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I don’t know what it is about being at home when you have children that gets to people, but it really stirs something up.

From the moment you go on maternity leave you are constantly asked when you are returning to work. Even though its the last thing that you need or should be worrying about during your short precious period of time with your baby. For most parents maternity leave is the longest period they will ever be afforded with their children.

But what if you decide to not return to work, or for some reason you can’t? Does the response change?

I returned to work after my first child but despite adoring my job, something I had passionately pursued for over a decade, I really just wanted to be home with my baby. It’s what personally for me felt right.

It wasn’t because I didn’t like working or because it was easier. There were many days when I was a much better nurse than I was a mother and some days home was easier, and others made the hospital wards seem like a walk in the park.

Like many people I did at times miss the adult company and after all, it was something I studied hard to do. I had a fantastic career that I was proud of. It was in no way an easy decision to make, but for various reasons we decided that I would take a career break and focus on the children. It was what I wanted to do at that point and my partner supported that.

People were often puzzled by this choice. People who didn’t have kids often gave off an air of being annoyed or aggrieved that I should be able to do this. Parents who had returned to work often seemed unsupportive too. The response I almost always got was questioning of how long I intended to do this, and more often than not, questioning what I did with my time. A fantasy that I am laying around pampering myself, grapes draped into my mouth.

It was a very rare thing indeed to receive a positive response. The only people who really championed my decision were other stay at home parents and parents who were home educating.

But it was at least tolerated to a degree, until my youngest was at preschool age. This is where things really took a distinctive turn. On seeing old friends or colleagues I hadn’t seen a while, there would be the inevitable conversation of what we were up to in our lives and when I said I wasn’t going out to work, but was a full time parent, I was frequently met with a degree of veiled hostility.

The immediate response would always be to ask how old my children were now, followed by a clear cut deciphering whether they consider my decision to be a worthy one. You could visibly see the cogs moving as they weighed up this information.

This would almost always be followed by the immediate question of at what point I was intending to work or the question of what I “do all day?”

Now let’s pause here to think a moment. Why do we do this?

Is there no societal value in looking after our children? Why are we so judgy about this and so adamant on children being pushed into childcare? And why do we feel stay at home parents need to quantify their time?

What strikes me most in these situations is the vibe that comes with it. The distinct feeling of being judged and of a degree of anger. People appear genuinely cross that I am at home. I’ve spent many an hour over the past few years thinking about this and trying to make sense of other peoples reaction. What is clear to me is that there is definitely surprise, a degree of resentment and in some cases actual anger, and this points me towards one of two things- Jealousy/resentment or Judgement.

Let’s be honest, if we could all not work most people would love that. If we had the financial choice to retire and quit work to pursue other passions many people would. If we won the lottery jackpot most people would leave their job in a heartbeat. Perhaps they may eventually do a bit of volunteering or work on other projects. All this assuming money was not a problem.

So the not working bit really isn’t that hard to understand. I had children to care for and a house to run. All that stuff everyone else has to squeeze in on at the weekend or evening, all the chores and shopping, well I do all of that stuff during the day so that my evenings and weekends are for the kids. Remember, if you don’t have kids all of your time is yours to do this stuff. My evenings and weekends are not.

Now my youngest has started school I do have time to for the first time ever, to do some nice things occasionally. All my passions I threw aside when I had children I am finally picking up again as well as finding new joys. I have occasional time to write, work on projects and create. All things that are good for my mental health and make me a better parent and human to be around.

I deserve joy. People who do not have children have every moment of their non-working time to do as they please. I do not have this luxury.

I can totally understand why a working parent may find it hard to see me having this life. For them they are working and caring for their children and running a home. This is hardcore and the most undervalued job. I know from my time working after I had my son. I cannot even imagine doing it with more than one child and juggling school and everything else. Some parents really want to go back to work and this is absolutely ok too, as well as their choice to do so, and I am aware many people also do not have the choice, for various reasons and have to work.

Resentment here I can more readily understand. There is a position of privilege that I am in that I am able to be home. We have managed to make it work for us in ways that some families on lower incomes may not. But what people need to understand is, we are not well off ourselves. We have made and do make massive sacrifices to have this lifestyle.

Sometimes I feel that this is part of the resentment. People look at their own positions, everyone is struggling right now, and they don’t understand how we can afford it, and assumptions are made?

The reality is we are not able to have the lifestyle we would have if we both worked. We live in a Private rented property which costs an absolute fortune with bills on top. We are not from affluent families.

We do not have families that are able to financially support our lifestyle choice. We do not have inheritance or other assets.

The simple fact is once we pay our bills we have a very tiny budget to play with. We do not have money for holidays or luxuries. I maybe go out once or twice a month. All of our clothing and birthday/Christmas purchases are almost exclusively second hand. We do free day trips and activities locally. And we budget. We have a spreadsheet with everything accounted for and when we run out we run out.

I have a very small savings pot to cover us one or two months if Simon was to lose his job. This I saved leading up to me leaving nursing. It’s only a small amount but this buffer is what allows us to cope in times where big bills come or we decide to take a holiday. We then pay it back bit by bit.

The reality is people are often quick to judge as if our choice somehow impacts them. It impacts nobody but us, but for us the sacrifice is worth it at this juncture. It may not always be.

Given the choice most people wouldn’t want to live the life we do in its financial restriction. They would not want to make this sacrifice.

BUT even if I were lucky enough to be from a more privileged background and had all the money in the world, or neither of us were working and were needing to be supported by the state. So what?

Why do stay at home parents owe you an explanation?

Why are we so obsessed with people needing to declare their daily timetable and justify what they do?

Then there is the position of judgement. Something I feel from other women who do not have children as well as past colleagues. The unsaid impression that I have somehow sold out. That being a financially independent woman who chose to quit her job to be a mother is sad and reductionist.

I find this the saddest part of all. For all our progress in our strive towards equality as Women and birthing people, we are still undermining our choices! It’s not like it was expected of me. In fact it took some convincing of Si at first. I WANT to be home. There was no job in the world that was going to be more important, more valuable and more rewarding than raising my children full time.

I hated leaving them to go to work. It wasn’t good for me personally. And despite this I can still be a good feminist and I can raise thoughtful children who are accepting of folks lifestyle choices, whatever they may be. Whether that is to be a parent at home, a parent going out to work, or choosing not to have a family at all.

That is what feminism is about.

It’s judgement that lets the side down.

It’s high time people started valuing parents’ choices to have the family make up they choose. Or respect whichever dynamic families have through choice or necessity.

For those who juggle family and work that’s hard but you know what i’m doing all day if you actually think about it. All the stuff you have to cram in that makes your weekends and evenings chaos and hard work. My life is just less stressful and thats ok.

And those that don’t have children, stop asking what I do all day! I’m not asking you what you do with every waking moment you aren’t at work and then judging if, for a moment, after running round cleaning up after just yourselves, you might actually have a moment to, dare I say it, do nothing!

We are allowed to rest!

And yes, even if we did ‘choose’ to have kids. I don’t need to whip myself and live a life of martyrdom, and I don’t owe you an explanation.

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