It really annoys me when I hear mums say that, ‘My real job is…’ or ‘back in the real world…’ as a reply to someone asking what they did before children. I was a teacher doing a job I loved and when I became pregnant I was working with really challenging children and I really felt I was doing something worthwhile, useful and helping to sort out some of the current generation to help shape the next. I never really thought about having children and what effect it would have on my career and I never really thought about how I would feel not being a full time worker or being a stay at home mum.
I started my maternity leave in a tearful whirl, who would take my wonderful, difficult but amazing children on? Who would defend them from the target setters, Ofsted inspectors and school improvement plan? (I chose to work in a failing school after working in a Beacon –now ‘outstanding’ school – much to the astonishment of the staff I left) Anyway, I’m sure I’ll write more about my lovelies but for now I’ll move on.
I felt unable to work full time so could not carry on working at the difficult school as they felt a full time teacher was needed to give the children stability, I wholeheartedly agreed and went back to my original school as they had asked if I would. I worked part time and I first noticed that I was no longer ‘part of the team’ when a colleague said ‘It’s alright for you, you get 2 days off while the rest of us are working.’ I felt a bit surprised as my ‘days off’ were with my son so hardly a chance to kick back and lie in the sun. Also, I still had to plan and I did this whilst he was asleep and I now regret that I was sometimes disappointed when he woke early from a nap as I hadn’t had the chance to fit in all I needed to do.
I was fortunate to be able to make the choice as to stay at home or work and I gave up work, for many reason but the upshot was I became a stay at home mum. I found this a different sort of challenge as I had hours to fill and didn’t really know how to fill them. I made friends with other mums and there seemed an unwritten pact that we all had to qualify who we were by saying what we did before having children. ‘Hi, my name’s Ally and I’m mum to Jack (1) but really I’m an accountant!’, ‘Nice to meet you Emma, I’m Josie and this is my little girl Sophie but really I am an aerobics instructor!’ I was finding that society had switched off to me as soon as they found out I was a Housewife (I even hate saying the damn word!) but worst of all I was finding that other Mums had switched off from their current roles and justified themselves through what they used to do. Maybe that’s why I sometimes don’t feel what I do is valued. It’s even harder when the women I meet don’t value what they do too or they seem not to.
Yes we need to support mums who stay at home as they are doing the job of raising the next generation in a hands on way. This isn’t to bash those who chose nursery, child-minder’s and go back to work, we all know choice is a luxury not everyone has. But I think it has to come from us all. We shouldn’t expect workers to find us interesting if all we do is talk about babies but we should expect co-workers not to tease about having numerous ‘days off’ and try to understand that we work damn hard on those days off and also they probably did so too. But I do think the most important thing of all is that we have to change how we feel about ourselves and not try to justify with the ‘back in the real world…’ kind of retorts. Being woken up at 3 in the morning with a child who has wet the bed meaning you have to do a complete change of bedding whilst consoling a teary child who also needs changing then doing a full day with 3 children negotiating all their different needs and all the rest of the just ‘normal’ mothering that goes on day to is pretty much as real life as it gets. The next person who mentions that being a housewife is all watching ‘This Morning’ and drinking endless cups of tea (a friend’s husband actually thought this!) I’d love them to come and spend 24 hours living my life -hopefully when the baby’s teething and our 3 year old discovers his fear of the dark again meaning he won’t stay in his bed. They would then have a slight understanding of what family life is like and how it is most certainly smack bang, right in the middle of the real world…