I am overwhelmed by the reaction to my simple blog post on being “Stay-At-Home Mums” and “Working Mums”. It was highly personal and yet resonated with over half a million men and women around the world. In the most part, you’ve reaffirmed my faith in humans being able to put differences aside and celebrate what we share in common. It’s been humbling, overwhelming and deeply satisfying.
Some of you have mentioned being “Stay at home dads” and “Work at home mums”. In fact, I agree with all of you – the labels are a bit annoying! But they speak to the majority of us, so I’ll keep them for now.
I was also a “Work At Home Mum” from the time Star (my first child) was seven months old until she was fifteen months. I did work about 5 hours a week as a GP and my husband looked after her for that time. The rest of the time I worked on my research at home. We had just been awarded a major grant for my research on acupuncture for hot flushes and I was very busy with planning our project.
Star only slept for 30 minutes a day from eight months. She was also an active crawler from seven months. I had a daily work schedule that went like this:
– 30 mins work during breakfast (when she was esconced in her high chair)
– 30 mins work during lunch
– 30 mins work when she napped
– Another 30 minutes somewhere in the day (usually at afternoon tea time)
– Two hours at night when she went to bed until the time I went to bed.
In this way I racked up four hours a day. I did this four days a week. I am telling you, it absolutely killed me towards the end. But I don’t regret it at all. I remember lots of laughter (Star was, and still is, a cheeky character). I remember the warmth of her cuddles, the way she smelled – delicious. I remember putting out the laundry with her, going to the mailbox with her, going to the park in the morning, going to the library for Story Time. I remember the furious half-hour when she finally went to sleep – you could time her naps with a stopwatch!
I also remember the exhaustion at night when I pulled out the laptop at 8:30pm and worked til 10:30pm, four nights a week.
I brought her to Uni for meetings every fortnight. I brought her highchair so she could sit in it and eat Cheerios during the meeting. Sometimes she would nap in the Baby Bjorn – I remember swaying back and forth trying to get her to sleep, while chairing meetings. (My workplace is extremely family friendly, as you can tell!) Other times she sat on my team member’s laps and played with their glasses.
When she turned fifteen months, I had to start doing a lot of face-to-face interviews for my research and I couldn’t keep working from home. In any case, I didn’t think it was fair to her for me to be so distracted all the time, forever trying to steal another five minutes. I felt it would be better to have protected time for work and protected family time. We interviewed five nannies and picked one that we thought was ideal (older mum, raised four boys, lived nearby). On the day she was supposed to start she sent a text message an hour before starting to say she couldn’t take the job after all.
In a panic, I rang our local daycare centre. They had vacancies. She started the following week. While the first month was hard on all of us (I remember crying all the way to work on the tram after a difficult dropoff), we have never looked back.
Our daycare centre has offered us reliability, predictability, warmth, love and care. The carers are incredible – patient, loving women who really are there for the love of it (from what I hear, nobody becomes a childcare worker for the money). Star has made her way through all the rooms and I feel as though we are part of a big family now. She had her own favourite carers in every room. She is a happy, confident, bright three-year-old and we have no attachment issues. Did I ever feel like she wasn’t cared for, or jealous of her relationship with a carer? Never. But I’ll be blogging about childcare options later.
Almost three years later I have another baby, have taken another six months leave, went back part-time, and then recently had to make the difficult decision to convert to full-time. (You can read my post Musings on Working Motherhood: Introduction.) Oh, and the research? 327 women randomised to a clinical trial on acupuncture for hot flushes. Gazillions of data to start cleaning and analysing. Lots of papers to write. I’m doing this for the 1.3 billion women who will become menopausal by 2030 (yes, that’s YOU, mama!) I don’t think I need to justify my position to anyone. I am certainly not doing this for “expensive holidays”, as one interesting commenter posted. Oh my, if only she knew how much (or how little!) I get from my scholarship! Yet I am grateful for the scholarship as it pays me to do what I absolutely love to do.
I have an enormous respect for WAHMs and Dads. It truly is a skill to manage childcare and work simultaneously. I also know that running your own business has its own challenges. There is no end to the work and energy – much like parenting! For those of you who have mastered it, particularly with a toddler, I’d love to hear your tips. There is something very satisfying about being able to blend working for a living and caring for tiny children.
Every parent’s decision to have children and how to raise them is deeply personal. What matters the most is our enduring set of values and what we will pass on to our children. What works for one parent does not for the other. Parenthood is an almost universal state that appears to unite us, but really we are all unique individuals with unique families. We bring to our families a complex and nuanced set of personal values, some our own, some handed down from our parents and traditions. Also, what works at one point in your family’s life may not at another. I believe that as long as a parent does what he or she truly believes is the right and best thing to do for his or her family, it is the right thing. (I can argue with lots of evidence that flies in the face of the claim that having a working mother is detrimental to a child’s attachment and wellbeing, for the naysayers. But I’ll save that for another post).
It is inhuman to point fingers at other families and say “You’re doing it wrong”. To be smug and defend one’s own position, perhaps out of bitterness or personal resentment. We are talking about going to work for a living, or staying home because of the profound belief that it is the best decision for that mother, father and the children in that family. We’re not talking about child abuse, neglect, malnutrition, or leaving children unattended in cars. I blog about being a working mother. If for some reason you find this offensive or against your values, please trot off and find a blog that you can identify with.
Modern women are blessed with choices. Sometimes these choices do cripple us. But let’s embrace the diversity that exists and respect others’ choices.
I haven’t forgotten the myriad permutations of parenting that lots of you have brought to my attention. Mothers who have no choice but to work, Single parents, stay-at-home dads, same sex parents, blended families. I do write mainly from my perspective. I don’t claim to know your experiences. It doesn’t mean your struggles are any less valid.
Carolyn is a medical doctor and researcher. She blogs about health and her journey to discover the Nirvana of work-family balance. She has a toddler and a three-year-old and a wonderful husband, and returned to full-time work/study in February 2014. In her “spare time” she enjoys running and the occasional eating of cupcakes. You can read about her Musings on (Working) Motherhood at http://carolynee.net/category/musings-on-working-motherhood/
Photo credit: Pic jumbo