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Cherie Blair may have controversially criticised stay at home mothers but it seems she misjudged the aspirations of many new parents. While figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of ‘inactive’ women – meaning they do not have a job and do not want one – has dropped dramatically in recent years, research commissioned by uSwitch in 2012 showed that 75 per cent of new mothers would remain at home if money was no object. The fear of not being able to manage financially is a huge driver in the decision to return to the workplace and women can be left feeling that they have no other option. But a new website and eBook written by a mum who has been through that very decision-making process aims to help others feel more in control of the process.
Nicola Semple, founder of lifeaftermaternityleave.com and author of How to be a Stay at Home Mum: Stay Sane, Stay ‘You’ and Enjoy Your Time at Home with Your Children, was no stranger to the high-flying corporate world when she experienced her most life-changing event – becoming a mum.
Having previously worked at Accenture and KPMG, she had been a member of the leadership development team at Ernst & Young for two years when she became pregnant with daughter Olivia, now three years old. ‘If you had put me in a line up at university and asked who would become a stay at home mum, you would never have picked me,’ says the 34-year-old. ‘I just wasn’t maternal at all. It took me by surprise’.
“I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to raise my children. I wanted to be there for the big milestones”
‘I knew it wasn’t sustainable to go back to the career I had before, but when I actually had Olivia it was more about not wanting to leave her, which was very different to not wanting to go back to work. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to raise my children. I wanted to be there for the big milestones but I also wanted to be there for the little things. I was surprised how easily I could give my job up.’
Despite this, Nicola still found it difficult to commit to the decision and found a nursery place for Olivia, keeping her options open until the last minute. The process was made more difficult when Nicola and husband, Wikash, aged 36, decided to move out of London for a more suburban lifestyle.
‘I always knew I would leave my job but I found it very difficult to actually say it,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know how to fill my time, especially as I knew we would be moving away. Everyone was going back to work and I could no longer say I was on maternity leave. Suddenly I was “just” a mum. The excitement of my day was going to rhyme time. I really struggled in the first couple of months and felt that I had given up part of my identity.’
The family moved to Earlswood, near Gatwick Airport, making it easier to visit Nicola’s relatives in Scotland and Wikash’s in Holland, and soon found they were expecting son Lucas, who was born in January 2012. Like many stay at home mums, Nicola discovered the importance of ‘the tribe’ – a connected network of fellow parents who understand your experiences – and realised that she was not alone in her new way of life.
“If you think you are a well-functioning human being, aren’t you the best person to bring up your child?”
‘Putting down roots was the turning point,’ she says. ‘As I settled into my role of ‘mum’ and made more and more ‘mummy friends’ it became clear to me that we were all living through a significant period of change in our lives and ultimately doing what we thought was the best thing for our children. It also occurred to me that lots of tools and techniques I had learned in the workplace were just as relevant to women managing the massive transition having a family and either returning to work or carving out a new identify as a stay at home mum requires.’
She decided to put the skills developed during her career to good use by creating a resource for women going through the same changes she had recently experienced. ‘I want people to be better supported in the choices that they make and to feel that it is acceptable to make those choices, whether they decide to stay at home, go back to work or do something different.’
Nicola’s eBook offers advice and suggestions surrounding issues like finance, managing the household, your relationship with your partner, your self-image and ‘future-proofing’ your skills, while the website also includes hints and tips for working from home and going back to your old job.
‘People do find the decision making process really difficult and staying at home isn’t for everyone. It’s about trying to be realistic and accepting that cuts will have to be made. You just have to try things. If it doesn’t work, change it.’
Nicola finds it odd that many consider staying at home a ‘waste’ and wants to empower women to feel able to take a break from their careers to raise their children.
‘This is the season of my life now; there will be other times and other opportunities. You can have it all, just not at the same time. At the end of the day, if you think you are a well-functioning human being, aren’t you the best person to bring up your child? It’s the most important job in the world; why wouldn’t you want to do it?’
Lasanthi Gunatilake, 33, lives near Woking, Surrey, with husband Manick, 38, and daughter Mahalya, who will be three in May.
‘I always valued having my mother around when I came home from school, which some of my friends didn’t have, and I knew I wanted this for my family too. I was previously a market researcher in qualitative research and I enjoyed the job immensely. It was so mentally stimulating, but since I had always wanted to stay at home with my child, the decision was already made. With this in mind, I stopped working two years before I even had my daughter as my husband and I agreed this was a priority for our family.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to find a husband who completely supports my decision to be a stay at home mum. He, too, had always wanted a wife who’d stay at home after having children.
