“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”
That question was recently asked of me by one of my son’s friends. From the mouths of babes, eh? It is, however, just a much more blunt and direct expression of the same sort of conversation I have been having intermittently with people over the past two years. It seems that in a suburb where most households are dual income, people find it most peculiar that we have chosen for me to be a full-time stay-home parent.
Our move to America two years ago initiated my first experience of being “just” a Stay At Home Mother. I write “just” to be clear that I do not disparage the role of the SAHM. There is nothing simple, easy or straightforward about making the choice to step away from a career and be with your kids full-time. I also think it is a brilliant thing for women to be in a position to make an active choice as to whether they want to be parents or not and, if they are mothers, what balance they wish to strike between paid employment and raising kids. However, our immigration was my first experience of being home with the kids full-time, with nothing else going on in my life, and I admit it has been a bit of a tricky transition.
I had actually only been in paid employment for a fraction of my years as a parent even in Scotland. However, even when not in paid employment, I had a pretty demanding but rewarding voluntary job, serving on my local Children’s Panel, and I was also involved with various groups in the community, serving on different committees. All these commitments and obligations kept my brain stimulated and ticking over during the baby years, gave me a welcome break from household chores and childcare, and permitted me to feel as if I was still contributing something to society – even after I stepped away from my teaching career. All the volunteering was like keeping if not a foot then a toe in the door of employment, and gave my life an additional dimension that made it easier for me to transition into being a SAHM.
Perhaps because I was always so busy or perhaps because I lived in a more traditional community, nobody back in Argyll every queried our choice for me to be home with the kids. It might not have been their choice but they understood it and respected it. Moving to the Philly suburbs, therefore, has been an interesting experience in that it has been not only my first experience of being “just” a SAHM but also the first time I have repeatedly had to explain and even justify that choice.
It feels harder to justify these days too because none of my kids are babies any more. Nor are any of them preschoolers. Since September 2014, all four of my kids have been in full-time education. I, therefore, have a good chunk of the day when school is in session where I am not actively fulfilling the childcare element of my SAHM role. Of course, six people generate a lot of laundry and other mess and require a whole load of cooking to be done so I am kept plenty busy. Now that I have the kids in school though I am able to grab just a wee bit of time for myself each day but I don’t think an investment of time in self-care needs to be justified. Still, however, when people – and obviously I meet a lot more new people than I did back in Argyll – do that whole small talk thing and inquire as to where I work or what I do for a living, I detect something in their unspoken reaction that makes me feel they think I ought to be justifying my role as a SAHM. I think some people regard it as a luxury whereas I regard the ability to make the choice the luxury. Of course, choice is defined by context. I might be considering a return to paid employment now that we are pretty settled in America if circumstances and our family dynamic were different. Between me needing to convert my qualifications, the high cost of childcare and – mostly – the demands of my husband’s job, there seems little opportunity for me to return to paid work outside the home at this time.
Ultimately, as tricky as I have found the transition to being “just” a SAHM – largely because it has formed part of a larger process of change – it is our choice, mine and my husband’s, and is therefore, of no concern to anyone else. Really, therefore, the answer to the question of what I do all day is that it is none of anyone else’s business. It’s a household and family dynamic that works for we Picts, all six of us, and that is absolutely all that matters.