Before the child was born, my husband and I agreed that one of us would stay at home. With the child.
Since the child was born, I’ve been the stay-at-home parent.
Recently I had the opportunity to start working from home. For money.
I thought, okay, that might work.
So over the last few weeks, I’ve been setting things up. Converting the spare room to an office. Brushing up on old skills.
When the child asks me to play with him, I have begun saying things like, “Mummy’s working now.”
After his bedtime, I try to get some work done.
My brain doesn’t like working after dinner.
The child has been refusing to nap. Those two hours in the afternoon have become Quiet Time.
And I try to do some work then. But there are lots of interruptions.
“Is Quiet Time over yet?”
“No, not yet. Go back to your room.”
“Yes, it’s a Lego rocket. You seem very proud of it. Now go back to your room.”
I’ve never been good at multi-tasking.
I tried getting up early. Morning is my best time for working. But the child just gets up with me.
And weekends. Some Saturdays, my husband needs to work. And after working all week, he's not up for more than a couple hours of child care.
A while back, I was talking to one of the other mums at Sam’s preschool, a painter, and I asked her, “How have you been able to do all those paintings?”
And she said, “I turn the telly on so I can get some work done. But sometimes my kids paint with me.”
“Yeah, painting does seem like something kids could help with. More so than building websites, eh?”
Over the weekend, my husband got a job from the landlord, painting our house. Working from home.
The first day of the job was great. The child was helping my husband and they were having a nice time together.
The second day didn’t go quite as well.
At 3:00, my husband came into the spare room, where I was working, and he said, “Am I working AND doing the childcare?”
“The child keeps asking me why,” he said. “And when I’ve got the sander on, he keeps interrupting me. To show me things. Like a fleck of paint.”
“Um, yes, that’s what three-year-olds do. Would you like me to take him to the beach or the park, to get him out of your hair? Because it’s a bit difficult to get things done, isn't it, if you’re being interrupted, ALL THE TIME?”
So we went to the park and the beach. And it was lovely. And affirming.
Here’s a sweeping generalization: our society does not value our stay-at-home parents.
I don’t believe stay-at-home parents are better.
Some parents don’t want to stay home, or can't stay home, with their under-fives. And that’s fine. It’s the parents’ choice. Making the best choice for their families.
Obviously, though, stay-at-home parents aren’t compensated financially.
In New Zealand we have the DPB and Working for Families. It’s not enough.
How many working parents would choose to stay home, until their kids are school-aged, if it didn’t involve too much financial sacrifice?
For us, it’s been tough financially. We rent. We survive pay check to pay check. We sometimes have to ask for help from our families so we can make ends meet.
New Zealand encourages parents to get back in work as soon as possible. 20 hours of free childcare is offered.
Why not also reward the parents who choose to stay at home and raise their children?
It's a full-time job in itself.
It’s certainly a challenge. I salute the parents who have found a way to do it.