Im a pretty busy person, like most of us are. In the beginning I used to read as many blogs as I could find, understanding the art in exploring the mundane or exploring the power of sharing the unmentionable. Now that life has stepped up a few paces and the fact that writing now happens outside the bloggy space I only go back to a few old faithfuls. The ones I choose to read are written by people similar to me, I want to feel part of a community and people like Karen feel like friends in far away places.
Here she is writing about the space between a work career and mum career. Grab a comfy spot and have a read…
The choice to become a stay at home mum was not so much a conscious decision, it was something I resigned myself to. While sitting at my desk for the final time, I knew I was making the right decision for our family; we had one 18-month-old son and another on the way. How could I sustain working in a management position while arranging care for two children, where we lived an hour’s commute from campus? My husband earned more and he couldn’t breastfeed, so it made sense that I stayed home.
As I knocked on the Associate Dean’s door to hand over my resignation, it never occurred to me the significance of my decision; that every life changing moment of my early adulthood – from moving out of home to my first full-time pay cheque – had played out in the small town that was the university campus. All of my friendships, my colleagues, my entire life from age 17 to 27 had been lived on campus. It was a big step to leave this life behind and live a small life in the coastal town where I grew up.
After my first full week at home, running a household struck me as a puzzle that I just couldn’t solve. It wasn’t my son’s behaviour that I was grappling with, so much as the job itself. Without the hierarchical structure of a workplace around me, without the fortnightly pay cheque charging me on, I no longer had the same points of reference. I had tied up my identity and my success in having a high level professional job; it came with status, respect, a big desk and control over how my department ran. I was a problem solver, a listener, and each day gave me an opportunity to exercise these muscles with students and staff, and be useful in the world. At home, I was everything and nothing – the work I did so mundane and repetitive – and the world beyond our mailbox seemed to fade out of view.
Virginia Woolf has said “There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good mother, or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper.” All of these wonderful qualities, and none of them measurable. Without these measures, I’ve spent much of my time as a stay-at-home-mum wondering what value I bring to the world. It’s certainly not aesthetic, for I don’t buy into the culture of the ‘yummy mummy’.
Too frequently the value of the stay-at-home carer is measured in the negative: if the mother didn’t do the caring, the family would have to pay someone else to do it. And the cooking, cleaning and innumerable other domestic duties which land on the SAHM’s desk – the kitchen bench – every day. The value of a carer in these terms is in savings made, rather than in effort put in.
It wasn’t until our eldest started school this year that I began to fully appreciate the value of the work put into his care. Meeting other ‘career’ stay-at-home-mums was integral to this, for seeing these women somehow orchestrate their messy bands of children and dogs on leads and prams and bags made me proud at the human feat of caring. To have the patience to search for lost plastic lids and jumpers every day, to listen for the familiar chest rattle when the middle child is getting run down, to help the toddler attempt the balance beam for the seventeenth time this week; this is the work of caring. It may be immeasurable, but it is without question invaluable, and this cannot be emphasised enough.
Karen Charlton is a writer and full-time carer. She lives on the bay, south of Melbourne with Mr Karen and their three young sons (aged 6, 4 and 2). She writes for Kidspot Village Voices and blogs at Rhythm & Method.
Are you living in the space between the working world and the parent world?
How do you sit with it?