“It’s a privilege to have a front row seat for these years of her childhood and I’m very grateful for it”
This week I meet Suzy, who is the proud owner of one husband, one daughter, and one very demanding dog. She blogs at The Airing Cupboard, which is a heavily edited and much glamourised version of their lives. Except when she talks about poo.
And now could you tell me a little about your career history – what do you do before you had your children and for how long you were working at this? Did you enjoy this work?
When I finished college I worked in a yacht club for two years running sailing events and doing admin. I enjoyed the job but I wanted to start the career I’d set out to do, so I set up a graphic design business with my partner (now husband), Brendan. We worked together for four years until he moved to another company. I kept up the freelance work for another two years but decided to stop after Amelie was born. I found it incredibly stressful trying to fit the work into naps and evenings. I enjoyed the creative process, but being self-employed is incredibly tough at the best of times; when you’re trying to soothe a wailing newborn whilst fending off clients who want things done that minute, your priorities suddenly become very, very clear.
Did you consider going back to work at any stage or did you always feel you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom?
To be honest, I am a little surprised to find myself a stay-at-home mother. I certainly don’t think I’m finished working forever, but having Amelie has given me the break I needed to reconsider my career. I don’t think I want to go back into the design industry, which means I’ll be starting out in something new. For now, I’m very happy to be at home while she’s young and I’m grateful that we can afford for me to do that. I think my career will get going in a different direction in a few years.
Did you find being self-employed gave you flexibility, after your daughter was born?
You could say that I had huge flexibility and none at all. I was working from home but that meant I was always at work. The design industry can be very pressured and deadline-driven; there are a lot of late nights and early mornings, and when it’s quieter you’re stressed about finding new work. In my case, once I had Amelie and told my clients that I was working part-time hours, their expectations were no less demanding so it remained quite difficult.
Is there anything you miss about working?
Sometimes I miss saying that I have a job! When I first stopped working I’d hate it when people asked me what I did. I don’t think anyone judged me but I judged myself. I was uncomfortable with the title, or lack thereof. That said, the longer I do it the more confident I am about it. I’ve realised the value in staying at home and am proud to do it. Plus I know I’m lucky to be in this position when so many don’t have the choice.
What do you love about being at home with your child?
I love that I never miss anything and I can teach her so much. Sometimes I’ll text Brendan and tell him about some first of one kind or another – first time paddling in the sea, a new word or sentence – and I know how sad he is to miss these things. It’s a privilege to have a front row seat for these years of her childhood and I’m very grateful for it.
Do you ever wish you could work part-time?
Not really. Amelie is due to start Montessori in a year’s time, so I may reconsider things then. Or, more likely, I’ll get pregnant and have another child so it’ll be back to ground zero.
What do you do for yourself – your own creative outlet or “me-time”?
I blog. It gives me access to a great community and I get to flex my writing muscles. I want to write a book in the next few years and blogging has given me the practice and confidence to think that I could manage it. Getting published might be a different story.
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?
I think everyone’s different. Some women take the minimum maternity leave and look forward to going back to work. I think part-time can seem like a great solution but that’s as long as the job actually ends at lunch-time. I’ve seen people who work part-time but end up trying to squeeze huge amounts of work into fewer hours. That must be incredibly stressful, knowing that you’ve got to leave to pick a child up from daycare or school when there are still things to be done. I think the ideal situation would be where a woman can choose when and how or if she works and not have to base her decision on money.
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 would love to earn a living from writing once Amelie starts school. I would prefer to work when she’s not there and go back to being a mum once she’s in the door.
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 think women are in a very difficult position. Society can’t quantify the value of raising a child, so it’s unable to embed it into the capitalist model. Women are usually forced to choose and to sacrifice, if necessary. There tends to be compromise. If you’re a woman with a high-flying job, you can end up divorced from things in your personal life. And if you’re more family-focused, your career is likely to suffer. I know I’m generalising here, and I’m not saying that women can’t achieve everything that a man can, but I think that if she wants to have both the career and the family, something’s going to give.
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?
I think you have to follow your gut. If you’re doing it for the right reasons and have considered all the implications, then I’d say go for it. You won’t get those years back. I’m totally biased, though, obviously.
Thank you Suzy for taking part – it’s lovely to have your input. It’s always inspiring to hear that anyone is happy with what they’re doing – whether that’s working full-time inside or outside the home, or anything else in between.
I think what you said about the glass ceiling is very true and very relevant. I think most people agree that it’s not possible to “have it all” if having it all means a top-tier career and an abundance of family time. It would absolutely be ideal if we could all work when and how we want, without the pressure of financial concerns. And yes, part-time work can vary hugely from job to job – as you say, in some cases it can be even more stressful than full-time work. It’s probably about flexibility and finding what works for each individual family, more so than part-time being a solution in itself – but it’s a very good start I think.
I was really interested in what you said about missing saying you have a job! I think that’s very prevalent and it’s not talked about so much. I know that it’s something I’d be conscious of if I gave up work, though I find it difficult to admit that to myself!
And your point about society being unable to quantify the value of raising a child is very well made. In theory, it makes no sense at all that mothers who look after children are not paid anything to do so. In reality, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon, meaning lots of families getting by with less because one parent stays at home, and lots of reluctant parents continuing to work because they can’t afford to drop one income.
On a lighter note, good luck with your future book – if it’s anything like your brilliant blog, I cannot wait to read it.