My name is Anya and I’m a stay-at-home Mum.
If I’m honest, I can’t say that this is a badge that I wear with pride. At best the phrase conjures up images of a ‘mumsy’ figure who potters about the house trying to keep busy; someone who has neglected seeing what the world can offer, given up on their dreams, and has instead opted for a 1950s way of living.
I sheepishly answer the often-asked question ‘what do you do?’, with the response that I ‘just’ look after my son.
Aside from the fact that this isn’t true (this is one aspect of what I give my time to), I have found myself wondering why there is such stigma attached to something that is so instinctual. Granted, this isn’t the ‘only’ or ‘best’ way to look after our children, and it is not always possible. But it is one way, and it deserves much more of a mention than it’s getting. And so I want to tell you about my experience, in the hope that I can be one small voice that offers a different perspective on a life choice that so many men and women face.
Fears of stereotypes
I was always scared of becoming a mum. It was never something I dreampt about and it was always something that I wanted to get round to ‘one day’. I wasn’t sure how it would fit in with all my dreams and plans. I had fears about losing my identity and becoming a stereotypical ‘mum’. I had fears about becoming boring. I’ve always been ambitious, and so I thought that I’d leave having children to much later in life, once I’d lived a bit and ‘established myself’ in some way. This is the part in the story where you’d expect me to say that I accidentally fell pregnant and so everything changed, but that is not the case. A few years after I got married, my perspective totally changed.
I’d been living a lie that told me that I needed to become something or that I needed to live big. I was living a me-centred existence that meant that I looked down on living simply and slowly; I wanted to make a bang and live for the moment. And this did not involve kids. I wanted a career. I wanted to travel. I wanted to have fun. And yes these things in and of themselves are not wrong, but my attitude towards them was.
A slower life
I started to realise that our culture sells us the fast-paced adventure of a life at the expense of the faithful and slow life that can actually be so much more rewarding. And so, for me and my husband, that meant that we decided to have children in our mid-twenties, even if that meant slowing down some of our ambitions and expectations. Looking back, this was a decision that could really make or break us. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, especially as I had decided not to pursue work at least until my children were at school. (This was for many reasons, one of them being financial; I’d barely have any wage left over after childcare anyway.)
We can talk about the hard things all day long but then would never change it for the world.
Fast-forward a few years and here I am, with an almost two year old boy and another boy on the way. And it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Many of the things that I feared have become a reality at times. It can be so lonely. It can feel like you’re the only person in the world ploughing away at home while others are out and about. When you have a big empty week ahead of you it can be hard to structure your time to avoid everything becoming boring and repetitive. It can feel slightly soul-destroying to spend so much of your time doing (or ignoring) practical jobs.
And yet, on another level, I am the most content I have ever been. Don’t ask me how this works, I don’t understand it myself. I know this is not true of every parent, or of every stay-at-home parent, but there does often seem to be this strange paradox present; We can talk about the hard things all day long but then would never change it for the world.
New life and purpose
We can spend all day struggling, but then as soon as our children are in bed we can’t stop talking about them. The love and connection I share with my son is something I have never felt before. I have never known a joy as deep as when I am watching my son play or sing or share his toy with someone. The moments when he runs at me, hugs me and exclaims ‘I love Mummy!’ make everything else fade away.
And I feel so privileged to be able to spend my days watching him. It’s so hard. But it also fills me with life and purpose. It brings out feelings of nurturing and protectiveness that I didn’t know I had. I watched a program last night where the mum was taking her son away to University for the first time and I was in tears thinking about how this will all pass by so quickly. I want to squeeze every moment out of this.
With a child at your side life is slower, and there is time to notice the details.
I enjoy having a rhythm to my day. I enjoy the freedom to be able to meet up with friends and family and really spend time with them. I enjoy that I have people to watch my son so I can spend time on other things. I enjoy that my evenings are for relaxing and that I enter more of an adult world. I enjoy that I can slowly choose how I want to steer and bring up my son. I have time to be silly with him, to ‘waste’ the day collecting leaves and splashing in puddles.
With a child at your side life is slower, and there is time to notice the details. There is time to value the small things that we so often think are insignificant. In some ways I often feel tired and busy, and in other ways I feel slowed down, and the anxieties I’ve felt in the past seem smaller. It’s that paradox again.
The hard things are worth it
Sometimes I look at people who choose to run marathons and wonder why they do it. All of that pain, all of that effort and all of that discipline doesn’t make sense to me. Or hearing about people who climb Everest, fast from something they love or cycle the length of the country. To me it just seems hard. But that, I think, is the way the world works.
The things that are most worth it, the things that give you the deepest sense of satisfaction and contentment are the same things that will take you to the very edge of your ability and sanity.
Love is not something to be consumed. Real, lasting love is not a feeling we can stumble across and it is not found in gratifying all of our desires. It is found in sacrifice. When we make sacrifices for others, when we really give something of ourselves, we discover what life is really all about and what love really means. This isn’t just found in having children (I think the deepest love is when we sacrifice for a stranger), but something about having kids removes the option from us to be selfish. We have no choice but to get on with it when there is a little person depending on us.
I’ve held off from writing this blog for a while now. I don’t want to offend anybody. I don’t want to cause hurt to those who can’t have children, or those who choose not to, or working parents (either by choice or necessity). I am in no way saying that my way is the right or best path and that everyone should choose it. But it is my path. And I don’t want to stay silent anymore about a subject that receives such stigma.
My name is Anya and I’m a stay-at-home Mum. And I’m proud of it.
This blog first appeared on Anya Briggs' blog thelittlepause.wordpress.com