I have been pondering the role of the stay at home mum recently. It is a job that I have worked hard at for almost 10 years and one that it is very difficult for anyone who hasn't tried it to understand.
It's a very solitary life in my experience. Whilst I have plenty of friends who do not work or who, like me do a little from home to fit around the kids, trying to catch up with them can be tricky. They, like me, are all chasing around to try and fit their domestic duties and time for their own activities in the six hours of the school day. So generally, it's just me and my kitchen.
The day starts in a very hectic and regimented fashion. Trying to get four children up, dressed, breakfasted and clean requires a degree of structure to my mornings. It is my job to ensure that they all have what they need for the day - lunch money, homework, spelling book, today's can't live without toy, musical instrument, phone. The mental checklist is taxing. Generally the world does not end if they go without something but it is less stressful for all concerned if we take the time to check.
And then they are gone and the house is quiet. Most days I have some sort of plan, usually dictated by the size of the ironing pile or the state of the kitchen floor. I have my job which calls on my time for some small part of two or three days, I go to the gym as and when and at the moment I have my course work to think about. Once a week or so I meet up with friends and the rest of the time is taken by the needs of my family and the house.
Don't misunderstand me. I am absolutely not complaining. I am in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to choose to stay at home and it was a free choice that I made myself. But it is a strange way to live, in this isolation and with your own needs almost totally subsumed by the needs of others.
I heard a piece on the radio about the life of a fifties housewife and to be honest, apart from a plethora of time saving devices and the need to apply a little lippy before my husband gets home, it could have been my life that they were describing. I have been a working mother. It is incredibly difficult to maintain any kind of work home balance but it can be done. And yet I have chosen the path that my mother and countless generations of women before her chose. Is that because that is the way that I have been conditioned to think I wonder? Or is it rather that for those who have the luxury to chose, it is the solution that works best? And now that I have three girls of my own, how will my decisions influence what they choose to do?
I like the way I live. I am good at it. It plays to my strengths and most of the time I am happy with the sacrifices that it requires me to make. I do wonder what will become of me when my children are gone but that is not something to worry about just yet. And so, a week before Christmas and in the calm before the storm, I shall spend my afternoon baking for the freezer and savouring the peace and quiet.