I once (in what now feels like a pervious life from long, long ago) worked with Graduates. I remember my boss telling me (after a particularly long hard day fighting the battles that come with such a job within a big Bank) that working with Graduates was made particularly tough because so many people had an opinion. They had been grads, or their kids were grads or they had read about grads… So this ‘knowledge’ provided a never-ending stream of guidance, advice and general ‘I could do that better myself’ attitude. She was right and once I worked that out, I found the job a bit easier. I found it easier to judge in my own head who was worth my time to really listen to and who, well – wasn’t.
Motherhood is much the same - although much harder to ignore the voices. Notice I say motherhood and not parenthood. I thought about that and I’m not sure that men get the same kind of unsolicited advice and perhaps that’s because it’s not their bodies that are ‘in the line of fire’ from the start. Maybe I’m wrong, but from what I see around me – I think this is something that tends to sit very much with the mums, who it is often assumed are provided with the book of answers along with the provision of all their eggs when conceived themselves.
What I’ve been wondering lately is whether it’s this scrutiny and advice and general pressure to be doing everything faultlessly (because being a mother is clearly such a simple thing - on paper) that has lead us to the infighting and antagonism that goes on between mums.
OK – so obviously that’s a general statement. Do I think it happens with my closest pals? Well, not obviously. But do I now think twice before posting comments on mothering sites and columns? Hell yes! And the biggest bone of contention is between Stay at home mums and Working mums. Yes – I’m opening that can of worms.
My theory is that we (the mums) are all working so hard to defend our own stance and approach with our kids that we’re kind of forced into this defensive ‘my way is the only way’ position. And I say that with no attack on mums because frankly, we’re punishing ourselves well enough!
When my daughter was 6 months old I went back to work. I had originally taken 12 months off but found that I was suffocating at home and needed the stimulation of work to settle myself. In hindsight I was suffering with mild PND and getting out of the house was a big step in my recovery. My husband took some time out and took on the role of primary carer (see – he became a primary carer whereas I was a housewife – that’s a whole other blog though) until she was 18 months old and started nursery. When she started nursery we were in Singapore – where working hours are long (certainly by UK or Australian standards – in my experience) and she was generally at nursery 5 days a week between 7.30am and 6.30/.45pm. She had her breakfast there, her lunch, her naps and they even showered her. She came home for a bath and bed. I write that now and it makes me feel a bit uneasy because I know what judgment is likely to come… At the time, I had no real issue with it. She was happy. It was an amazing nursery with a small class of 8 and 2 teachers. We lavished all of our energy and attention on her on the weekends with trips to the zoo, feeding turtles at the botanic gardens, walks, play gyms, swimming etc. And it worked. If we were to stay in Singapore and I was to keep my job, it had to work.
I am now a stay at home mum and have not ‘worked’ since the birth of my 2nd daughter in January 2012. My eldest daughter goes to nursery two days a week between about 9.30 and 4.30 purely to give her some extra stimulation (which she desperately needs after being so used to her Singapore life) and she is home with me the rest of the time. My second daughter will be 2 in January and has never been to nursery but will start two days a week next year, along with her baby brother who will be 10 months old - so that I can go to University.
I must confess when we left Singapore and I decided not to go back to work, I assumed my second daughter would be at a disadvantage for not having such a focused, stimulating life around this age. To be perfectly honest, she is developing in much the same way her big sister did. She is perhaps a month or two behind in when she could count to ten and is currently learning the ABC song, whereas her sister knew it by now. But, is this going to hold her back in the future? No. The only real difference is for me. I know her a bit better than I did her sister at this age – simply because I spend more time with her.
A friend of mine had a little girl 6 weeks after I had my second. She stayed in Singapore and worked in a full time job with the help of a live in carer for her daughter. When she visited me a few months ago, I honestly expected her daughter to be very different to mine. I figured that she hadn’t had her mum at home, that constant ‘eye’ on her etc. But when you put the two little girls together they were so close in their development. One had walked earlier - one had more teeth. One had lovely long hair - one had little fine wisps. Both were bright, happy little girls living lives where they were loved and given everything they needed. It was a lesson to me that kids develop as they will – at their own pace, taking on what is available to them. As long as they’re loved and get some good time with their mums and/or dads everyday – they’re pretty good.
So, why do we try so hard to discredit other people’s choices? I notice time and time again when a thread on a discussion board somehow involves some sort of opinion or advice between being home or not – it turns nasty. Not necessarily claws out nasty (although that is often the case), but ‘leaving them in care all day is fine, but I couldn’t do it’ nasty or ‘I would be so bored at home all day painting with the kids’ nasty.
For me, I’m at home because that’s where the circumstances lead. It works for us now and provides the best for our family (my husband, my kids and myself) for right now. That being said, if I was offered a dream role tomorrow – would I turn it down? Probably not… Assuming it worked for us as a family and I could find suitable day care (a big ask in Australia at short notice) I would probably take it on. My advantage right now is that I have a choice and am making it – whatever way that choice goes is no-one’s business but my family.
Whether we have that choice or not, as mothers I have to believe that we're all trying to do the best we can with what we have – for our kids and ourselves. Because, well - mums rock!