” you don’t have to be a SAHM to be a good parent. This is just how I can be a good parent”
This week’s interview is with Laura Murray, a mum of one-and-a-bump who is at home full-time. She blogs at MyInternalWorld, and here she gives an honest picture of life as a stay-at-home mum.
When I asked Laura for tips that she might pass on to a mother contemplating giving up work, she gave some good advice regarding the financial side, including:
“bear in mind that when you are staying at home you are not getting money in to your bank account. Can you cope asking your partner for money?”
For lots more tips and insights into life as a stay-at-home mother, read on:
Thank you Laura for taking part if this interview for Office Mum blog – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have a girl, age two and am expecting baby number two next April.
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what did you do before you had your daughter and for how long you were working at this? Did you enjoy this work?
I originally trained as a Holistic therapist but didn’t enjoy it as a full-time job so only ever used it as a part-time income while I worked in an office as in-house trainer and office manager. I also helped out with sales, marketing and managed the company website. A jack of all trades, I guess – I loved the company I worked for but I had never found a career that I loved. I knew the company was going to close down, for obvious reasons – it was in overseas property investment business – so I decided to apply as a mature student in expectation of redundancy. So, I was a mature student at Trinity when we planned the pregnancy. I went off books when my pregnancy was confirmed.
Did you consider going back to work at any stage or did you always know you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom?
I always knew. We specifically avoided buying a house in Dublin to prevent us relying on two wages to cover living expenses. I don’t why and it’s not based on any practical or research based reason – I just knew, before I even had kids, that I would be a stay-at-home mum until they go to school. Even now, on the ‘off’ days when I fantasise about going back to uni or even just a plain old office job, I just get this feeling inside that I know I can’t leave her.
Would you have had parent-friendly flexibility in your previous job e.g. to work from home or work part-time?
My plan was to take a year off books with uni and then put her in the campus crèche. But when it came to I just couldn’t bear leaving her full-time so I decided to put it on hold. I also had second thoughts about the course I was studying so decided to just leave it until I figured out what I wanted to do.
Is there anything you miss about working?
I miss socialising. I miss using my brain. I miss feeling ‘useful’. I am lucky that my husband really appreciates what I do but society as a whole doesn’t really value the role of primary parent or the sacrifice a SAHM/D makes personally and professionally. I feel society sees me as lazy or in a negative light when so many mothers do both the job as well as the parenting. Oh and the money! I miss the money. I miss the two holidays a year, the second car, shopping whenever I feel like it etc. I miss not having to budget but when it comes down to it; this is a lifestyle choice we make. We are comfortable but we give up having extras by my staying at home and sometimes I am tempted to go back just for that.
Do you ever wish you could work part-time?
Yes. At least once a week. But then I think about putting my daughter in crèche and I start feeling anxious. If I could get a family member to take her one or two days a week (or three half days) and the job arose then I would probably take it for the social aspect. My little fantasy would be that my parents or in-laws take her over two/three days and I work in our local bookshop cafe. I would love that. I would earn the minimum wage but I wouldn’t be doing it for the money – it would be for the head space and the sense of usefulness that I don’t really get as a SAHM. I think that I won’t see the benefits of what I am doing until my child is grown up and is (please God) a well-rounded person. Although I don’t believe being a SAHM exclusively does that – you don’t have to be a SAHM to be a good parent. This is just how I can be a good parent. I know I couldn’t handle the stress of work, cleaning, managing the household and family life as well as playing with and caring for my kid/s. I don’t know how other women do it and stay sane. I must have a very low threshold or else they have a very high one for managing their stress.
What do you do for yourself – your own creative outlet or “me-time”?
Running and strength training have been an amazing outlet-between the endorphins and the head space – I truly couldn’t live without it. It was only after becoming a mother that I really started to appreciate fitness. I also write – I have always wanted to be a writer but have been too hyper-active to fully commit to a novel so I started blogging to try to get into the habit of it. This hobby has really taken the isolation out of being at home all day as I connect with others through the blogging community.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
No. Everyone is different. Some mothers I know have told me they would go insane if they stayed at home and are happy to go back to full-time work after the standard maternity leave. I know that my heart wouldn’t be in it if I were forced to return to work due to financial needs. I do think that a lot of mothers I know that need that second income could really do with flexible working hours and maybe even go part-time. Anyone I know who wants to stay at home is willing to make the financial sacrifices but from a mortgage point of view that is not always a choice. For me, the balance is staying at home until the kids are in school and then starting my ‘dream’ career. Whatever that is.
If you could do any job, what would it be? Or would you prefer to stay at home regardless of any dream job with dream hours?
I have a few ‘dream’ jobs. I dream about becoming a psychotherapist and working with children in this capacity. I also dream of being a writer – both a novelist and feature writer. I have started writing a book and practising feature writing with www.thejournalist.ie I am planning to start studying a part-time degree next year after I’ve had the baby but I haven’t yet decided if it’s going to be psychotherapy/psychology or on the creative side of things. I do know that I have an innate desire/ambition to help people so whatever my job is, it will have to fulfil that need.
At the moment I would stay at home even if my dream job was offered to me tomorrow. Mainly because I simply can’t bear the thoughts of leaving my child. I strongly feel that my place is here for my child and future child – for the time being. Also, I know that my dream job will consume me and I will indulge in it once I am freed up a little more as my children become more independent as they get older.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?
