I love this time of year… It’s a time for new beginnings. Autumn is in the air, some of my favourite saints’ feasts are approaching, and it’s time to go back to school- a new academic year, a new pencil case, new books, a new class, new learning experiences and a new chance to start again. For most of my life I have looked forward to the back-to-school ritual (once reconciled to the fact that going back is inevitable!) both as a student and as a teacher.
For now, though, I am not going back to school because, for the moment, I stay home and take care of our toddler. As a family, we are so blessed to be in a position where I can be home with her.
However, I confess, when people ask me what I do, or where I work, I struggle. I used to think the job title was the problem. I experimented with other answers- “full-time mum”, “I don’t work”, “French teacher turned mum”, “recovering teacher”. I’m puzzled that, despite loving my job, I haven’t fully embraced my job title. Recently, however, I have begun to realise it’s not the job title that’s the problem.
As, one by one, my new mommy friends go back to work, it’s clear that I am an anomaly. When I lose another friend, I ask them, “How are you feeling about going back to work?” I have been surprised by the responses I get: “My little one needs to go to crèche to be around other children and learn how to socialise”, or “I need to go back to work for stimulation”, or even “My career comes first”.
Being a stay at home mom is counter-cultural. Really counter-cultural. In our society, it’s the norm to send children to crèche while parents go out to work. In Ireland, a crèche place costs around €1000 so, for two children, the mother needs to earn over €30,000 just to cover childcare costs. Yet despite these high costs, the crèches are packed, there are long waiting lists, and the majority of mothers are leaving their babies and heading back to work.
Returning to the issue of my job title, I now realise that the real problem is how society views motherhood. In the eyes of many, motherhood is no longer a gift; it’s a choice and sometimes even a chore. Should you choose ‘yes’, motherhood can be outsourced to crèches, nannies and child minders. Motherhood has become devalued. When I say I am a stay-at-home mum, I can sometimes almost sense people pitying me because I can’t get a ‘real’ job, I am wasting my skills and talents or because I have to look after a child all day.
So, to those people for whom my choice is incomprehensible, I would say that there is no other job I would rather do! I am so blessed that I can look after our daughter. Every day is a new adventure: she discovers something new, she learns a new word, we smile and laugh together, we have fun. Each day, our relationship grows and our bond is strengthened. It’s the most special job in the world because staying home with her allows me watch her grow, help her learn to walk, wipe away her tears and, above all, I can fully live my vocation to motherhood, rather than submit to society’s expectations. I can be who I was made to be. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything!