Friday, 20 April 2012

SAHM debate

About a month ago I blogged about working mothers here and upset a few people. Sorry to those of you I upset. Maybe I should clarify a few things.

I love being a SAHM. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not rose tinted glasses I’m wearing. It’s hard. One of my commentors even said she, "look(s) forward to Monday because she's (I'm) actually more relaxed at work than at home." I’m not saying it’s not hard for working mothers. It’s different. Most of my friends are working mothers. Some even have their husbands stay home with the kids. Some days I would swap roles with them at the drop of a hat but mostly I love what I do. Isn’t that the most important thing? Some of the comments after my last post critised my choice to stay home as not giving my daughters anything to aspire to. I have not given up on my career. I have changed my career. My “real” career is on hold for a few years maybe longer. I don’t think I’m sending the wrong message to my daughters in saying that being a Mum at home is a good thing. They know I used to work and although they think all I do is wash clothes and do dishes they are slowly coming around to understanding how lucky they are to have me home with them. That I can go to reading groups with them at school or attend their award ceremony on parade. I can assist the teacher with the swimming class and changing over reading packs. Most working Mums don’t get this opportunity. I guess growing up I had the best of both worlds. My single Mum worked but she worked in jobs which allowed her to participate in my school activities and to be with us after school. I don’t believe my daughters aren’t missing out on seeing their Mum achieve in a career, they are seeing their Mum achieving in her new career. The career of being a Mum at home. Isn’t that something worth showing them too? Is it so bad to aspire to that? What about giving them the choice to be able to stay at home? Surely that is what the feminists should have promoted. The right to decide, not being forced in one way or another. I don’t want to be forced back to work. That is wrong just as it is wrong to say you must stay home.

 I guess I was trying to make three separate points, obviously none of which I was able to clearly articulate.
 Firstly, the government here in Australia provides more funding, more incentives, more kindergarten rebates, higher government subsidies to working mothers. To me this equals society saying a working mother is more important. I can understand this to a certain extent because working mothers provide the government with a high income via taxation. I guess this is where some working mothers have in articles I’ve read put down Stay at home mothers as being bludgers because some of these SAHM never have an intention of working and would be the kind to only take benefits from the government and not work. This kind of SAHM is not me. I don’t get any assistance from the government for staying home.  I guess the governments investment in working mothers  is fuelled by the media who are fed the stories by the working mother writers or contributors. What I didn’t clearly articulate was my disgust in the media who feeds this government policy. I read a lot of forums and a lot of articles about motherhood but very rarely do they provide the perspective of a SAHM  or their partner. Every article I’ve ever read about SAHMs gets slammed and beaten down by working mothers who feel they are being picked on. I think in general SAHMs are very supportive of working mothers but most are voiceless because they are at home and not in the media or governments interest or focus. Working mothers get more mileage simply because women have been at home with kids forever and working mothers are a relatively new thing and are currently feeling the pressure of trying to be a good provider for their families, for the careers and be a good mum too.

Secondly, my issue with working mothers is their choices. If they choose to work and they think it will benefit their family more than staying at home why whinge about it? To their friends. To the media. To the government. A majority of people actually have a choice about staying home. If the choice you make is because you want a career to fall back on in case of divorce, maybe you shouldn’t be having kids with this person in the first place. If money is the reason there are plenty of areas to cut back in so as to be able to make ends. Sure don’t move away from your support network but if you want to stay home change your lifestyle so you are able to. Buy home brands or go to the markets for cheap vegies and fruit or be like one of my commentors and retrain so you can be at home. If you’re happy to be at work don’t bug us with how hard you have it. I know it’s hard. I did it BUT I didn’t complain about having to do it. That was my role in our family. I did it because I had to so I’m not disrespecting working mothers. That would be having a go at myself and I was a lucky working mother. I had my husband at home to look after our baby, go shopping, wash clothes, cook meals and clean the house. Some working mothers aren’t so lucky. They have to drop their kids at daycare early in the morning so they can commute to work. They have to come home tired and clean, cook and prepare for the next day at work all with a cranky toddler or young child. I’m saying it is not for me and if it is for you don’t complain about your choices to society, the government and the media. It is your choice just like being home is mine. Working mothers make sacrifices and so do SAHMs. They are just different sacrifices. Should I whinge to the world because the only coffee I have had at a coffee shop in months is one my mother bought me yesterday? Or the last time we had a holiday was well, over 5 years ago when we stayed with my aunt in Sydney for 3 days? Or that I make decisions about car trips so I still have enough money at the end of the fortnight to get Jessica to kindy? I don’t because who would care? I make sacrifices about where I go, what I eat, how long I’m out for because I believe I can provide for my children by staying home with them. They may not have iPods, the latest gadgets or a lot of extra curricular activities but they do have me and the fun we have together. I’m sure they’ll remember the times we had together more than they’ll remember the “things” they owned.

Thirdly, I’ve made the choice not to work because I believe I can provide for my children during their foundation years. I am teacher. I know I am unable to cater for the individual needs of each of the 26 kids in my class no matter what the literature, departmental policy or ideals tell me I can and should be able to do. It just isn’t physically possible to provide 26 different activities worded in 26 different ways which all achieve the same outcome of moving young people towards their ultimate future, extending or modifying so all can participate. This is the same at a daycare centre. For as much as teachers can extend an individual I don’t believe they can provide the same kind of individual care as a parent can. I only have to provide for 4 individuals and that is challenging at times. I don’t have to provide for 12 or 15 like they do in a daycare centre. Longitudinal studies of the effects of child care on infants starting daycare at younger than 6 months indicate delayed development while the same studies find those attending child care pre schooling years, as in the year before a child starts school, assist children in making the transition to school. The studies have indicated that between 6 weeks and 3 and ½ years are the most critical for the development physically, socially and emotionally and they also indicate in all of these areas the children attending long daycare showed delayed development in comparison to those who aren’t in long daycare. These are pretty much the same findings across the world and regardless of the standard of care offered.  Most of these studies though haven’t been long enough to provide for the effects on individuals in post schooling years.  This does not of course mean that all SAHMs do a great job. I know there are many days the job I do at home is terrible. I’m tired. I get cranky. I feel overwhelmed by the mess but I am able to cook with my kids, paint, draw, make playdough, do puzzles and make obstacle courses. We cuddle and laugh. We go to playgroup to be with other children. I’m there for them when they’re upset. I’m there when they’re having a tantrum and sometimes wish I could have one too. Some days it is horrible being home and some days when my husband walks through the door I just want to take his keys and walk straight out and have a coffee or talk to an adult. It is very interesting reading the threads on parenting forums. The SAHM threads talk about saving money and budgeting and stretching money further and the working mother thread talk about trying to balance work and family life. You’ll see there are different stresses. Different focuses.

There was also the point made in the comments about men having to go to work. I think most families decide the husband goes to work because they earn more. My sister-in-law can earn far more than my brother-in-law so he stays home. That makes sense doesn’t it? Another of my friends is the working mother while her husband stays home with the kids because she has a more secure income. She doesn’t complain about it because it is her role in the family. My husband was prepared to give up his career for his children. Many men would be but it doesn’t seem to be what society expects; a parent to stay at home with their kids. It expects parents to work.

Whatever you decide to do, be happy about it and don’t complain. Having kids is tough full stop.