I want to take a moment to talk to the stay at home mums. Hi there. How are you? Seriously, how are YOU? I bet not a lot of people ask you that. They tend to forget that you are also a person with hopes, dreams and desires, and not just a mum completely and utterly focused on your children. People see stay at home mums and think that you’ve made this choice that you are 100% happy with, and will be 100% happy with for the rest of your life. Sort of forgetting that one day your children will become adults. Then what? It’s easy to forget that your children are an extension of you, and not the other way round. And yet, most of the time you’re not given a second thought. So I ask again, how are YOU?
You see, I wanted to make sure you’re ok, because there’s this couple that I know* who are not doing so great at the moment. Let’s call them Karl and Cassandra. The story going round is that Cassandra gave up her career to be a stay at home mum to her and Karl’s 3 kids, while Karl worked hard and focused on making a big career for himself. That’s always been the story, it was really well known to, well, everyone. But lately Cassandra and Karl have been drifting apart, getting into arguments, and it seems that a lot of resentment has crept into their marriage from both sides. Now unless it comes from the mouths of Karl and Cassandra directly, we’re never really going to know exactly what the backstory of this likely divorce is. But I’m sure we can all agree that at one point they were extremely happy. So what went wrong?
It seems the obvious and logical explanation is this: When Karl and Cassandra got together they were working equally. They had jobs they both liked and ambitions of moving upwards in those jobs to fashion a solid and rewarding career. They fell in love because of their similar interests and discussed about having a family. Perhaps they talked about what would happen when they had children and how they would juggle career and family life. Perhaps Karl asked Cassandra to be the primary care giver. Perhaps she offered. The end result was Cassandra gave up her career to be a mum while Karl moved ever upward to a point that neither of them could have ever imagined he would have achieved. Perhaps neither of them expected this. Perhaps Cassandra had hoped that it wouldn’t happen. But along the way Cassandra was left at home while Karl worked away. Now children as we all know can be difficult. We’re always excited about children in their small phase, how cute their little toes are, how adorable their little yawns can be, how beautiful they are when the sleep. WHEN they sleep. Their toddler phase is even cuter, when they’re learning things for the first time, the world has so much wonder for them, they say and do the most ridiculous and hilarious things, and you’re right there beside them holding their hands. It’s for these reasons people tend to have a few of them in quick succession. Then they start to get bigger. They don’t want to hold your hand anymore, they start to talk back to you, argue with you, say that they hate you. And all of a sudden you’ve just become the chauffer, the breaker of fights, and the helper of homework, the type of homework that you thought to yourself 30 years ago that you wouldn’t have to do again. Suddenly the reward doesn’t look so shiny anymore. So maybe Cassandra looked up from the pile of laundry, the dirty dishes and never ending uneaten plates of food, and searched for her absent husband. Perhaps she saw the jet-setting life he’d made for himself, the parties he was attending and the people he was hanging out with, and decided she was just a little jealous that she had missed out on all of that. That could have been her too if things had worked out the other way around. Perhaps time passed and Karl got better and better at what he was doing, and Cassandra got further and further away from reviving her own career. That’s where the rot could have set in. But by then it was too late to go back and repair it.
Now I realise I’ve painted a very bleak picture. First let’s start with our kids. Of course there is always going to be wonderful times with your children after their toddlerhood. They will still want to hold your hand, and snuggle with you at night. You will get to watch them grow into strong independent adults. Watch their sporting achievements, or artistic efforts, plays, recitals, dance auditions. Hear how they got an A on the test they studied so hard for, their excitement about Christmas, the time that crab chased the down the beach during your last family holiday. Hilarious, wonderful, beautiful moments that you will remember and love and cherish. Family life is filled with brilliant memories. Yes, there will be incredibly shitty times and you’ll imagine running away from it all. But then your kids will make you laugh again and the bad thought will evaporate instantly.
But as much as you love your children, let’s not forget what gave you that thought to run away in the first place. The little place inside you that is still a person before you were a parent. So let’s go back to the beginning of your relationship. You probably discussed with your respective partners what you wanted out of life. What your dreams were, where you wanted to be in 5 years’ time, and again in 10. You might have wanted to travel, or achieve a particular role in your career, or just do a certain amount of things before you had kids. Maybe you also discussed how things were going to be when you actually had those kids. To the mums out there, maybe you always wanted to be a stay at home mum with 5 children to take care of. What happens when you change your mind after 3 years? Do you expect yourself to always maintain this lifestyle. Does your husband?
All of those dreams are fine. But let’s also remember one thing. We change as we get older. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations, opinions and desires all evolve and change over time. So it’s very important that if you make plans or have agreements at the start of a relationship that you make the effort to always discuss any desire to change those plans. The decisions that you make in your 20’s are not necessarily going to be the same decisions that you’re happy with 30 years down the track, or even 10 years. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that you can stay the exact same person your entire life. I myself have had thoughts and opinions that I’ve done a complete 180 on a couple of years down the track. When we grow and mature physically, so do our desires and ideas. How can they not, when our brain is constantly changing. So as you grow and change, it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your partner. Tell them you’ve decided you want to go back to Uni, or get a new job, or revamp a career, or would like them to start taking a more active role in caring for your children. Tell them you really want a change, or a compromise, or more equal parenting. Talk to them about how you can both make each other’s lives more fulfilled and wonderful. Have this talk every year. Mark it down on the calendar. You’re “How am I Going?” date. Without this kind of discussion and communication, you could end up bitter and alone. You could end up like Karl and Cassandra. So to the stay at home mums, and even the stay at home dads, I ask you again, how are YOU?
*Note: I don’t actually know them.