Yesterday I overheard a conversation between two women that went something like this:
Woman 1: Wouldn’t it be so nice to be a stay at home mother? You just won’t get those years back with your child.
Woman 2: I stayed home with my child for five years, and it was nice. I never got bored and always found things to do. But I think mothers who work are better mothers.
Woman 1: Oh really, why’s that?
Woman 2: When you’re at home with your kids all day you just get irritated and annoyed because you’re with them all the time. When you work and you see them less, you appreciate them more and really see their development and how they’re changing. You don’t see that when you’re home with them all day.
This conversation was so interesting to me, and as a SAHM I wasn’t remotely offended because it epitomised something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months now.
The Art of Convincing.
Aren’t we all just convincing ourselves that what we’re doing is the absolute best for our child? That staying home full time with your child is the right thing? That going back to work and putting your child into nursery is the right thing? To me, woman 2 has convinced herself that being a working mother is better. To be fair, she’s clearly seen both sides and has decided that for her family, a working mother is best. But it still resonated with me as I constantly hear women, mothers, and parents justify to others and to ourselves that the parental decisions we are making are the absolute best ones. We’ve got facts and data and anecdotes to back us up, to help convince others, to convince ourselves.
A couple of months ago, I started to look at nurseries for Freddy. We talked about putting him into nursery a few days a week, even if I wasn’t working. At the time, I had this running circles in my head:
“I can’t give Freddy what he needs developmentally. I’m not a professional childminder. I don’t know what games to play, what arts and crafts to do with him, how to help him learn. And he needs to be around more children to learn how to socialise.“
After talking to some other mothers about their near-term plans to enroll their babies in nursery, knowing that most of the other mothers in my life had their children in nursery or in other care at a young age, and not really knowing any other SAHMs, I was convincing myself that I needed to do the same. I would listen to what other parents had said and repeated that same scripted conversation with myself and with others, like a broken record, about why I was going to put Freddy into a nursery even though I wasn’t working. Socialisation. Development. I’m not good enough. He needs more.
I talk to my own mother through this, who rolled her eyes at me on Facetime. She reminded me that when I was a baby, she was also a SAHM and didn’t put me into nursery when she wasn’t working. Eventually, at about two years old, I attended a pre-school a few mornings a week until I started kindergarden (reception) at five years old. And….I’m fine. She believes she was good enough, and that I am too.
So now I’m convincing myself that my decision to stay home with Freddy and to hold off on putting him into professional care until he’s closer to pre-school age is the best thing for him, and for me. I have friends convincing themselves that their decision to go back to work and put their child into nursery is the best thing for them and their child.
‘They’ll learn loads, more than they will at home with me.”
“I just want to be home with him while he’s young and I don’t have a job to go back to anyway.”
“I just sit on my phone all day. I’m not giving him enough.”
“My mother stayed home with us and still had a great career when we were older.”
We all have our rehearsed elevator pitch that we readily share with anyone who asks or seems to question the parental decisions we’ve made.
But really, why are we doing this to ourselves? We are all just doing what we need to do to get through the day and the gauntlet that is being a mother or a parent. Some parents have no choice but to work, so their decision to put their child into nursery doesn’t need any justification to anyone – not even themselves. They don’t need to convince themselves. Some parents decide that they’d prefer one parent to stay home with the child in the early years, and they deserve no less respect and should suffer no judgement either. Some parents want to send their kids to private schools, others are happy with state schools. Some choose baby-led weaning while others stick with purees and spoons. Some co-sleep, some don’t. The list goes on.
We all make different choices for our children, which is normal and expected, so why must we always feel the need to convince ourselves and seek justification from others?
So, I’m not offended that woman 2 thinks she’s a better mother for working because I’m convinced that I’m doing what’s right for my child just as she’s convinced that she’s doing the same.