You are a dedicated career person, relatively happy and busy, progressing in your field. Then you hit a speed-bump called ‘having a baby’.
Most societies are patriarchal, so the parent who stays home to look after the kids full-time (if at all such a decision is taken by the parents) is usually the mother. However, there are some stay-at-home dads too, who raise the children while their partners go to work.
So you’ve made the decision to stay at home and mind the baby, till she’s a bit older, till she’s slightly more independent. Once she’s better able to take care of herself, you’ll go back to work.
In a few years, another baby comes along, and then you’re busy managing the differing needs of children in two (or more) different age groups. Obviously, the youngest is too young to manage on his own, and even when the elder one (or two or more) are able to take care of themselves, guilt keeps you home: how can you not do for your youngest what you did for the others?
It’s impossible to pick the ‘right time’ to go back to work!
Before you know it, ten or more years have gone past. Now, you are grappling with teenage issues, and more than ever before, you feel you need to be home. “He doesn’t share anything! I need to be around him so I can see what he’s up to, so I know what’s going on in his life. (As if hanging around him would tell you what’s going on with him! 🙂 ) And if he ever wants to talk, at least I’ll be around.”
Towards the last few years that the children are home, you feel increasingly redundant. You stay at home to be available to them, but you find yourself being sidelined as they get busy with their friends, their interests, and their own lives.
On a day-to-day basis, you are treated as nothing better than a maid-of-all work. What hurts is being called a nag. Routinely, you are told: “Will you stop it? Just chill, will you? Stop nagging! Don’t get after my life! I don’t need you to tell me this – I can handle it! Why are you after me all the time? Just leave me alone, will you?”
Slammed doors, locked doors, loud music, the silent treatment, making faces, leaving the house in a huff, sulking for days on end – it’s become a way of life.
And you stayed home to be a full-time parent! You wonder what’s gone wrong.
Nothing’s gone wrong. But two things have happened.
One: Your child is growing up. This means he is learning who he is when he is on his own. He is learning how to think, how to evaluate people and ideas. He is becoming his own person.
In the process, he will veer violently away from what you have taught him. It’s logical, if you think about it. For ten-odd years, he’s been influenced by your way of thinking. This makes him grow in one direction, thinking a particular way. For him to find a sense of who he is, he must (and will!) try out the opposite way of thinking too! So he will seem to reject you and all that you stand for.
If you want to help him become a worthwhile adult, this is a price you have to pay – whether you are prepared to pay it or not.
The second thing that has happened over the years of devoting yourself exclusively to the children is that you have become uni-dimensional. You have become boring – you haven’t learnt new stuff, haven’t grown in your abilities as an individual.
You are frustrated at the time you have lost – time you could have used to give your life any shape you wanted! You are also resentful that your child is not showing enough appreciation for your ‘sacrifice’ in staying home and looking after her. She should at least acknowledge, if not appreciate, that you have put your life on the back-burner for her. Instead, she’s openly ungrateful!
Well, she has every reason to be! It was your decision to stay home and look after her. It was you that decided she ‘needed’ you home for a ‘bit longer’. Why should she take responsibility for your decision?
A part of you is also scared because you’ve concentrated exclusively on being a parent for so long, that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be yourself – who you are when you are not ‘being’ a parent. You’ve lost confidence in your ability to work at something other than parenting. And the kids don’t need you anymore!
The truth is that you were a fully functional human being long before you were a parent. You had your interests, passions, and dreams. When you decided to be a ‘career’ parent, you brought the rest of your life to an abrupt halt. And now that this ‘career’ is at an end, you don’t know what to do with yourself.
This is why I say: Parenting is a bad career option.
To be a good parent, you must be yourself – all of yourself – not a poor ‘shadow’ of yourself. Keep doing whatever fulfills you as a person. If you do not find challenge and satisfaction in what you do from day to day, you will not be happy. And only a happy person can have good relationships.
You must find work that is yours to do, goals which are yours to achieve, delight which is yours to share. You don’t have to work 18 hours a day outside the home. In fact, you might do work from home – run a business, coach students, write, paint, sculpt…
I know a few women, who love running their homes – to them, THAT is their job. And they are successful at it! They don’t have a salary, but they are busy, happy, and fulfilled, and take great pride in running a home that supports the well-being of the family and of the individuals within that family.
But a majority of stay-at-home moms say, “I’m just a home-maker”. And that ‘just’ is the most unjust thing you could do to yourself.
Don’t think you will neglect your child. Don’t worry about not having enough time for her. Your joy and fulfillment will make you a far better parent than you would otherwise be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you owe it to your child to be a working parent. Show her that it is possible to find fulfillment both as a parent and as a person – that the two are not contradictory goals. 🙂