By Gayatri Unsworth
Honestly, if I have to hear the phrase, “You are so lucky that you don’t have to work,” one more time, there is a very strong possibility that I shall do or say something that will most certainly get me sent off in disgrace to the naughty corner.
Simply because I don’t wake up every morning, don power suits and make-out with my Blackberry over steaming, ridiculously over-priced cups of coffee displaying various miss spelt versions of my name, does not make what I do for a living any less legitimate.
We stay-at-home parents work just as hard as every other individual out there. I might not have to leave the confines of my home nor do I have to trawl through horrendous KL peak-hour traffic every morning and evening to get my work done, but believe me when I say that not only is full-time parenting a job, it is one of the most demanding occupations in the world. (Perhaps even a little hazardous to mental and physical well-being!)
Yet time and time again, upon hearing that I have voluntarily chosen to give up a successful career to care for my children 24-7, many people can’t help but imply that I must now have it very easy.
The vast majority of women I know, who have resumed their original careers after having children, seem to have a very misguided notion as to what really goes on in the lives of stay-at-home mothers.
They harbour the belief that whilst they are slogging away at work, enslaved to their desks and e-mails, we SAHM’s are lounging on a picnic mat sipping lemonade in the sunshine whilst watching our perfectly dressed off-spring run around and play.
I can bet my last packet of wet wipes that such career-women falsely presume that full-time mums start the day by having late morning lie-ins before sauntering at a leisurely pace downstairs to whip up some Top Chef worthy breakfast spread.
I recently bumped into a former colleague who appeared absolutely baffled about my choice to become a full-time mum rather than return to paid work. “But what DO you do all day at home, she inquired, genuinely puzzled as to how on earth I was getting through all this oodles of free time she presumed I now had.
Hmmmmmmmmm let’s see, what DO I do all day?
My day generally starts about 7ish unless I’m having an extra-special lucky day, in which case my older daughter will sit up in her bed about 6am and holler out for me from her room. If I respond immediately, I will only have to manage the wants and needs of a 3.5-year-old at that time of morning but if I am one second too late in dashing to her room, her bellows of “Mummmmmmyyyyyyyyy!” will have woken up the baby and I will then find myself juggling two children before the sun has even begun to come up.
I’m already extremely tired and the day hasn’t even started yet.
See, I spent the night before nursing a very hungry baby until midnight before falling asleep only to be woken up at 4am by child #1 who needs help going to the loo. After a very long wee, during which my first-born will insist on sleep-yapping about some random thing that happened to her earlier in the day despite being very much in deep slumber, she will then plead to come to our room and being half asleep myself and therefore running extremely low on will-power, I’ll say yes without hesitation.
My husband and I will then spend the next hour or so being assaulted in our own bed by our intruder child whose most favoured sleeping position appears to be the one where her feet tap dance haphazardly all over our faces.
But the fun only really starts once both my girls are up. Trying to get a pre-schooler and a baby fed, showered and changed in the morning is no easy feat. I often imagine that herding a bunch of goats high on coffee would be a marginally easier task.
Most days, my eldest, Jasmin, is a cooperative little sweetheart. She will follow me downstairs dutifully, help me fix breakfast before sitting down and consuming it with table manners that would have Martha Stewart nodding approvingly.
But every so often, just like all of us at one point or another I suppose, Jasmin will wake up on the wrong side of the bed and by the time we get from the top of the stairs to the bottom she would have had numerous meltdowns and multiple tantrums on each of the 24 steps. In the middle of this commotion, baby Chelsea, not wanting to be to left out of any of this fun action, will decide to spit-up like a Ye Olde Faithful and then proceed to wail hungrily and gnaw on my cheek like a crazed chipmunk.
So yeah, what DO I do all day? I love, pacify, comfort, care, prepare meals, moderate, teach, sing nursery rhymes on a continual loop, wipe bottoms, put on nappies, exclusively breastfeed on demand, answer every imaginable WHY question, repeat instructions for only a million times, untangle various dollies hair and reattach their dismembered limbs, build blocks only to have them knocked down over and over again, crawl into play tents not designed for anyone with a spine, play hide and seek (which I actually love because I can use my hiding time for minute long power naps) place band-aids on invisible but extremely serious life-threatening injuries, fight nap-time battles, explain why we have to eat fruit instead of raspberry jelly (but raspberry is a fruit mummy!), gushingly admire messy abstract works of art, scrape crayon bits from under little nails, and generously offer my body to be used as a climbing frame.
For the record, I don’t get paid for any of this and my bonuses generally come in the form of cuddles and wet sloppy kisses.
Unlike a parent who goes out to work, when the going gets tough, I can’t fire my children, ask for a transfer to another department or even disappear to the photocopier room to get a breather.
In my line of work, I don’t get to fall sick and take days off. I work full-time and by that I mean 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don’t get annual leave or public holidays. I could enter and win hands down one of those speed eating competitions after mastering the art of scoffing down food in record-time because my children (in fact I’ve heard most little ones are afflicted with this phenomena) always miraculously need to use the loo or have a nappy changed whilst I am having a meal.
Being a full-time mum means having colleagues, whose ideas of conflict resolution involve stamping their feet, yelling and throwing things before burying their heads in your bosom and crying hysterically. My co-workers have attention spans that are slightly longer than that of squirrels, and have no qualms about barging into the bathroom and demanding that I stop mid shower or mid other important loo business to sample the latest concoction cooked up in the toy kitchen.
So yes, I might not have a fancy ergonomically designed desk and chair to sit at, nor an office or cubicle to call my work-space and on most days, I can get away with just wearing a t-shirt and pair of shorts to do my job, there is absolutely no doubt that I work extremely hard every single day. I am a work-at-home mum and proud of it.