One of the toughest things I went through after I gave up working to become a stay-at-home mum was the loss of independence. I had been earning my own money since I was fifteen years old. I always had a part-time job during school. I have vivid memories of my mum coming home on several occasions to tell me that I was starting work in one of the local cafés or restaurants in our hometown. I was met many times with the words “You’re starting this Saturday”, (whether I liked it or not). And yes, some of them were good and some were absolutely ghastly, but it gave me a taste for working and more importantly, I had my own money. And I liked it.
So I continued working part-time all the way through college, eventually getting out then into the working world. You don’t realise it at the time but there is a wonderful sense of achievement in being able to work and then reap the benefits of that work, which is to have independence and your own money. That’s why I think I found it so hard to cope after I gave up working to stay at home and take care of my children. All of a sudden the money wasn’t there anymore. And that was a very strange feeling to me and a big, big shock to my system. As far as I was concerned, everything that I used to do for myself had to stop – buying clothes, getting my hair done or even buying myself make-up, which I always loved. Because it wasn’t my money that I was spending now, it was his.
I sat with my husband many, many times talking about this, often crying about how I had run out of toiletries or badly needed a new pair of runners but couldn’t bring myself to go out and buy them. He tried so hard, pleaded with me even to go out and get whatever I needed. But I kept shaking my head through the tears, telling him that I couldn't go out and spend his money like that. To which he kept replying “it's not my money, it's our money”.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took me almost two years to finally begin to accept that statement. Even now I can't say that I fully accept it (or ever will) but I have finally learned to live with it. Now I will go out and buy something if I need it and not feel as traumatised as I used to. After many discussions on the topic he has finally brought me around to believe that although I am not bringing money in, I am still doing a job here at home and an important one at that. The trouble is my brain has always had trouble connecting the two. To me, a job was not a job unless there was a pay cheque at the end of it.
I also know that for me, part of the problem has been worrying about what other people might think of me. There have been many occasions where someone has turned to me in conversation and said, “So what do you do for a living?” And every time I have stopped and hesitated, afraid to say what I do, for fear that if I say that I am a stay-at-home mum, that will not be a good enough answer. And yes, the truth is that sometimes when I have said it I have been met with a pause and a blank stare. But there have equally been times when I have told people and they have nodded (almost patted me on the back) and said: “Ah, a full-time job then, seven days a week”.
The truth is people will always have their own opinions, but most of the time we are the ones judging ourselves. I know I did, I judged myself into oblivion until I was almost a nervous wreck. But I don’t do that anymore because I know that I made my own decision to give up work for a while and stay at home. And I now know that this is ok. However, I should point out that I have great respect for any woman who has children and goes out to work every day because that is a tough thing to juggle.
I know that someday I will return to work when the time is right. But in the meantime, I have learned some valuable lessons. The main one being that giving up your independence completely (especially when you have had it for so long), can have a very negative effect on you and leave you feeling very lost and low at times. I have also learned that taking care of your children is wonderful but you cannot give yourself up to them completely. Otherwise, you will find yourself starting to fade away.
So whatever you do, try not to give yourself up completely. Try and hold onto some of that independence if you can, be it financially or just personally. You will feel happier within yourself, I can guarantee it. And a big shout out to my lovely husband for always recognising that what I do here at home is a job, and never, ever being greedy or selfish with ‘our’ money.