It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Feeling a bit wistful

You know, some days I really miss being a SAHM.

Being on holiday while at home causes flashbacks to those days, days when I didn’t have five extra tots in the house, only my own three. Days that opened before us with only our own desires to fill the hours. Nothing critical, nothing pending, just the decision of park or library, crafts or cooking.

Because I practiced benign neglect, my kids could readily cope with “Mummy’s busy now. You play on your own for a bit, and we’ll do X later.” They were fine at playing around my feet, or in the adjacent room while I did housework … and even, while I read a book! Which, as you know by now, I do a lot.

I also homeschooled them, so they were home with me till they were ten or so. Homeschooling, contrary to popular opinion, does not take hours every day. As many families do, we started out with a few textbooks and worksheets; after a year or two, we’d dispensed with pretty nearly all that, and just followed our educational noses — to the library, to the museum, to the gallery, to the weather station. We read a lot, we looked at a lot of pictures. We played. A lot.

There were times of conflict, of course. Times when I was exasperated beyond measure. You can’t parent without those moments. But you’ll have the bulk of those moments in the first couple of years… well, really, in that second year, from about 15 or 18 months through two to two-and-a-half. During that time, the critical piece of information you need to establish is that you, the adult, are the boss. Not this short, demanding person who’s content to carry his excrement around in his pants. Establishing your place in the hierarchy is not going to be accomplished without some highly charged moments with that child.

But having done that? The sun comes up on your parenting life. By the time your child is three, if you’ve nailed the discipline thing, tantrums are a thing of the past, knee-jerk negativity is, too. Whining is rare. Your kids will be well-rested and well-nourished, because they go to bed at a good hour, sleep all night, and eat what they’re fed. They’ll sit in coffee shops, they can be taken just about anywhere (so long as it’s not during sleeptimes).

Now, SAH doesn’t suit everyone. You may have kids who are delightful to be around, but, much as you enjoy their company, you feel restless. You miss your work, perhaps, the stimulation of challenges other than potty-training and winning the battle of bedtime. If that’s you, then off you go to work, at least part-time. There is no shame in that.

Just as for me, there was no shame in putting the university education aside, no shame in not pursuing the professional career for which I’d trained, studied, and invested a lot of money. Staying home was just so supremely right for me.

So when I look back on my SAH days, while I can certainly recall those intense moments, moments spent speaking with great firmness (some days, even some ferocity) to a child on the quiet stair, and then walking away, shaking from the aftermath. But those events happened so that the rest of it could come to be: the vast majority of the time, when I was simply enjoying being around these very nice little people.

Who have grown into very nice teens/young adults. People whose company I enjoy. People who treat me well.

Why are my SAH days different than what I do now? Aren’t I just a SAHM for hire, really? Yes and no. I do the same domestic things, but three children between the ages of 1 and 7 are much less restrictive than five 2 and 3-year-olds. And I don’t have total control. Very often the children are not well-rested, because they don’t have sensible bedtimes at home. When their parents show up, the behaviours I never see — whining, petulance, rudeness, disrespect — that suddenly emerge make my pysche twitch. Drives me mental. Working with the tots is a very satisfying job, but it’s not as satisfying overall as parenting my own … because I am not their parent.

(This is not because you love your own children more … though you do … but because, though I’m helping to shape these kids, the parents are the ones who have the last word. Since what I do with these children is ‘parenting’, it means there was more satisfaction in parenting my own toddlers, when I got to parent every minute of their lives, than with the daycare tots, for whom I am several rungs down on the parenting ladder. Which is only as it should be, of course!)

So as I spend my holidays having some quality time with my teens, and a lot of quality time with myself, as I do the domestic stuff, cleaning, painting, running errands, as I sit on the couch and read, and arrange lunches with friends, I am brought back to those days when my days revolved around such comforting domestic stuff, and I miss it.

August 20, 2008 - Posted by | my kids, parenting |


  1. I also read your recent (and great!) post over at the working moms blog. You are very introspective about your SAHM days right now! Anything causing that or just vacation? I loved the post about staying at home being a career choice – it’s helping me get through going back to work – which I very much want to do, but which is also still hard. So, thanks!

    That one-time ground-breaking book “Having it All” was nonsense. You just can’t have it all. No one does. The woman who wrote that book, to give a very obvious example, never had children. No matter how well you order and balance your life, there is not room in one life for “all”. So what you aim for is the best, the richest, the most constructive, productive, and fulfilling life possible. Which will always mean balancing competing interests, making compromises with reality, and certain sacrifices, in exchange for which you get other things. C’est la vie.

    What a nice question to ask, about my current thought processes! I think I’m particularly introspective about parenting these days because I’m very clearly moving from one parenting phase (parent of children) to another (parent of young adults). It will be a few more years before I’m there entirely, but the process is solidly under way. I keep more in touch with the early parent phase than most parents of teens/young adults because of the daycare, so as I move from this phase to the next, I’m also looking back on the previous parenting transitions I’ve made.

    It helps that I have time off to do more thinking, but I’ve always been an introspective sort!

    Comment by Sarah | August 20, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’m lucky enough to be both; a SAHM and a career woman – the joys of having your own business, one that works around your time, not the other way around.

    I like what you say about the 15 to 24 month period. I’m miles away from that yet, but I will keep your words in mind as I face the scary toddler monster!

    Comment by MerylF | August 20, 2008 | Reply

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