It happens to me almost every time I meet some one at a social gathering. I have even been told that I "must be lazy"! To be frank with you, I am sick and tired of being made to feel inadequate and ashamed of my choice to put my children before my career. Why should I have to justify this decision to anyone? I consider being a mum as the most important job I will ever do. I strongly feel that being there for my children in their formative years, guiding them, nurturing them and loving them is also my responsibility. I know that I am privileged to be able to do it.I consider it far more important than "being a doctor".
Being a SAHM is not for everyone. Although, if you have chosen to go back to work, then I admire you because it must be so hard to split yourself in two like that. Switching into 'mum' mode after a tiring day at the office can't be easy. I don't believe any single solution works best for all mothers, fathers, children or families. The right choice will change depending on the stage of your career, your child's age and many other factors.
Let me tell you a bit of the story of how my husband and I came to choose this path for our lives.
After qualifying as a doctor in the UK I worked in Hospital medicine and General Practice. I thoroughly enjoyed the buzz of hospital medicine, rushing to the Emergency Room to deal with very ill patients and cardiac arrest cases. Caring for very premature babiesin the NICU was challenging but exciting. Helping women deliver their babies was so rewarding. I worked with some amazing people in some fantastic hospitals and the sense of teamwork was great. I had status and money. It was tough, some weeks we had to work for more than 100 hours, but it all seemed worthwhile.
After I became pregnant, I continued to work until I had just 2 months left. When I finally went on maternity leave, I fully intended to be back to work within a year, perhaps part-time, but definitely was adamant that I would return. (In fact my maternity leave payments depended on my returning within a year).My husband and I chose a lovely day care centre for our son to go to, at 9 months old, everything was set. All my peers were doing the same thing, so it seemed entirely normal. We were very happy with our arrangements. But as the days drew nearer to my starting work we became more and more uneasy about it. We read and researched about the pros and cons of me being a working mum vs. Being a stay at home mum. Then we came across a book called 'The Secrets of Happy Children'. In it Steve Biddulph, a renowned family therapist, explains:
"The decision to have children is probably the biggest decision you ever make in your life. Deciding who will raise your children will be the second biggest. We use the word raise because the first five years are well known to be the time of maximum emotional and intellectual growth."
The book made us change our minds. One concept in particular struck us both. He stresses that children should be raised by someone who loves them and is not paid to do it. Love is the heart of the whole matter.
After reading this book we strongly felt that the best gift we could give to our child was for one of us to stay at home and raise him. Grandparents can, of course, fulfill this role, but this was not an option for us. We reflected on how both of our mums had stayed at home and given us the 'best years of their lives'. They had now gone back to work and we did not feel it was fair to expect them to look after our child while we went to work. They have done their bit already.
Steve Biddulph also gives six reasons for staying home when your kids are small. They all apply to me, so here they are:
- ● I'm selfish - Why should someone else enjoy my beautiful children while I slave away to pay for it?
- ● I'm the best - No one can raise my kids as well as I can. No one feels about them the way I (or my husband) do. No one loves them as much as we do.
- ● I'm super-cautious - I am fastidious about safety, about guarding against abuse, about sensitivity to their feelings and what media they are exposed to. By being around all the time, I don't have to take chances on these issues. I know they are safe.
- ● I'm poor and proud - I have so much self-esteem that I don't need a huge house, expensive car or great furniture. I am such a snob that I don't need money beyond the essentials of a good education for my kids. My kids are my jewellery!
- ● I am lazy - by raising secure well-disciplined and happy kids who feel safe and unconditionally loved I am making it easy for myself later on.
- ● I love it - I enjoy the progress, the love, and the freedom to set my own pace to decide how I will spend my time, the social get-togethers with other parents. Just being with my kids and enjoying them.
I plan to go back to work as a doctor eventually, but childhood lasts such a short time, so not right now, not when my kids need me.
After moving to Sri Lanka and becoming pregnant with our third child, the option of having a nanny for her came up. After reading the following article though I realised tha this too was not an option..
"Would you trust your maid with the keys to your car?
Or your credit card?
Or your jewellery?
Or all the possessions in your home?
If the answer is no, then how can you trust her with your children? Are they not more precious that all those material things?"
Ironically, in Sri Lanka, where the family unit is supposed to be so important, I have come under far more pressure to go to work than I ever did in the UK. Our society does not seem to value a mum that chooses to stay at home. Being a SAHM is certainly not an easy option. It can be lonely, boring and frustrating at times. You don't get paid and you have no 'status'. Despite all this, after almost 12 years of being a SAHM and raising three children, I can honestly say it is the best decision we made not only for our children but also for us as a couple.
The progress our culture has made allows women the choice to follow their heart on this issue. There is no wrong way to love and care for children, but a strong argument can be made for the benefits of a stay at home mom.
My husband and I are strong advocates of Attachment parenting, which is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, the child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style, which fosters a child's socio-emotional development and well-being. Less sensitive and emotionally available parenting or neglect of the child's needs may result in insecure forms of attachment style, which is a risk factor for many mental health problems . This method of parenting is nothing new, and in fact is the way children have been parented for centuries.
Even society as a whole can benefit from the stay at home family structure. It is well established that children coming from families that are committed to their well being have a greater potential for success in life. Every member of society directly benefits when a child graduates into adulthood with strong life skills. Studies have proven that children from stay at home mom or dad families are often more confident later in life and often perform better in school.
Committed parents are the key to a child's future success and choosing to stay at home with a child is one powerful method of commitment.
So next time I am asked, "So what do you do?" how should I reply?
Since starting a weekly job as a visitng lecturer, my answer to 'So, what do you do?' has changed slightly. Now I say, "I am a visiting lecturer at ICBT campus and I am also a parenting coach". Immediately the enquirer smiles and says, "how nice that you are doing something productive with your life."
If only they knew!!