The age-old debate of whether to work or stay at home has reared its ugly head again thanks to American politics. Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, commented that Anne Romney, wife of a GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was not in a position to give her husband economic advice on the plight of women because she had “never worked a day in her life” as a stay-at-home-mum raising their five boys. It happened last week and there has been a bucket load of interviews, opinion pieces, talkback, twitter conversation. Rosen has apologised and rephrased the point she was trying to make.
Leaving aside the politics, and the debate over privilege versus poverty, the issue obviously remains a highly emotional one for many mothers.
I have been a SAHM, a WAHM, a full-time employee and a part-time employee and I’m here to tell you EVERY option is TOUGH.
As a SAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and at times very lonely. I remember walking outside my house in Brisbane to a deathly quiet suburban street where the rest of the world was obviously at work and wondering if the world had ended and I didn’t know because it hadn’t been announced on Playschool. There were many times when I resented the working mums who got a break from their children.
As a WAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed and worried I wasn’t doing either “job” effectively. My children will tell you I was often distracted, always on the phone or computer. Yet they will also tell you funny stories of things we did – and I was always careful to get photographic evidence of the finger painting, mud pie making, play dough activities just to prove to them in later life that sometimes I did put work aside and create fun times. There were many times when I resented SAHMs who had enough income they didn’t need to generate more, there were times I resented working mums who got their pay cheques each week regardless of the amount of effort they put in.
As a full-time employee I was exhausted, overwhelmed and juggling like crazy. My daughters saw me come home in tears as I tried to readjust to life in the workforce. They also saw me get through that period and figure out a way to make it work. There were times I resented SAHMs who didn’t have to ask permission from the boss to go to their kid’s athletics carnival.
As a part-time employee I am exhausted, overwhelmed and guilt-ridden a lot of the time. I feel guilty that I’m not as involved in my youngest daughter’s activities as I was in her sister. I feel guilty that I don’t work full-time to relieve a bit of the financial pressure. I feel guilty … well you get the picture. I have given up resenting others because there is just no point and what little energy I’ve got left is better directed elsewhere.
Women everywhere go through the process of trying to make it all work. Some options prove manageable, others crash and burn. There is no stock standard right option that will work for everyone.
I know the times when I felt I was closest to getting the balance right felt good. However those moments were fleeting.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight I think I would do some things differently.
As a SAHM
I would just relax and enjoy it more. I would make more of an effort to connect with other mums. I would accept life is a series of chapters and this is just one in a series of stages of my life.
As a WAHM
I would set strict business hours and uninterrupted family time. I would focus more on the money. Time manage and priority set to be more clearly focused on income-producing activities.
As a full-time employee
I would negotiate more, get more flexibility, ensure I had time off for the important events.
As a part-time employee
I will ditch the guilt and use my day off for activities that benefit both myself and my family.
One day my idealistic self imagines this issue becoming not a “women’s problem” but one which everybody has a stake. Dad’s benefiting from time out with their kids. Flexible work arrangements that allow for everyone to better manage their life – childless employees allowed shorter weeks to pursue hobbies or care for elderly relatives – mums and dads sharing the caring responsibilities by each working four days a week.
However, we won’t get there until we stop judging each other. At the end of the day the kids are all right. Whatever option you go for children who know they are loved and cared for will thrive. While we as human beings are valuable in a variety of guises, and that value is not necessarily measured just in the monetary value of paid employment.
What’s been your experience? Do you feel you have the balance right?