Tuesday, 10 May 2011

What They Say

When mothers ask me if I've gone back to work and I shake my head and mumble something about being a 'housewife' this is what they say:

"That must be lovely if you can afford it" and "I didn't have the choice."

And every time they say it I nod understandingly whilst feeling my smile stiffen ever so slightly and my soul start to squirm. I mutter some platitude about it being right thing 'for me', and I leave feeling pompous and privileged, indulged and slightly indignant.

Because to describe mothering as simply 'lovely' is not to tell the whole truth. It's to focus on the romance of the role and ignore the relentlessness, the loneliness, the thanklessness and the mind-numbing monotony of the job.

It's to see a mother out walking quietly with her child and forget that she's done it every day that week and will probably do it again tomorrow, and it's to look at long empty days with envy without stopping to wonder what it must be like to have an endless expanse of emptiness to fill.

Yes, it's a luxury that I can afford, and I'm forever mindful of and grateful for that fact.

But it's a luxury that I can afford because of the lifestyle that I've chosen and the sacrifices that I make, and it was a choice that I made knowing that our house would always be smaller, our clothes would always be shabbier, our holidays would always be more local and our choices would always be more limited than those of some of my friends.

We all have the choice to a greater or lesser extent and I'm incredibly happy with mine; except when mothers ask me about it and I'm suddenly made to feel spoilt.


  1. Why do we, as women, do this to each other? There are never choices without some kind of price to be paid, be that in loss of income or in time spent with our children. If only we could stop trying to weigh up who got the better deal.

    I think the conversation makes all mothers squirm.

  2. I agree with Ali. There is always a cost and always a pay out to every choice.

    Beautiful post, mama.

  3. Oh the times I have heard those words too! You describe how it makes me feel so well Helen. I found it even more irritating once my children were all at school. Now they are nearly all at secondary school and I'm still haven't 'gone back to work'. Not going to either.

  4. Don't take any notice! I have followed both paths in my time, and when people say they can't afford to do things, it is just that they choose to order their time and spend their money differently. When both of us worked a lot, we spent more on food, and felt we need holidays to get away - so you don't necessarily end up better off. And as a mother of two very big boys, I can promise you that you will never look back and regret that time you spent at home with them, however stressy it gets at the time!

    Pomona x

  5. I found this, too, and yes, you simply cut your cloth accordingly. My boys are now 16 and 13 and, although I now work,I make sure it is very flexible hours and I still work my shifts out around them. I wouldn't have changed our choice at all.

  6. Don't forget to see the other side too, though; probably the other mum was having a little guilty squirm as she may feel she SHOULD be staying at home with her child.
    And to Pomona, it really isn't as simple as people 'choosing' to spend their money on 'other' ( subtext: unnecessary, luxury items probably). Many families just cannot survive on one wage - it may be a very low wage.
    As a health visitor I saw both sides of the fence and also saw the pros and cons of both decisions. It all comes back to the huge and often unrealistic expectations we place on modern women.

  7. You have provoked a healthy discussion!

    I share a similar experience to you, albeit from the other end, so to speak. I had a blind faith that all would be well, and it mostly has been. But life can be tough and my advice would be to ensure you keep your own pension savings going, however small - I didn't!! And be mindful that your partner may, at some time, dream of being (even need to be) the stay-at-home parent.

    Enjoy your life! I think you have made a wise choice.

  8. Your post reminded me how lonely I was when my children were small, I know how you feel. The days can be very long with no one to talk to. I didn't have the internet then - it wasn't invented! Do you not have any baby and toddler groups or Children centre stay and play groups that you could go to?