Should you have the right to be a stay-at-home parent?

Warning: the following is a down-to-earth discussion about being a stay-at-home mother.

I remember my workplace ringing me five weeks after my daughter was born.

I was so exhausted from the midnight feeds and the endless changes and the struggles that I didn’t even remember I worked any more! I had no idea who was on the phone, and I must have sounded like a complete idiot.

Yes, “baby brain” is a real thing!

When the opportunity arose, a couple of years on, to emigrate to New Zealand and not have to work as my husband’s job was quite lucrative, it was a no-brainer. I jumped at the chance.

I quit my job and the 3 hours a day commute that went with it, my kids said goodbye to being dropped off at their $160 a day childcare center at 7 am every morning, and I never looked back.

The superwoman myth

Time and again, we’re told we can “have it all”. The power career, the kids, the family, the social life.

It’s a myth that we’re force-fed from childhood onwards as women. I think we’re suffering as a result.

I look at my friends now, bright women all of them, and we’ve all of us had to make a hard choice in our lives. Kids – or career. We couldn’t do both and remain sane, keeping our relationships and selves healthy and whole.

Our entire generation is suffering, and yet nobody dares to talk about it.

Politicians promise more handouts and better services but the better option – that women shouldn’t have to work at all – isn’t ever floated. It’s put in the “too hard basket”.

Those of us who choose career over kids are criticized, and the political elite make more plans to import our “replacements” from third world countries, because we’re not reproducing enough any more.

Criticized no matter what choice we make

I’ve taken ten years off work in the end, more or less. And yes, I’ve been criticized for it.

A lot of the time the criticism hasn’t been overt, but it has been there, all the while, under the surface.

My mother thinks it’s a “waste” that someone as bright as me with my excellent education never made the career heights that I should have.

I feel like a failure sometimes, next to my sister-in-law who has achieved “the dream” of career and kids – with nonstop free babysitting on tap from two sets of grandparents plus a great grandparent, all offering free support whenever she asked (and often when she didn’t).

My ex-husband started pressuring me to go back to work when the kids went to school – yet he expected me to run a farm, attend all the kids school events, and do most of the housework, plus manage everything while he went overseas for work on a regular basis. I suppose I was supposed to fit a career in there somewhere, but I don’t know where exactly.

This is not meant to be a litany of complaints, and no, I’m not intending to pick on other people for my difficulties. Life is what it is.

But in today’s world, fewer and fewer families can make ends meet on just one wage. Women don’t get the choice about work or family.

We have to do both, whether we want to or not. If we want a family, that is.

Kids – or career

No wonder fertility rates across the Western world are in decline.

More and more women are looking to their friends who have chosen to have children. They’ve seen the exhaustion, the struggle, and the lack of support – and decided it’s not for them. They’d rather work, and maintain their freedom and personal wealth.

In New Zealand, women are making the choice. Career – or kids. Not both. Both is becoming more and more unrealistic.

As for having kids and a home of your own – that’s unrealistic for more and more Kiwis. Our parents all had it. Our kids probably never will.

So the wealth gap is widening between those who have no kids and choose a career, and the benefit mothers who pump out more and more kids with the state paying for them all.

Neither is ideal, and both are causing a fractured society where neither side can relate to the other.

Finding solutions

If we’re going to find solutions to this mess we must start with removing the stigma attached to stay-at-home mothers, and we must start honoring the family again.

Kids are important. It feels revolutionary to say that, but it is true.

I think kids are more important that having the latest iPhone or laptop, and they’re more important than being up to date with your clothing and hairstyle.

I also think that, while childcare companies do their best, they cannot replace a loving parent at home.

If we want stable, positive societies again, we need to put families front and center. That doesn’t mean more benefits, more handouts. It means lowering the cost of living for families and creating family-friendly policies so that women can choose to stay at home again.

Women – parents – need to be able to choose whether to return to paid work, and when.

I think it’s perfectly clear that mothers being forced into the workforce is, unfortunately, a failed social experiment that has made people more miserable, more exhausted, and poorer.

I’m a feminist. I used to think that we could have it all, but I think it is becoming increasingly clear that we can’t.

I think it is fair to say that children placed in 40 hour-a week day care do suffer for it. I still remember my son – aged two – hanging on to the bars of his childcare fence, waiting desperately for me to collect him at the end of each day. I remember the guilt of leaving him every morning that I worked.

No parent should have to do that.

So I’m drawing a line in the sand. Just as women should have a right to work, we should have the right to choose not to. That right has been taken away from us by low wages, by stigma, and by design.

I want my right back.

should you have the right to be a stay at home parent?

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