This piece is in no way a judgement on anyone who makes different choices to the ones I have made, in fact the main point of this is to engage with those who judge others in this way. This is simply about our individual choices based on our unique circumstances, your choices may be different and you have my respect as I would hope that I have yours.
Never Complain, Never Explain!
I am definitely about to break this piece of advice from Benjamin Disraeli in that what follows involves a lot of explaining, but being as I have been known to on occasion complain, some explanation is also on occasion necessary lol, and perhaps this may in some way make others feel less alone in their circumstances, by being more transparent. However this post should not be taken as me complaining, I am happy with our decisions, they are right for us, and ‘I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content’ [or rather I try] – Phillipians 4:11[ESV]
‘Why not just go out to work if you’re struggling?’, ‘You’ll never own your own home unless you both work’, ‘What do you do all day?’, ‘You can do something to bring in extra cash surely?’ ‘I bet your husband is jealous that you get to stay at home all day’, ‘ you can’t complain that you’re struggling for money when you’re just sat at home all day’. These comments and many more are what it is possible to hear when you’re a stay at home parent on a lower income, I seemed to get somewhat of a free pass on this while the children were at home but certainly less so now. In short generally people reduce the myriad of issues facing modern parents down to an oversimplified equation of: more wages=better off. It is in my experience, never that simple. I think people do understand that there are difficulties but so often when we judge other people’s circumstances we fail to give them the grace we often liberally give to ourselves.
So why indeed? Why choose a moderate amount of hardship in order to be at home? Why face these kinds of comments, the disapproval, the judgement and simply respond with a smile? That’s the big question I hope to answer here, at least from our own personal perspective.
Firstly, and most obviously, it costs money for both parents to work. With 3 children still under 10, to cover after school childcare, losses in government assistance and travel and clothing for work for a normal 9-5 job I would need to bring home a minimum of £25,050 after tax just to break even, that’s a salary of approximately £32,000 a year. To be clear, I would go to work 40 hours a week and be not a penny better off despite both parents going to work and bringing in a joint salary of £57,000 due to huge childcare costs and other losses in income. If I went to work for just for a few hours while the children are at school I would certainly cut down those childcare costs , at least in term-time but I would be highly unlikely to earn enough in those hours to take us beyond the losses in government assistance, we would still be not a penny better off. I can’t run in home childcare because my husband works nights and sleeps during the day and I can’t work weekends because my husband is contracted to work weekends without notice and weekend childcare basically does not exist. That is our conundrum but it is the same one faced by hundreds of thousands of parents every day. I am not complaining, this is the way it is and we chose to have these children, we will do what it takes to raise them as best we can, but to define this as a choice is oversimplifying to say the least. It is a decision we have made together as a family based on the options available to us, these problems will lessen gradually as the children get older and no longer need paid childcare.
The invisible costs
Secondly both parents working comes with other costs, invisible ones. We still have a largish family to take care of, I would still need to find the energy after my paid working hours to come home and cook a meal from scratch, a box pizza and oven chips is not an option for us due to dietary issues. I would still need to do approximately 4 hours of laundry, ironing, and housework in the evening as a minimum, and I would still need to find the time and energy to pay my children some attention, to hear them read and read to them, to listen to them and make them feel important.I would still need to find time and energy for my marriage, to converse with and enjoy the company of my husband to maintain our healthy relationship, and I would still need to find the time and energy to keep tabs on the admin of running a home, budgets, and bills, appointments and events. Many would argue that if I was working full time I would be entitled to expect my husband to do as much of this type of work as I do. After two decades I can tell you, that simply isn’t going to happen, my husband works hard for his family, he takes pride in providing for us, but he has never once in all the years I’ve known him picked up a duster or an iron, or considered that the child having a birthday party in our child’s class needs to be bought a present in advance of said party. I could rail against that, I could complain, and argue and fight until the cows come home but all I would achieve is a wrecked marriage, something the statistics and personal experience tells me will greatly harm my children, to say nothing of our personal happiness. So something somewhere would have to give, and our current state of relative domestic harmony would disappear.
Serving two masters
Thirdly I would be a pretty terrible employee, one or the other of the children is usually sickening for something, this year alone I have had to attend more than 10 hospital, doctors or emergency dental appointments. To say nothing of the toll that “doing the second shift” would take on my own health. In the end the work I do, while belittled by so many, is actually not unsubstantial, or unnecessary, and employers tend to insist that somebody else does it during your usual working hours.
On personal fulfilment
Finally, and perhaps I shouldn’t admit this because it will make those determined to think badly of us to doubt how seriously I have genuinely considered the difficulties laid out above, but we both want for me to stay at home; partly because of the above but also because we are both happy with this arrangement. My husband works hard all night, and sleeps (mostly) well all day in the sure and certain knowledge that I am taking care of his home and children in the best way possible, that his uniform will be clean, there will be food to take with him for lunch, and that if one of the children needs to come home sick from school (or indeed there is a global pandemic and someone needs to take care of them full time and supervise their education) that I will be there to do that, no questions, no arguments over whether work or sleep is more important, he can go to work and do his job well, properly rested and unstressed, while I can do all those things and be satisfied that my children are well cared for and happy and so am I. I’m not going to apologise or feel the need to make excuses for that. We each have to decide what is best for our family and this is what we, with our own individual circumstances, experiences and convictions, have decided.
Do these choices mean hardship and sacrifice? Yes absolutely, and yes on occasion you may find me letting things get to me, and yes people will make judgements about those choices from a place of ignorance. The worst thing though, the most hurtful thing possible really, is that people who think that they understand us, people who know us well, would or could assume that I stay home out of laziness, that I would happily watch my children go without in order to sit about all day doing nothing of value. That the work I have given most of my adult life to is so devalued because I do it out of love and sacrifice instead of for a wage, is the most saddening thing of all. So let’s not judge one another, if you choose to work full-time or part-time, or think I’ve completely lost my head, that’s fine, let’s just agree not to presume that we know everything there is to know about the best way to live each others lives, and give one another grace. Lord knows this parenting malarkey is hard enough.