Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Limbo of the Stay At Home Mum

On the left hand side of this page is my bio, written when I started this blog almost five years ago: "I plan on getting qualified in Montessori pre-school in another few years. For now, I'm a stay-at-home Mum." It's unchanged, because it still applies. It might be more than a few years later, but that's still the plan... and I'm still a stay-at-home Mum. Which means that in five years there has been no movement on how I see myself. I have sat comfortably on my personal goals rather than make headway in achieving them.

Perhaps you're expecting that this post will be some burst of inspiration about how I am going to get off my backside and revolutionise who I am. It's not.

The Background

The main factor in this stagnation is that I'm living in a country not my own. We came to the States from the UK, due to my husband's career. Our residence here is tied to his job, which means my legal status is literally my husband's dependant. He even gets an allowance for me (provided I am not earning above a certain income). Yes, reconciling this with modern ideas of feminism is a fascinating personal journey. (Actually, it's not. We can skip that part.)

What this meant when we moved, as a young, married couple, was that I had the unexpected privilege of relaxing a little about my own employment and trying something new on a whim. That was how I stumbled into Montessori and preschool—and discovered I loved it. I was never the sort of person who knew what she wanted to do when she grew up, but after a year or so of assisting in the classroom, I wanted to make this my career.

First things first though: having children of our own. And again, the benefits of being my husband's dependant meant that I had the freedom to stay at home with the kids. Occasionally I would help out at my school on a voluntary basis, and my original plan was to go back to work there once the kids were old enough to attend, but some trouble developed at the school, and it eventually closed down.

We sent the kids to a different Montessori, and I reconsidered my employment options: the convenience of having one parent at home to deal with sick days and vacation days vs. the disproportionately inconvenient pile of paperwork involved in renewing my work permit. (I cannot stress enough how much of a pain this ridiculous process is.)

Besides, I would only have wanted to work for a couple of hours in the morning before picking up my daughter at lunchtime. It was easy enough to conclude that it wasn't worth stressing over, and to delay my career plans for another "few years".

The Future

What takes precedence over my personal career goals is the long term plan for our family. We might have emigrated in 2005 and had american children, but the plan was always to return to the UK. My husband and I were both agreed that this was not a permanent move, and as much as we've enjoyed and benefited from living here, that hasn't changed.

Of course, our deadlines for returning are entirely arbitrary, because we have the luxury of waiting for the right opportunity—i.e. the right job for my husband, both from a practical, financial viewpoint and from a career satisfaction viewpoint. He's happy in his current job, and the kids are flourishing at their school. There may come a time of 'having to' return, but until then, it makes sense to us to play it cautiously, tracking and discussing potential jobs. Nothing has yet come of it.
The end result is that we tend to live life six months at a time, eternally ready to kick off the transatlantic move process. We get twitchy booking holidays too far ahead of time, and it's become a running joke at our school that we're never sure if we're going to complete the academic year.
This, ultimately, is why I've not carried out my plan of training in Montessori. I'm afraid that I'd not be able to complete any course I started. There's also the practical consideration that we might move to an area with no Montessori schools. I still plan on working in preschool care eventually, but I want to wait and see what those options are before I get the relevant qualifications.

However, we have now reached the point where my youngest is at school all day. And I am still unemployed, receiving my allowance—well, technically, my husband is receiving the allowance on my behalf—with no concrete plans to restart my own career.

The Status Quo

This is, of course, very much a first world and middle class problem. I wouldn't even describe myself as unhappy: I've always been more family-oriented than career-oriented, so I don't mind identifying as a mother rather than a teacher. Having two healthy, happy children and a marriage still going strong after twelve years means the world to me.

Besides there's a side of me that appreciates the irony of me being so gung ho about gender equality while my own career track is practically Edwardian.

Rather, this contributes to a sense of... inadequacy? Insecurity over my self-worth? Is there a German word for "concern over one's suitability as a role model for one's children"?  Perhaps it's a social stress rather than anything else. There's never anything new with me; I only update people on the children.

Actually, the aspect of this that gets me down the most is that there's no sense in anybody but me doing the housework, and I am frankly rubbish at it. I'm not perfect at being a Mum, but I take pride in doing parts of that well. When the children are at school though, I am a 'housewife' or 'homemaker'. All my talents count for nothing when my chief contribution to the family is an untidy house, mediocre meals and forgotten laundry. At best, I can consider this a lesson in humility. At worst, I'm struggling to justify my position in my own household.

On the flipside, I've always written as a hobby, and while I have no ambitions to rise above amateur level, I've spent the past four years writing for a reality TV website. This gave me an outlet for mental stimulation as an armchair psychologist and allowed me to effectively play at having a career. I've honed my writing skills. I've learned about using social media for networking and promotion. I've tried my hand at podcasting which does not play to my strengths but has allowed me to face down my fear of public speaking. (So long as I'm sitting in the comfort of my study talking to a computer.)

None of it is remotely useful for my CV, but I have learned new skills, made new friends, and most importantly, done something I am good  at. From a self-esteem point of view, it's been a lifesaver.

Yet in the end, it's just a hobby and one that is, by default, very remote from my day to day life. My friends from my local peer group are either going back to work or meeting up for baby and toddler playdates. I am the anomaly.

So the question I am asking myself is: "Where do I go from here?" And being a procrastinator by nature, I don't know the answer yet. But I rather suspect that I won't be able to stick out eight hours a day of being a housewife for long. Currently, I am dealing with the excess of time to do a thorough clean out, purging the house of clutter in preparation for the ever-potential Move. But this surge of motivation won't last.

Most likely I will end up volunteering somewhere, both to get myself out of the house and so that I have something on the CV for when I do get my career back on track. Maybe I'll throw caution to the winds and start a Montessori qualification after all. Maybe I can find a way to feel like I'm pulling my own weight in this family again. Maybe I'll have a midlife crisis and go right off the rails, but let's hope not.

In the meantime, the limbo continues, and—fifteen hundred words to the contrary—I try not to dwell on it too much.