One day last week after collecting my four-year-old daughter from school, we were strolling home and chatting about how her day had been, when all of a sudden she hurled a question at me that I really was not expecting. After firstly informing me that one of the boys had pushed her out in the yard, followed by letting me know that she had three pieces of homework to do that evening and finally finishing off by showing me that she had been given a birthday invitation to a party on Sunday, she then out of nowhere turned to me and said “Mum, why don’t you go to work every day?” I was completely lost for words because it turns out that I had no idea what answer to give her.
As I struggled to reply, she continued talking. “Because some of my friends’ mums go to work every day so why don’t you?” I suddenly realised that as straight-forward as this question may be, it doesn’t necessarily have a straight-forward answer. At least not one that I can offer to her that she will be able to understand. Because the answer is complicated. There are several reasons why I don’t go to work every day but how do I explain this to her?
It made me realise that they must be having little chats amongst themselves in the classroom and out in the school yard and that some of her friends are talking to her about how their mums go to work. I know all of this already because I know a lot of her friends’ mums and I know the ones who work and I also know the ones who stay at home.
Every day when I go to collect her I see a mix of people waiting at the school gates. I see grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles and child minders all waiting to pick the children up. Because we all have different living circumstances, which makes total sense to me but not to her. She doesn’t understand why we are not all the same.
So as I stuttered and mumbled, trying to come up with a reasonable answer, I eventually turned to her and said “Look sweetie, the truth is that some mums go out to work every day and some stay at home. That’s it really." But I knew straight away that she would not be satisfied with this. “Yes but why don’t you go out to work every day like some of my friends’ mums? Why do you stay at home every day with me and Dee Dee?” she pleaded.
It was at this point that I could see that she just wanted to feel the same as her friends so I tried this angle instead – “Okay well some mums don’t go out to work because they do their work from home. You know how I teach some lessons in the house? Well that is my work." (This is true, I do give revision lessons and private tuition to students some evenings.) She began to nod her head so I could see that she was accepting this.
We arrived home soon after, she ran into the house, threw her coat over the bannister and parked herself on the couch to watch cartoons. So for her the subject was finished but I spent the entire afternoon thinking about it. Why don’t I go to work every day? You have no idea how many times I have asked myself this. The thing is I know the answer, which is that I don’t have any family to help me and I really didn’t want them going into childcare all day every day. Plus a part of me really did want to stay at home with them. Yet somehow I am not always satisfied with this answer.
The truth is that I struggled a lot in the first couple of years after I made the decision to stay at home. I have always been completely torn down the middle about it. One part of me is so glad that I can give my daughters this life but another part of me so badly wants to be able to walk out the door every day like my husband does and drive off to work, where I can use my brain, have my own independence and enjoy conversations with other adults.
My husband and I have talked many times about the prospect of me going back to work and sending them to child care, even part-time. But the end result is always the same. I always say no. I don’t have it in my heart to uproot their lives now after spending five years with them. At least not yet. I always assure myself that I will know when the time is right.
I also think a lot about the women out there who would love to swap places with me. Those who have to go out and work for financial reasons and would love to be able to stay at home with their kids. Maybe some dads out there feel the same way? (I know my hubby, as much as he loves our daughters, wouldn’t last two days at home and he readily admits this). I also know there are women who go to work every day because they love their jobs and have worked hard to get where they are today.
I sometimes think it’s a case where we all want a little bit of what the other person has. You might want to be able to spend more time at home with your kids whereas I would love to be able to have more independence and time to myself. But unfortunately striking that balance, that ‘happy medium’ isn’t always easy.
The next time she asks me that question though (which she will), I will be more prepared. It turns out that this was one of those times when Mum doesn’t always have the answer.