Staying Home, Staying Happy
Many expectant mothers feel much joy and anticipation as they await the arrival of their little one. Some look forward to capturing every milestone of their child’s development. Others, not trusting the quality of care given by maids or child-care centres, prefer to look after the baby themselves. There are also ladies who feel strongly that it is the parents’ responsibility to guide their children, and that being stay-home mothers would put them in a better position to have a positive influence on the child’s life. Indeed, research has shown that a strong mother-child bonding during the early years helps to boost self-confidence and build emotional resilience in a child. These in turn, provide a strong foundation for facing life’s challenges and are building blocks for success. For these reasons, some ladies give up their full-time jobs to become full-time mothers upon the birth of their child.
However, the transition from having a full-time career to becoming a full-time carer may be challenging for some ladies. The following article highlights some issues that may weigh on the heart of homemakers, and offers some suggestions on how to stay happy as a stay-home mother.
Bread and Butter Issues
Many mothers who give up their jobs to stay home often feel the immediate loss of financial freedom. While they once could buy whatever caught their fancy, they would now think twice if they really needed the item. A family used to having dual income will now have to tighten their belts. This is especially so if there are still outstanding mortgages to pay for homes or cars.
Some ladies may also find it a difficult adjustment to receive allowances from their husbands instead of a salary. Not only do they have to live within a tighter budget, they may feel compelled to give up items which are considered luxuries. For some mothers, this means cutting down on dinners at fancy restaurants. For others, the impact is more psychological. They may feel that since they are no longer contributing to the family income, they should not be spending or burdening their husbands. Ms. K. Yuen was 42 when she gave up her job as a manager to look after her four-year old son. She recalls, “I used to walk long distances instead of taking a bus, just to save on transport. With the money that I saved, I could buy a little more food for the family.”
While it may be necessary to adjust one’s spending habits after becoming a stay-home mother, depriving oneself of everything may eventually lead to bitterness and resentment at having given up one’s financial freedom. If the family budget allows, it may be helpful to indulge in some little treats from time to time. For example, trips to the spa may be replaced with weekly home facials using store-bought products. Instead of expensive holidays to exotic lands, the family can still have a short getaway to neighbouring countries.
To help supplement the family income and gain some sense of financial freedom, some mothers choose to work from home. The type of work that they do is dependant on their skills and the amount of time they have available. Some stay-home mothers may bake cookies for sale during festive seasons while others make and sell beaded jewellery. The Internet also makes it easier for mothers to work from home. Some may earn pocket money through blogging while others do administrative work for large companies. It is also possible to make use of one’s prior training to do freelance work, such as book-keeping, or giving tuition. There are possibilities and opportunities for those who seek them out.
However, any income earned by a stay-home mother often pales in comparison to the full-time salary which she gave up. Reflecting on her situation, Ms. R. Chan, a former chemist in her thirties, shared, “There are choices which one has to make in being a stay-home mum. It is between giving up a career and sacrificing financially or sacrificing your children.” The mother of two preschoolers, aged five and three, continued, “I stick with the choice of staying home, though it’s not easy to be on single income”.
Another area which stay-home mothers may struggle to adapt to is their reduced social circle. While they once had lunch partners at work or a “girls’ night out” on weekends, many mothers often feel restricted by their child’s routine once they stay home. This is especially so for mothers of young babies. In keeping to a baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule, a young mother may find herself confined to the four walls of her home for most part of the day. This becomes more challenging for those who have to manage alone without the help of maids or grandparents. Often, the only other adult that a new mother sees is her husband, who may be away at work for up to ten hours a day.
Experienced stay-home mothers often advise first-timers to try and get out of the home at least once a day. Even bringing the child to a playground or neighbourhood shops will enable the mother to get some fresh air and to meet other adults. Switching the radio or television on at times will also help one to keep up with the going-ons of the outside world.
Having a handphone and Internet access can also help to maintain one’s sanity, as the stay-home mother is able to keep in contact with her friends through SMS, Twitter or Facebook. Forums such as SingaporeMotherhood are also helpful for mothers to meet and share experiences. Ms. L. Lee, 43, an ex-teacher who has been a stay-home mum for 13 years shared, “It’s good to have someone whom we can talk to, share our needs and seek advice from.” Such social contact is important for mothers to know that they are not struggling through parenting issues alone. By making new friends and getting to know others who are going through a similar life stage, one can share tips, ideas and offer support.
While some stay-home mothers get praise and admiration for having sacrificed their careers for their family, it is not uncommon for others to receive thoughtless comments. During her four years as a stay-home mother, Mrs P. Goh, 33, a former teacher, endured remarks such as “You’re a housewife ah? What’s your education level?” or “I’m not like you, I make so much money that it is ridiculous for me to give up my job and stay home to look after my kid”.
In some segments of society, a housewife is still perceived to be one who is either poorly educated or one who gave up her job because of poor career prospects. This could not be further from the truth! There is a growing number of highly educated and intelligent women who give up promising careers because they want to invest their best years in nurturing their children. A straw poll of stay-home mothers for this article showed that this group of women include teachers, chemists, engineers, architects, lawyers, physiotherapists and double degree or doctorate holders.
In addition to battling society’s perceptions, some stay-home mothers may also face pressure from their own family members. Parents of stay-home mothers may express disappointment, saying “you wasted my money educating you”, while in-laws may suggest that they find paid employment so as to lighten the financial burden of their husbands.
Home-makers themselves, may sometimes struggle with a sense of self-worth. A former administrative executive and mother of three who only wished to be identified as Ms. Low lamented, “I have exchanged my pen for a broom”, adding that she now felt like the family’s maid.
After several years at home, some stay-home mothers may also feel left behind when they compare themselves with their peers who have continued working. While career women can boast of salary increments and promotions, a stay-home mother has no “career advancement” to look back on.
In times like these, a stay-home mother may feel discouraged and wonder if her sacrifice was worth it. This is especially so if she is going through a difficult period with her children, such as struggling with a fussy baby, dealing with the “terrible two tantrums” or having older children talk back to her. Yet, during such testing times, it is helpful to look back and be reminded of what convicted one to be a stay-home mother in the first place. Having experienced various challenges in bringing up two children, now 11 and 13, Ms. L. Lee reflected, “Each phase is temporary. It is just these few years that our children are dependant on us. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects of motherhood, rather than the negative, and to enjoy our children”.
Keeping a diary of the little things which the child has done can also be helpful, as one will soon recall the little milestones which a working mother would have missed, or the spontaneous hugs and kisses from a loving toddler. It may also be heartening to know that the valuable contributions of stay-home mums have not gone unnoticed. By considering her various roles and number of hours that she put in, the 2011 Mom Salary Survey conducted by Salary.com estimated that a stay-home mother ought to earn S$12,400 per month, or S$148,400 (US$115,000) per year. Indeed, families “rich” enough to afford a stay-home mother are very fortunate!
A Legacy of Love
Childhood is a short, transient period, and so is the window of opportunity which one has to make a contribution in the child’s life. As Bert told Mr Banks (a workaholic, absentee father) in the musical Mary Poppins, “You always grind, grind, grind at the grindstone, while childhood slips like sand through a sieve. And all too soon they’re up and grown, and then they’ve flown, and it’s too late for you to give”.
Although it is not always smooth sailing, being a stay-home mother has its intangible rewards. Therefore, stay the course, give of your best in these short years, and look to the day when your little girl says, “When I grow up, I want to be a Mummy just like you!” or when your adult son acknowledges at his wedding banquet, “Thank you mum for all the years you have given me, and for helping me become who I am today”. For in your children, your legacy of love lives on, far longer than any fame or fortune would.