Being a stay-at-home Mum has to be one of the most under rated jobs in the whole world and it’s certainly one that is undervalued, even by those of us who do it. How many times have you heard a friend say “Oh, I just stay at home with the children”; as if they aren’t a proper member of society because they don’t work. It is something I am guilty of myself. With my university education and years of teaching; I feel like I should be doing something more “useful”. Then there are those people who say, “I would love to stay at home with the children!” Well let me tell you, after six months you would be so bored and lonely, you would be begging to go back to work.
During the baby and toddler years, being at home is not so bad and instinctively feels like the right thing to do; after all they grow up so fast and are off to school before you know it. (Let me just add here, that I know how lucky I am to be able to afford to do it; there are many people I know who can’t.) Modern society is increasingly geared towards children and there are mother and toddler groups and activity classes in even the smallest village; a ready made community for you to join. I gave up work before my eldest son was born 11 years ago. Of the two of us, my husband is the one with the steady, well paid job. I worked for myself, so my income was more erratic and much smaller. We didn’t even need to discuss who was going to be at home with the baby; it was a decision we instinctively agreed on. A few weeks after my son was born, I dragged myself out of the house to the local baby group up the road in the church. I was still exhausted from lack of sleep and sore from my emergency caesarian but I was craving company and a bit of normality. That first meeting, quite frankly, was really boring. There were only two other people there and I made stilted conversation with them, while my son slept. I couldn’t wait for the meeting to end and was so disappointed that I nearly didn’t go back the following week. Well I’m so glad I stuck it out! Gradually more people came to the meeting and we all became really good friends, socializing with one another regularly and helping one another out when problems arose, or someone needed a babysitter. I still see most of them and a few of them I count amongst my closest friends. As our children got older we went to more groups together, or to the leisure centre to swim or the soft play area. All of these activities relieved the tedium of being at home and tending to the endless nappy changing, weaning, housework, cooking, gardening and walking my dogs.
When I got pregnant for the second time, we decided that we had to move house. We didn’t have enough room for another child and some horrible, anti-social neighbours had moved in who I was desperate to get away from. They would play loud pop music late into the night and were always screaming and shouting at one another too, despite me having gone round there several times to plead with them to behave more reasonably. Unable to find anything larger in our price bracket, we started to look further afield and ended up buying a house in Milton Keynes. We moved in just three weeks before Christmas when I was 8 months pregnant! It was a very pragmatic decision to move here; we needed a bigger house, we wanted better secondary schools and easy access to London, so my husband could commute. Milton Keynes ticked all those boxes but it has been a move that has been very difficult for me because I moved away from my lovely group of friends and have had to start all over again. There are many things that I like about living here now but I am a village girl at heart and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that is where I end up once the kids have flown the nest.
Once my second son was born, I looked around for some toddler groups to attend, hoping to make friends with new mums again, as I had the first time around. Somehow it just didn’t happen. People were friendly enough but they all seemed to know one another already and I never really felt very welcome. Nobody ever went out of their way and said, “come round for a coffee”. Sometimes I felt desperately lonely during those first few months, stuck in the house most of the time; hard to cope with when you’re exhausted from broken nights and looking after an energetic three year old. Life improved socially once my eldest son started school, as there were lots of parents to talk to in the playground. I find that when you are in the same situation as other people, in this case your child has just started school, it is much easier to bond with people. You confide your worries to them and they reciprocate and so friendships are made. I also joined the PTA, ending up running it for a few years. Although really hard work, I enjoyed it for the social interaction it provided and the feeling it gave me of doing something productive.
I’ve always had this feeling of being slightly bored at home though. It doesn’t provide the intellectual stimulus or the social interaction that I crave and it can be a lonely existence. Now that my sons are both at school, there aren’t the toddler groups to go to, which meant I got out regularly and saw people. I’ve also found that now my friends’ children are all at school, a lot of them have gone back to work and I hardly know any other stay at home mums. Infact, once I’ve dropped the boys at school, some days I’m at home all day and see nobody. R4 has become my life line and is on almost all the time. I enjoy listening to programmes on all sorts of topics, like women’s issues, science, money and I enjoy the dramas too. If I don’t fancy the radio I put some music on and sing along, or practice my choir numbers.
So what do I do all day now? People who’ve never stayed at home, imagine that I am a “Lady of Leisure” and spend my time lunching with friends and shopping; they don’t understand that often I am really busy. Once I’ve taken the boys to school, I will come home, empty the dishwasher and reload it, make all the beds, put in a load of washing and get something out of the freezer for dinner. Then I’ll log onto the computer and look at my emails. By this time it is often 10 am already. Then, I’ll have a coffee, pull on my wellies and take my energetic, young dog for a walk. We tramp through the woods and across fields, braving the muddy puddles, which at times this winter have threatened to come over the top of my wellies! Home again, I take him in through the back gate and hose the mud off. Now it is often approaching 11.30 am and heading towards lunch. (Always at 12! A legacy of eating then with my boys when they were toddlers). After eating there are other chores to do. Perhaps a trip into town to run some errands and have coffee with a friend, or catching up with our accounts (my husband is a one-man limited company and I am his secretary), sorting through the neverending paperwork and paying bills, doing yet more laundry, going out to buy a birthday present, packing a parcel and taking it to be posted, taking the dog to the vet; the list is endless and the couple of hours between lunch and school pick up easily filled. Once school is over, there are often clubs to take them to and of course homework and violin practice, as well as cooking the dinner. My time is not my own until they’re in bed. Running a house properly is a full time job and I often wonder how people who work manage! I suspect that they struggle but it still doesn’t put me off wanting to get a job. The trouble is with housework, you see, is that it is boring and that I think is my problem. I need to do something more challenging.
Once my younger son started school nearly three years ago, I thought that maybe I would start working again, being thoroughly bored by then of being at home but I’m still here. I’ve realised actually that the problem is in my head, although I’m very good at making excuses as to why I’m still not working. “I’m still running the committee”, “the boys need someone to collect them from school and take them to their clubs”, “I don’t know what I want to do”, “how will I find part time work around the boys?” No, the truth is that I am really lacking self confidence after such a long time away from work and I’m being very indecisive, not a good combination. I guess the fact that I have decided to do something about it though, is the first step.
Shenley Dens farmhouse, which I pass nearly everyday. It’s in the process of being pulled down due to neglect and house building plans.
Callum enjoying a muddy walk.