We're holidaying at the moment -- staying with family and enjoying the benefits this brings, including the many extra pairs of (very willing) hands with our two small children. And even though travelling itself can be stressful with children, as many parents know, I'm feeling terribly relaxed. I'm reminded of the adage "it takes a village to raise a child," and it reminds me of why I am no longer a SAHP (Stay-At-Home-Parent).
It's fairly obvious that I have chosen to be a working parent for many reasons, from my blog posts, and I have been criticized for making this choice seem like it is a natural one for all working mums. I do acknowledge that many parents have to work out of financial necessity, and I am no different. But while I do have to bring in an income to support our family, I also work because I feel I have a vocation. I find meaning, intellectual stimulation and satisfaction in what I do. But ask me to be a SAHP again, especially to young children? No thanks.
There are many, many mummy (and daddy!) blogs out there who tell it like it is for SAHPs -- some of whom, like working parents, remain at home not out of choice but because of their family situation. And here's my version.
Children are an incredible paradox. They bring so much joy, so many tender moments, so many blissful times when you're just enjoying them, and they're enjoying you, and you're laughing at something funny your toddler said, or something adorable your baby did. And then there's the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of the day you have to get through.
"Why is being at home alone with children all day like heaven and hell?" I asked my mummy friends on Facebook. Why is it that it can seem like a Huggies ad one moment, and a nightmare the next? You know the scene -- the baby starts fussing over something, the toddler starts whinging, or maybe having a tantrum, you haven't had a bite to eat yet, the laundry is still waiting to be hung up, you're exhausted from being up all night with the baby, you have to clean the mess off the floor and get dinner ready, and you suddenly want to pack in the whole SAHP thing NOW. You think about putting the television on again but you're starting to feel guilty about using it too much because you've read that it's "bad for children."
I used to think it was just me. If I could just change the way I saw things, reframed my thinking, it would all be fine. It dawned on me one day not too long ago that maybe it's not that I don't want to do the SAHP thing. Maybe I just don't want to do the SAHP-alone-all-day thing.
Seriously. Ask many working parents why they go to work and the reply is commonly "For my sanity." Alone, in the house, with no support, with small children all day? With no breaks? No adult contact? Nothing to hear but whining and Peppa Pig? Why do modern SAHPs think this is how things should be? How can one person be expected to run the household, do all the chores, get dinner ready, entertain the children, stimulate their intellects, and do this all with minimal use of the television? On their own?
Oh, I know it's possible. And I am sure there are many parents out there who are incredibly proud of being able to perform these feats single-handedly, day after day. I honestly think they must either have magical powers, an impossibly large store of patience, or lots of vodka in the pantry (kidding about the vodka, but you know what I mean). And I know children are beautiful, precious fruits of your loin that you should enjoy cherishing and nurturing. But why does it have to be such a feat, such a test of endurance, stamina and "trying not to lose it"?
I am not suggesting that it's not a wonderful thing that SAHPs are doing for their children. I think I made my admiration for SAHPs very clear in my post. My question is, is it reasonable for SAHPs to do it alone, as many do, day after day?
Some people have moaned about losing the "village" -- the support system that existed prior to our nuclear families. The thing is, we've traded in the traditional village for our privacy and our independence. We want to raise our children our way. We don't want relatives living with us. And this can be a very good thing. Having extended family in your house can be a source of intense stress. Also, our village has evaporated on its own. We are increasingly mobile, choosing to live far away from family for various reasons. Our parents are also increasingly mobile compared to older generations -- they're off travelling to Europe and Alaska for weeks on end. And families are getting smaller, so there are fewer older siblings to rely on.
I don't know what the answer is. I just know this: Being at home all day with my children had its glorious moments. I don't regret that time at all, and often look back at those months and years very fondly. But I also remember feeling stressed, and getting angry when I shouldn't have felt angry. I should have been able to enjoy them more. But I know now that spending more time with them that is in the presence of another adult has vastly improved our relationship. Maybe it's just me -- that I'm an impatient, uncaring person deep down. But I think that it's because we're just not meant to raise children all on our own. And I hope that the next generation will find some innovative ways to bring back the "village."
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