Mothers who quit their careers to look after their children will eventually find themselves bored and unfulfilled by full-time parenting. This is the prophecy of American Samantha Ettus who has previously been lambasted for her stance by mothers on both sides of the Atlantic.
It is her belief that a mother’s life that is dedicated to just one area, ie parenting is woefully imbalanced and will leave the mother dissatisfied and unhappy. She argues that in the early days the novelty of being at home 24/7 with your child is wondrous yet the reality is that when the child moves into full-time education, the honeymoon period is over and you are left bewildered and hankering to return to work.
In the UK up to a third of women stop work when their children are very young. Ettus’ advice to mothers is straightforward, not to close down all your options but at the very least to keep your foot in the door and thus avoid the risk of finding yourself further down the track totally dissatisfied with your lot and full of regret.
- Don’t Look Back
Personally, if I could take a step back and talk to myself a few years ago I would concur with Ettus and advise an open door policy.
When I decided to close the door on my career, I quite literally slammed it on my way out, declaring the end to my days of corporate slavery and throwing myself on the pyre of motherhood and in doing so I ignored the advice of the person I listened to the most in the world, my own mother. “Be careful Jo, be mindful of your long term future” she said.
It is important to put my decision in context. I was a divorced, single working mother, one year into a new and happy relationship, riding high at work and then I fell pregnant. Decisions which would have probably been made anyway were suddenly made a lot quicker. In the space of six months, we sold one house, renovated another, moved in the day I gave birth to my daughter, my husband got a new job with lots of overseas travelling and my eldest was about to start school. It was a time of monumental change in all our lives so we decided that there should be an element of stability and that it would be me at home to hold everything together, so I quit.
Was it a hasty decision? Probably. But at the time it felt like the right one and to be honest it felt right for the next decade. That said as all mothers who have done something similar will know, full-time childcare is not a walk in the park. It is hard work. There is no respite and the transformation of your existence almost overnight is soul-destroying as is the monotony of the repetitive drudgery as your life moves into auto-pilot.
To say this out loud so to speak, is virtually a betrayal of the deity of motherhood and the marvel that is your child, but nonetheless it is true. Despite this, however, if when they go to school, you throw yourself into the whole playground thing, get involved with the school parent body and volunteer for all and sundry, “being at home” is quite rewarding.
- Work Nostalgia
So what do I miss? Well apart from the financial independence, more than anything I miss the other side of me. The half I think my husband fell in love with across a boardroom table one day, the half that commanded respect for my opinions and advice, was confident and stimulated by the variety of her job, the people she met and the projects she managed. Of course there is more to me or any of us than our working persona, but when you have worked hard to get to university, left with a degree in a subject you love, landed your dream job, then worked hard at your career for the next 15 years, your working persona is by default a huge part of your identity.
This is the side of me my children will never know. My eldest vaguely remembers being looked after by various people whilst I worked, but he and his sister don’t really know me in any capacity other than their mother. My mother worked from the age of 15 and instilled in my sister and I the importance of education, getting a good job and being self-sufficient. Sometimes when I rant at my teenagers in the same vein, to work harder to make sure they have the best opportunities in life, I can see them looking at me with a look that says “What do you know?” and that makes me sad.
At no point when I was 37 did I consider what the job market for me would look like after more than ten years and Ettus is right after such a long career break I and others like me can’t just pick up where we left off. Of course our skills are still there, albeit a bit outdated but the jobs aren’t and there are many, many mothers like us all looking for that perfect job that fits with being there for the kids too. Having said that it is not the end of the road, our skills can be refreshed and the explosion of the online world is opening up a wealth of opportunities for those looking for an alternative career and one that fits in with being at home.
- Looking Forward
Being a mother is a privilege not enjoyed by everyone and if we are lucky to be blessed then make the most of it we should. Children need our love, they need our time and deserve our attention. They are only children for a very short time before adulthood snatches them away and that time disappears in the blink of an eye. So whilst I may regret the loss of the other bit of me that gave me access to a wider world than the one I inhabit now, I am grateful for those bonding years which have come from being around my kids even if I do have to remind them that there is more to me than being a mum!
Now mine are teenagers and one is off at university they don’t need me as much and I have more time on my hands to revisit those bits of me I packed away a few years ago, but not to their detriment. I was there for my eldest through his exams and I will be for my youngest too as she approaches her GCSE’s. I want to be the first to hear her news each day, to support her through the mountains of homework, spell check her essays and listen to her drama rehearsals and make sure there is a meal on the table so we can all get together at the end of the day.
I value the relationship I have with my teens and put that down to being there. Because of all this I am the one that my teens talk to if there is a problem, I am the one they confide in, I am the one who sleeps easy at night because I know my kids are okay and have a clear path in the world. So if I am occasionally bored and unfulfilled, I try to cap the urge to scream and remember the advice of an old work colleague “Breathe Jo, just breathe!”
Editors Note : What do you think of Ettus’ stance? Have you given up a career to be at home with your children? Are you happy with your decision?This post has been updated since first published.