“Do you work?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, how about you?”
“Oh I’m a teacher… what do you do?”
“I’m a mum – I have two children.”
“Oh no, I mean what do you do for a JOB.”
“Yeh, exactly. I’m a mum.”
Contraversial I know, but this is exactly how the conversation I’ve never had (except in my head) goes about the disconnect that exists between being a stay-at-home-mum, and having a “proper job”.
There lies a question.
A matter for debate.
Or perhaps just another red herring designed to pit parents against one another: is staying at home with the children the same as having a job?
Well now you’ve asked (it’s ok, I know you haven’t…) there are many similarities:
- from the minute you wake up, you’re on someone else’s clock
- breaks where you get to sit and stare into space are few and far between
- time to do the things you want to like read, write, yoga and re-watch all eight series of West Wing on a loop (for example) are limited to a couple of short hours each day
- there are parts of the job that you enjoy, there are other parts that you HATE
- there are parts of the day that leave you buzzing and mentally fist-bumping yourself
- there are parts of the day when you feel like you’re not good enough and you’re sure you’re going to be found out
- your boss(es) are demanding and at times unreasonable
- there is never enough time
- you never get to the end of your to-dos
- you’re tired at the end of the day
But there are also a number of differences. Some, I’ll admit, are good ones:
- the fear of sleep deprivation is no longer as strong. The stakes at work are much higher whereas no one gets sacked for putting the car-keys in the fridge
- small children throwing tantrums are infinitely preferable to the teenagers who threw swear words and the occasional pencil/ ball of spittle-stuck-paper/ chair
- boredom and frustration sometimes rear their heads but there isn’t the eye-popping, migraine-inducing level of S.T.R.E.S.S that being a teacher entailed
While others are B.A.D:
- conversation consists of endlessly repeating what the two-year-old said so that he stops, interspersed with lectures on the skin colour of Polar Bears (black, fwiw) from the four-year-old, and asking her if she is hungry/ needs a wee
- you get followed to the toilet
- there is no tangible progression, no acknowledgment
- there is no salary
The question it often feels like is really being asked is, is staying at home easier than going to work?
Its a sticky, tricky one, full of potential flash points and petty resentment, something I’m aware of as I admit that despite all my hand-wringing I find staying at home with my children easier than what I did before.
But then I had a job that sometimes felt like war, 14 hour days and working weekends were not uncommon, and I have enough friends telling me going to work is a dollyhob compared to being at home to be confident this is not the case for everyone.
About as commital as a pre-Amal George Clooney I know, BUT one thing I will insist is that staying at home with the children IS like having a job.
The point is that there is a distinction to be made between keeping children alive, and parenting. Which, incidentally, is why Jeremy Kyle’s sofas are never going to be bereft of guests.
The day-to-day triumvirate of providing sustenance, hygiene and entertainment is not parenting. That is looking after children.
Parenting is about the example you set, the choices you make, the values you instill, the heartache that accompanies all of those, and the hope that the overall outcome of your literal blood, sweat and (lots of) tears will be a Good Human.
It is generally accepted that when mums and dads, through choice or necessity, entrust their children to someone else to look after, they are not abandoning their position as a parent.
And from the other side of the (invisible) coin, if someone else – whether it be a childminder, nursery, nanny or the next-door neighbour’s teenager – gets paid for doing what you do for free, then I don’t see why it can’t be classed as a job?
One that is really hard work.
Just like the job your other half does when he/she leaves the house.
It’s all hard work.
So instead of wasting time arguing over who has the biggest shit-show for a life, why don’t we all just agree that challenge and compromise exist whichever way we turn?
Rather than sticking up the vees behind one another’s back, lets heartily pat each other instead, because the bottom line is that we’re all doing the best J.O.B that we can.