To Be (a stay at home parent) or Not To Be (a stay at home parent).

That IS the question. I mean, literally. Nearly every parent I’ve ever known (particularly us Mum’s) has been torn apart by this exact question and the myriad of others that surround it.

How much maternity leave can I afford to take?

Do I want to go back to work at the end of it?

Full time or part time?

Will work accommodate a change to my work pattern?

Am I still capable of doing my job?

Will I be treated like I’m now less able?

Can I afford not to go back?

Who will look after this gorgeous beast that I so lovingly created?

Will the cost of childcare make it impractical to return?

What will people say if I choose to go back to work, because I actually like my job?

What will people say if I choose to go back to work because I know I cannot be a stay at home parent?

What am I if I don’t have a job? Will I have purpose?

Can I be a kept woman/man?

Am I capable of teaching my child and nurturing their tiny mind as well as a nursery setting can?

Whichever way you turn, it’s a mine field. As with every aspect of Parenthood, any choice will be met with some level of opposition and criticism and I felt every bit of it when I went on maternity leave with my first child, Bear.

I left work that day with a huge belly and an already full heart, not knowing what would happen at the end of my 12 months leave. What happened was that 9 weeks after Bear was born we moved from the city centre to the suburbs. An area that was very new to us so we didn’t really know what to expect.

It was exactly the right decision and I’ve never regretted it for even a second, but as I don’t drive, The Bearded Manc works nights and I have no family nearby to help out, it became obvious that it would not be practical to return to work.

I spent the last three months of my maternity leave worrying myself sick and exploring all of the different ways of making a ‘return to work’ feasible, but it just wasn’t. Besides which, it was abundantly clear to me that I did not want to return to work. I was so fascinated by my Bear and wanted to soak up every second with him.

It felt terribly disloyal to my employer and the friends I had there but I knew that not going back was the right decision for us. Indeed it was the only choice, because it wasn’t really going to work out financially either.

Work were not impressed. These were my friends and they felt hurt and let down by my decision, and maybe even a little deceived? Who could blame them? But as a Mum, any decision I make will always have my children at it’s heart, above anything else.

Taking the leap from two wages to one was scary. More so because we were in the process of buying our first house just as my maternity leave was coming to an end, so we knew that we were going to be stretched to the max. We’d scrimped and saved (never going out) for a good few years, so we had some money behind us to renovate the house. To say it was a do-er-upper is putting it mildly, but with our savings we could just about take care of the works.

In terms of the day-to-day costs of a family of four, well, it’s not easy. There’s no wiggle room in our finances, something which we’re trying to get on top of at the moment.

We may not have holidays (although we have managed to put enough aside for our first foursome holiday to Butlins) and we certainly don’t have cash for new clothes *stiflesasob* (although the kids are always well turned out) and we so rarely go out that we are virtually clandestine Monks.

None of that matters.

We are proud of the little house we have built for our family and love the time we get to spend with them. It’s worth going without the ‘stuff’. Their childhood is flying by and I will miss that once it’s gone so much more than any pair of shoes. Don’t get me wrong though, my H&M online basket is always full cos I’m still a big clothes fan. I just don’t get to checkout.

Some people simply have to return back to work. There’s no other choice available to them. If that’s you, my heart goes out to you and I doff my cap at your strength. You are doing what is necessary for your family, even when it isn’t what you want. It involves broken hearts and teary goodbyes but you are putting your family above your feelings and it’s the hardest thing to do. Bravo folks.

Those of you who choose to go back to work because you wanted to, for the sake of your sanity, or because you’ve built a career that you are proud of…go on, take a bow. It takes guts to stand your ground and that sort of steely determination is something your children will learn from and no doubt you are a better parent for doing what is right for you.

And then there’s me and the other stay at home parents, covered in sticky stuff and looking like we’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards. It’s tough and challenging and you will never, ever wee alone but it’s so rewarding. I salute you for choosing to have your brain worn down to mush by the 736 daily questions, having to say ‘hello’ to dog poo on the street because you’re little one thinks it’s ‘cute’, and the never ending merry go round of bottom wiping and winding up that poxy bobbin!

It’s not a glamorous job, but make no mistake, it IS a full time job. One with no financial reward or bonuses but all the cuddles. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you are lazy or somehow ‘less’ because you chose to stay at home.

No choice is easy.

Working parent or stay at home, your kids think you’re f***ing incredible regardless.

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