The stay-at-home parent and the working parent

I love my job. It’s so fulfilling being able to help people with their websites and most users are profoundly grateful for the support. I also feel privileged to have this little window into their lives: to see what they’re writing about and what their interests are.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have this job. It has been a long time since I was in paid employment. For the past seven years I have primarily been a stay-at-home mother. This has been wonderful and I feel lucky to have been able to do this as many families just can’t afford it. But there’s a perception in society that staying at home to care for one’s children is a worthless task. That you’re not contributing to society and that it’s unfulfilling on a personal level.

I’m not going to comment on whether how I chose to spend the last seven years of my life contributed to society or not, but I will say that it has been fulfilling. Aside from my primary role as caregiver – which has meant that I got to spend lots of time with my kids – I have also developed some skills. I taught myself to crochet and I think I’ve become quite good. I taught myself how to create IOS apps and I’ve now got some in the App Store. I started my blog and have made lots of friends through the WordPress.com blogging community. I’ve also learnt a lot through research I’ve done for my own blog and also from reading others people’s blogs.

I feel like I have had the best of both worlds: I got to spend time at home with my kids developing crafts that interest me; and now when my kids don’t really need me so much anymore, I’ve found a job that I love.

There’s a good article in the Philosopher’s Mail today called Why you resent your partner. The article talks about how society undervalues domestic work, and overvalues paid work. People who stay home to care for children or an ill family member are “implicitly told by society that they are spending their time on something low-grade and demeaning.” Whereas the wage earner is expected to be fulfilled and proud of their work when quite often they are stressed and unhappy. Here’s an excerpt:

At the core of the problem is that domestic work has been undervalued and paid work has been overvalued – or at least misinterpreted.

Making and maintaining a home and bringing up children are amongst the more serious, important and demanding of human achievements. They are certainly not for everyone but they answer to vital needs in human nature. Those who do it deserve honour and prestige.

At the same time, though paid work can be wonderful, it frequently isn’t; and those who do it deserve a lot of sympathy and care. Most of us do it simply because we have to in order to survive and it doesn’t especially fulfil our souls. It is ironic – to put it gently – that being paid to take a photograph of an attractive kitchen for an interiors magazine, is regarded as a prestigious occupation (a dream job), while running an attractive kitchen in your own home is regarded as insignificant (just a ‘stay at home’); or that being the in-house legal-counsel for a firm that makes domestic appliances is thought a great career; yet using the appliances to clean and cook is regarded as not having a career at all.

We need to equalise prestige and also equalise gratitude. One of the pair isn’t necessarily taking the easy option, the other the humiliating option. Paid-work can be awful and unliberating, housework freeing and ennobling – and vice-versa. So both deserve respect, both deserve sympathy.

I’m not sure how we can change this other than to write about it and point out why these prevailing attitudes are wrong. I loved being a stay-at-home mother. It was fulfilling and satisfying in every possible way and I felt fortunate that I did not have to get up and leave for work at 8am after a sleepless night with an unsettled baby. I always felt that I was the lucky one in my marriage. Whenever I filled out airline landing cards, I wrote “Mother” for my occupation in the hope that I might challenge the idea that caring for one’s children is not an occupation.

Now when I fill out airline landing cards I’ll write Happiness Engineer. In many respects, the two roles – Mother and Happiness Engineer – draw on similar qualities: patience, communication skills, problem solving and a sense of humour. I loved my old job. I love my new job.

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