I really value the fact that our days are flexible. We enjoy simple activities like reading, going to playgroup or swimming, going out to feed the ducks or for a walk in the woods. Although we do have a loose routine, I plan my day around Mahalya. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I worked. I don’t rush her and I let her take her own time doing things. And best of all, I get to see the world through her eyes. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do this.
Mahalya is a relatively easy-going, manageable child, so I’m not as stressed out as I expected to be staying home alone with a toddler, although there are some things that are more difficult than others. Sometimes the boredom of reading the same book 12 times, being stuck in tedious imaginary games with her and not being able to do more pressing household chores is a bit challenging. However the positives far outweigh the negatives.
I don’t miss work, although I did enjoy the mental stimulation I got when I was working. When Mahalya starts school I might try to find work somewhere like a library, but my priority will still be to be there for my daughter.
In terms of adjustments, we would have been able to go on holidays more often and eat out more if I was working. But we still go on holiday at least once a year and eat out about once a month, thanks to my wonderful husband, so I don’t feel it is a massive sacrifice. Maybe one day, if it became more difficult financially, we’d cut down on those luxuries further rather than me go to work because when you consider the cost of childcare, it wouldn’t be worth it anyway. Besides, giving up on those things is insignificant compared to the joy I get through spending time with Mahalya.
I realise that not everyone will agree with me, but I believe a woman’s primary job is being a mother. The concept of working mothers is relatively modern and I believe going against the purpose nature created us for can have negative repercussions. For me, the roles for men and women are very clear: men should go out to work and women should stay at home and look after the family.
I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby with a stranger and going to work. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make.’
Kirsty Carter, 31, lives in Hednesford, Staffordshire, with husband, Mat, 37, and son, Daniel, born in September 2011. Their second child is due in April 2013.
‘When Mat and I decided to get married we knew we wanted to start a family immediately. I enjoyed my job as a prison officer but the hours were long and irregular. I decided to retrain as a florist before I got pregnant, so I could choose how much I worked. Once I became pregnant I never considered anything other than being a full-time mum.
Mat was always the main earner, although we don’t have a guaranteed income as he is a self-employed equine dental technician. It can sometimes be tough but we have learnt to prioritise. We have cut bills by making sure we are getting the best deals – it just takes some organising. The cost of childcare would be the equivalent of what I would earn so it wouldn’t make sense to go out to work.
My friends and family have been supportive but some people’s opinions have actually been quite upsetting. I have had comments like ‘looking after children is a cop-out and you only do it because you can’t be bothered to go to work’ (would they say this to a childminder who does my job but with other people’s kids?), or ‘you’re just lazy and sponging off the state’ (I only receive child benefit and most parents get this regardless of their employment status) or my personal favourite ‘all you do is sit around watching TV all day’ (these people obviously don’t have a toddler!). Sometimes I am made to feel like a second class citizen because I don’t contribute much financially but Mat and I feel you can’t put a price on what I do.
Sometimes it can be very challenging being in sole charge during the day – staying at home is definitely not the easy option. It can be scary and tiring and very hard work.
The advantage of being at home is that I have been able to attend various classes, activities and groups such as swimming and baby sensory. I also have horses and Dan spends time at the farm most days. I believe this variety is a very healthy and balanced way to bring up a child and I wouldn’t be able to do this unless I was at home.
The one-to-one attention that I can give Dan can only be beneficial to his development. I can also keep to his routine relatively easily, which I think is important. Another big advantage is that I am there to see when he reaches major milestones. I saw him take his first steps and didn’t have to hear about it from someone else. Being at home also means I don’t have to worry about relying on others to look after him should he be ill.
I can imagine that for some mums it could become a little claustrophobic staying at home but there are plenty of things you can do to get out of the house that are either free or very cheap as long as you make an effort.
Although being a stay at home mum is not for everyone I would strongly encourage people to consider it as an option. I believe there is no more satisfying thing to do. I wouldn’t have my life any other way and don’t have a single regret about my choices.’
Freelance writer Hannah Hiles lives in Staffordshire with her husband, Andy, and son, Alex. She blogs at
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