“Nothing good in life is free, but the cost of intimate mothering may be considerably less than it first appears.”
For many women, motherhood is the launching pad of a journey of self discovery and renewed creative energy. It is a time of self exploration and new beginnings. I have met many women who accredit their change in personal direction and career, to becoming a mother.
There was a time in my life when the thought of staying home to raise my child was about as appealing as running barefoot across a bed of coals. I was horrified at the thought of forever sacrificing my career to stay at home and be a full time mother. I was racked with fear that life at home would be boring and lonely. After all, what do these mothers do all day?
An investment in my career over many years led me to a point of seeing motherhood as something I wanted to do – but only for a short time. It was like a pit stop on my way to somewhere else. No one was more shocked than I, when with new baby in arms I became completely devoted to a life at home with him.
In a culture that continues to push children towards early independence, we often overlook the importance of beginning life at home with a loving parent. This is a time where the scene is set for future development. It is a time where our children set down their ‘roots’ on this planet and begin to grow not just physically but emotionally, socially and spiritually. Our children’s healthy attachment to others begins with us as parents.
The role of full time parent is often devalued and given little acknowledgement in our culture. At times it can feel like a thankless task and there is little public recognition for the job that is done. The work is at times mundane and isolating. Full time parents are sometimes perceived as lazy and taking the ‘easy’ way out. I once heard a woman say, “she hasn’t worked a day in her life since she had those children.” – an interesting notion given the endless duties of parenting.
Whilst being a stay at home parent certainly has its challenges, it is important to remember that there is nothing like the irreplaceable and ordinary moments shared spontaneously between a parent and child throughout a day. The investment of time and love made in those early years will pay dividends for the rest of our children’s lives. The job of full time parenting should never be underestimated in its contribution to the health and well being of generations to come.
During the tumultuous first months of a new baby’s life, it is often hard to see beyond the piles of dirty nappies and night waking to a time when parents can claim a space for themselves. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the notion that this is how life would always be with a child. Feeling like there will never be time again to have a quiet cup of tea let alone pursue my own interests. Acceptance of the situation, at the time, allowed me to make the most of those early days and dream of possibilities to come. One of my biggest learnings was how things don’t stay the same for long and change comes quickly. In the end I surrendered to the callings of early motherhood and accepted that my child would not need me so close forever.
Staying at home full time to raise a child does not mean there should be no opportunities for personal fulfillment – quite the contrary. Being at home can create opportunities to develop new skills and explore other possibilities. This huge life change can create the momentum necessary to stretch our imaginations and pursue new areas of interest.
Many people find self fulfillment through paid work. In traditional cultures women undertake work with their children on their backs in slings or by their sides playing. Extended families and communities share the care of children, who enjoy being part of everyday life. Only in westernised society does women going to work equate to leaving children in the care of strangers.
“There are many ways to maintain a career or outside interests from home. As tribal cultures demonstrate, children do not need to be the centre of attention to be well adjusted – they simply need to be kept close and integrated into the activities of their parents. According to Jean Liedloff, young children are uncomfortable when adults are focused on them; rather, they need to be the observers in order to absorb and learn as the adults around them go about the business of daily life” O’Mara(2000:119).
It is possible to pursue a career or personal interests whilst parenting full time from home. It requires some redefining of what type of work we pursue and how it is undertaken. A willingness to be flexible is one of the keys to making it happen.
One of the biggest changes I needed to make in pursuing my interest of publishing was changing my existing notions of work. Since graduating I had always held full time positions and worked conventional hours. Working from home meant adopting a flexible approach that allows for family life to flow in and out of business. Some days I have little time to do anything but family life. Other days I get large blocks of time to sit and work. In the end it evens out and things seem to get done!
Parents today have access to amazing technology that makes communication and gathering information easy and accessible. The internet allows parents to work from home at a time that suits them and their families. Internet access has allowed many parents to continue the work they did prior to having children, from home. Not only is it convenient, you can go to work in your pajamas!
Choosing work or an interest that we are passionate about is important in ensuring the long term viability of our intentions. When things get busy and the demands of family life are overwhelming it is much easier to maintain our commitment if we hold a strong conviction for what we want to do. In the busy life of parenthood it is easy to overlook our needs for personal fulfillment. Making the most of our precious time doing something we really enjoy is reenergising and benefits everyone.
It is sometimes argued that to stay at home and raise a child is not a true reflection of quality as parents are required to undertake many other tasks throughout a day. Some people feel that spending short amounts of ‘special’ time with their children is more advantageous than spending a large amount of time together. Such an approach however negates the natural spontaneity of life and ignores the time and attention required to nurture and truly connect with our children on their terms and in their time. In the words of Peggy O’Mara (2000:120 ) “True quality time is not a chunk of uninterrupted time set aside by adults to specifically spend time with their children. Rather, quality time is all the moments throughout the day when your child needs you, is receptive to you, or is playing, singing or talking to you on her timetable, according to her need. Relationships need quantity time to have quality time.”
By acknowledging our needs for personal fulfillment and redefining our perceptions of work, we can create a home environment that nurtures and respects the needs of all family members. Staying at home to raise children has its challenges. However it forces us to value ourselves for who we are and not what we do.
“It is easy to believe that you will fall off the career ladder or become less “marketable” if you take time off to raise your children. But marketability can be regained; a childhood cannot. Remember when you consider your lost career “potential” that your potential as a mother will never again be quite as profound as it is during your child’s first few years. Your career may span forty or more years. Your children will probably live with you for eighteen years; they may only be home for five years before full time schooling begins and you will be the centre of their universe for only the first three years or so. Parenting is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Peggy O’Mara in Natural Family Living (2000:119)
Bumgarner, N. J. (2000) Mothering Your Nursing Toddler; La Leche League International; USA
O’Mara, P. (2000) Natural Family Living; Pocket Books; USA.