As a new mum, there seem to be a million decisions to make – from choosing to find out if the nursery will be blue or pink to deciding whether to bottle or breastfeed, you’re constantly accosted with choices. Choosing if you should stay at home with the kids or return to work is another decision that has to be made.
Throughout the years, the role of mums in relation to families has shifted. Before World War One, a woman’s place was thought to be in the home. It was where she was expected to be, doing the washing up and mashing the potatoes for supper with the little ones clutching to her skirts like barnacles.
With the advent of World War Two and the need for more bodies to join the workforce in the hopes of keeping Britain running, women began to swap their pinafores for workmen’s trousers and set to various tasks previously deemed to be for men only. After the war, it gradually — at a snail’s pace — became acceptable for women to be excised from the home and venture into offices to work. Mostly as typists and secretaries, true, but for the first time, women had a choice.
Now, a woman’s options are more binary — she is always affronted with the decision: after the baby’s born, should I stay or should I go? Of course, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Women are advised merely to make the choice that best suits them.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But mums are used to thinking about everyone but themselves; putting your family’s needs above your own comes with the territory and three days into donning the mum cape you begin to lose touch with that side of you that is able to do things simply because you desire to. Somehow, you take a backseat in your own life.
This is when it gets complicated. The mum who stays at home with the kids may often feel that she is not directly contributing to the family. She’s not helping fatten up the bank account, and let’s face it, if success cannot be measured tangibly, it can be hard to pinpoint. While on the other hand, the working mum may feel disconnected with her family and may even experience guilt and pressure from traditionalists who strongly believe that men bring home the bacon and women simply fry it up.
As a freelance writer, working from home (or a nearby Costa) comes with the job description, so the choice was simple for me. Before I had my son, I was home four days a week. Since I had already begun a career it seemed impractical to abandon it and start anew at a typical 9 to 5. It was settled without so much as a discussion: I would continue to work from home when the baby came, juggling raising my son with meeting deadlines and roasting the chicken for supper.
Three months into being a mum, it hit me: I began to feel like one of those women from the 1950s forced to stay home day after day, wearing their hair in tight corkscrew curls, doing the dishes in court shoes and perfectly pressed dresses, praying someone would stop by for a chat, even if it was just the milkman.
As a feminist, it seemed wrong and disrespectful to live a life that so many women had shunned. To be honest, it was a life that I too had shunned. I had never wanted to be a housewife, but I realised I wasn’t. I was simply carrying on with my life as I had done pre-baby. Before 22 December, 2011, I stayed home and worked. I made dinner and I cleaned. It made sense for me to do so, I was home more. Now, I stay home and work. I make dinner and I clean. I change nappies and I have In the Night Garden on in the background, but I’m still me.
I don’t think it matters any more if mums stay home or if they go to work. I think what matters is if their decision benefits their family and whether they can find validation in it. Every now and then, after a particularly difficult day, I do find myself being envious of my husband and the fact that he gets to leave the house without the baby in tow. But, that doesn’t change the fact that for us, and for me, staying at home makes sense. And it makes me happy. Perhaps in a few years, things will be different, but for now, I should stay.