring me too. x

    Reply
  8. Rachel

    Love this – I am currently on maternity leave but with the option to return either full time or part time to a job I love. It’s such a difficult decision to make as I don’t want to miss out on my kids but I also want to do something for myself.

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      It’s so tricky isn’t Rachel – I think the important thing (if you can) is to take things slowly and eventually the right path will open up.

      Reply
  9. Anita Cleare

    A wonderfully thoughtful and reflective piece! I always feel guilty about doing things just for myself during the day – the gym, or an odd coffee with friends. My husband works very long hours and it somehow seems spoiled and self-indulgent if I slack off. He doesn’t make me feel that way, I do. He tells me that I am the engine that keeps the whole show on the road, night and day, and that I ought to look after myself a lot more – you may have convinced me to start believing that! #TwinklyTuesday

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thank you so much Anita! I really like that analogy to an engine – I’m going to keep that in my head and remind myself to believe it too when I’m wobbling 🙂

      Reply
  10. Fionnuala

    This is a great piece Lizzie. So much of it is how I feel too. I am only going to be at home till September next year (my job is waiting for me) but for now, with two kids out of the house in the mornings and one at home, I do feel that I can allow myself to do my own thing as long as everyone gets fed, the house if reasonably clean and tidy and the washing gets done. Somtimes I think my husband sees my life as a constant stream of coffee, cake and playdates, but it is far from it.
    Thanks for sharing your views and those of the mothers you spoke to.
    #TwinklyTuesday
    Fionnuala from http://www.threesonslater.blogspot.com

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thank you Fionnuala! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It’s the indecision which can be crippling – it must be nice (although equally scary I’m sure) to know you have a specific date next year. x

      Reply
  11. Sugar&Rhubarb

    such a brilliant post!! My eldest is starting school next year, my youngest will be joining her 2 years after that. Already I’m being asked what my plan is. At the moment I just want to shout that ‘I’m surviving.’ I hate that the pressure to know what I want to do afterwards is already so very present. I’m torn between getting a job that totally fits around their school days, or retraining for a job that massively well paid…. for now I’ll just bleach my kitchen floor and cuddle my kids as it;s all a bit overwhelming to think about
    #TwinklyTuesday

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thanks! The thing is, once they start school it doesn’t necessarily get easier, and in many ways it gets harder. I think society’s expectations of mothers are too simplistic – we all know nothing is ever simple for women! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment – bleaching the floor and cuddling your kids is more fun than job applications any day 🙂

      Reply
  12. Julie Downes

    Wow, a lovely written post, I really enjoyed reading this. Its such a hard decision to make, it’s constantly at the back of my mind being a SAHM. On the one hand I would love to go back to work and have my own income but on the other I really want to do all the school runs, be there if they are poorly and make their dinner. Still a few years to go before I ‘have’ to decide though. #Twinklytuesday

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thank you Julie… I’ve definitely been putting off thinking about it for many years, but now (with more time on my hands) it’s really weighing on my mind and sapping my enthusiasm! I’m hoping that part-time working will eventually be the answer for me x

      Reply
  13. Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)

    Great post and it is an interesting question. I often wonder what I am going to do when the kids go to school and it will be that balance of not being a housekeeper (and bored out of my brains) but still being available for the kids before and after school. I have been thinking a lot about education and what I will do when the time comes… no firm decisions yet though! Xx #twinklytuesday

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thanks Caroline! I think a few years at home while they’re in the early years of school is absolutely fine, but I know I’d be fed up eventually. For me, fear makes is easy to think that I can’t do it in case it’ll be too difficult, but I hope I’ll be able to overcome this with time! x

      Reply
  14. Caro | The Twinkle Diaries

    Aah I love this Lizzie! One of my best friends felt very much like this when her first boy went to school. She felt she was in ‘no man’s land’ for a couple of years until she had her second. But as he starts school next year, she’ll be feeling the same all over again, I’m sure.

    I don’t know why, being a ‘housewife’ is not considered to be a ‘proper job’ anymore. I guess everyone — and I use the term ‘everyone’ very loosely — wants to be a ‘career woman’ don’t they? 😉 I LOVE being at home — although I do work from home and often, I feel there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

    I really envy my BFF who has just given up her job in PR to stay at home. She gets to do yoga 5 times a week, look after the house and hang out with her kids when they come home from school. I often feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions at once. But it’s not forever. At the end of the day we do what we can to get by. And do what makes us happy — whatever that may be 🙂 Thanks for linking with us at #TwinklyTuesday xx

    Reply
    1. marmaladepie Post author

      Thanks Caro! I love reading comments on this and hearing what everyone’s perspective is. I didn’t really worry about my role until the boys went to school – but now I feel more insecure about things. There didn’t used to be much of a choice, now I feel overwhelmed by it! x

      Reply

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