I do. I remember when I got engaged. I went to leave my job (not in any way related to my engagement) because the hours were ridiculous. We were working late and travelling to exhibitions or investment locations at the weekends. We had time in lieu but could only take it when it was quiet so for up to three months at a time we would be working six or seven days with little rest. I planned on leaving as I just don’t cope well with that kind of stress and I simply don’t have that kind of ambition for the business world.
Anyway, my boss offered me a part-time position. It was a different job but turned out to be a bit of a promotion and the salary bump meant that my part-time wage wasn’t dramatically lower than my full-time wage. One thing she said to me though; her father was a director in the company and he basically told her that that would be the end of me – once I got married, what with kids and all. He forewarned her that I would be looking for less hours and less willing to work the six-/ seven-day week etc. She said it to me out of innocence and because we had a very good relationship but it always stuck in my mind as I had never before considered what my getting engaged said to an employer.
Do you have any advice for expectant or new mothers thinking about leaving their jobs to stay-at-home, e.g. how to weigh up the decision, how to know it’s the right thing to do?
For me it was like a ‘calling’. I just knew it in my heart. It’s not a good alternative if you just hate your job and want to get out of it. Staying at home all day is the most challenging thing you’ll ever have to do so if you have the freedom of choice you need to really want to do it. And it is perfectly OK if that’s not what you really want to do.
Line up some outlets for some evenings such as exercise like walking/jogging with a friend or an evening class. Try to take time to be creative or be in nature – these things are very nourishing and rejuvenating. You will need to consciously take time for ‘you’ because when you are at home all day minding kids ‘you’ disappear behind the scenes. You will need a supportive partner to be able for this. I always argue that being a SAHM is my work – my husband has his work and I have mine. When he gets home from work it then becomes shared work. If you believe that all the house/kid work is yours then that means you literally work 24/7. That will drain you and you will end up hating your partner. Make sure their expectations are on the same page as yours.
Although maternity leave gives you a good feel for it bear in mind that when you are staying at home you are not getting money in to your bank account. Can you cope asking your partner for money? We had a joint account since we moved in together and always had the opinion of it being ‘our money’ so I don’t ever have to ask my husband for money. Also, we are both on the same page when it comes to frugality and what we value enough to spend money on. Being a SAHM is unpaid work – it is difficult for some women to have to ask their partner for money especially after having contributed to the household finances for so long so you should definitely think about how you are going to manage once you stop earning.
Financially, you must know that you can afford it. Children are so ridiculously expensive. I underestimated how expensive they are and I think everyone does. I can only stay at home because my husband earns a good wage and our mortgage/rent does not require two wages. That is not to say that some months we don’t delve into our savings. Our savings have dramatically reduced since I have stopped earning so I would recommend that you at least have a few grand in savings to get you through the transition unless you can literally cut your spending immediately. Between emergencies like a broken car, pet healthcare, doctor bills, ridiculous gas and electricity bills (last Winter nearly broke us) and the months it took for us to cop on and realise that we can no longer afford the same things we used to, we went through a few sad months of worrying about money.
It took us about three months (after a year of spending like eejits) of serious budgeting to realise what our new lifestyle is all about. It’s not that bad at all but just say goodbye to flitting away €20 on nameless crap just because you wanted to get out of the house. We don’t drink and don’t smoke. We have no expensive hobbies. We go to the cinema once a month and I do most of my shopping in Aldi. We have one car. I walk everywhere and get the bus to Dublin when I want to visit family. If I need the car I drop my husband to work and take it for the day. When the in-laws go on holiday they sometimes give us their car for a week and despite the freedom this has a huge impact on our monthly budget with the extra petrol money and I tend to spend a lot more money when I have the car.
Birthday presents are no more than €20/€30 (aside from our daughter). It took me nearly two years to tell myself that I simply cannot afford to live that way any more – don’t make the same mistake I did. You really have to let go of a lot of materialism if you want to be a single income family (unless your income is above the average, of course).
Pocket money: If you have a skill that you can use on a flexible basis then use it or train for it. I am a massage therapist so I take clients in the evenings. I don’t earn enough to call it an earning but it’s nice to have a little extra. I put this into the credit union but every now and then I use it for a family outing or just a really nice lunch in Avoca or to put toward winter boots and coats etc.
Any other comments?
Being a stay at home mother or a working mother – all that matters is that you are keeping the balance. It is not that one is better or worse than the other and I don’t believe that children lose out one way or other. People criticise me for being ‘too close’ to my daughter. I have been told that was spend too much time together. A working mother might be criticised in other ways. Nobody is left alone – criticism is out there for everyone. What matters most is that you embrace your situation (whether that is by choice or financial commitments) and make the most of it. Own it. If you are at home – own it. If you are working – own it. Be it and be the best you can be in it. Ignore comments and features that tell you otherwise. Trust your own gut over everything else.
Thank you Laura for taking the time to give us this insight into life as a stay-at-home mother. I love your honesty – it’s hard work and it’s wonderful, it’s frustrating and it’s fantastic. That makes sense – to me, very little in the world of parenting is black and white. Working outside the home can similarly be stressful or fulfilling, and that can change within the day or the hour. So lots of shades of grey there too. It’s not easy either way but as you quite rightly say, it’s important to do the best you can with whichever situation you find yourself in.