The pressure to find that balance between the working world and the being-a-mum world once maternity leave comes to an end can be overwhelming, exhausting and can often leave many feeling like they’re hideously overstretched. So what if you didn’t go back to work? What if you made the choice to stay at home and focus on motherhood whilst your kids were still young?
We spoke to seven women who did just that. Here are the personal experiences of those stay at home mums…
I had a full breakdown and became a stay-at-home mum.
Jenna* is 37-years-old and has three kids aged 4, 12 and 18. She fell pregnant with her eldest whilst at university and always returned to work six weeks after her kids were born. She says: “I did not choose to be a SAHM. Prior to my four-year-old’s birth I was working in a role that really didn’t favour mothers (or fathers tbh). It was a fast moving PR role where I was studio manager and it didn’t make family life easy.”
“My relationship had broken down and I found myself a single mother in my mid-twenties. I upped the hours I was working to try to make ends meet and kept upping them. It was the sort of role where the company think you should be grateful to work and so paid peanuts with the idea that the benefits (clothing, celebrity events, spa days etc) made up for the fact that you didn’t get paid much. But my children didn’t eat clothes, so I kept upping the hours. They then made redundancies and I was pushed out (and it was no coincidence that it was because I had children).”
“I re-married but he was a mature student and I was paying the lion’s share of the bills and the children’s biological father had completely disappeared from the scene. One Sunday I was supposed to be working at an event for four days straight and on the Saturday night I got into bed, pulled the covers over me and didn’t get up for two weeks. I was burnt out and had a full breakdown.”
“Being at home with my children was amazing. I could take them to school AND pick them up! I could hang out with them after school and weekends were no longer to be used for housework and chores – we could spend time as a family! We decided to have another child and I went to playgroups and coffee mornings and play dates and all the school events. I had mum friends for the first time ever.”
“And, whilst I am quite happy, I am a bit lost. I never meant to be a SAHM and I feel guilty for not relishing it when I know so many women wish they could be at home with the children. We can sort of afford for me to not work but it has meant we’ve accumulated a bit of debt and we can’t afford luxuries. My friends all have amazing careers that they are pretty happy in – GP, teacher, vet – amongst other things. And I am jealous that they get to use their brain. I help my parents in law around the house. I also help with a local charity that assists refugees settling in the area which has been rewarding. I run a playgroup. I help with the local food bank. I also am a peer supporter for a breastfeeding charity and perinatal mental health charity supporter. But I am also the loneliest I have ever been. I feel invisible to society. I feel like I have nothing to offer in conversation. I feel undervalued. I’m an educated women with interesting hobbies and views. I listen to hours of BBC World Service and history podcasts so I must have something worth saying but it feels like I’ve been reduced to a vessel that cooks and cleans and that makes me sad sometimes”.
I was made redundant during my maternity leave.
Sophia* is 30 and has a son who is 18 months old. Before she fell pregnant she worked as a general manager of a gym in London. She says: “Due to the pandemic I was made redundant during my maternity leave, but I’m not sure that I would have felt 100% ready to go back after 12 months as my baby still felt so young to me and I couldn’t imagine leaving him with any one else. With childcare costs being so high, my fiancé and I decided that I would stay at home and we would reassess later on in the year. At the moment I have no plans to go back to work and I feel incredibly grateful to be in this position. “
“I usually around 5:30am (we have an early riser!), sort breakfast and do some chores – my son loves to load the washing machine and tumble drier with me and do ‘cleaning’ although it makes everything so slow, so I try to make it fun! Full disclaimer: the washing pile is never cleared and the house is never clean or tidy in the day.”
“I try to have play dates/toddler classes/soft play sessions booked a few times a week so we go to those for an hour or so followed by lunch and then nap time. I try to sit down and catch up on messages during his nap as I’m always on the move when he’s awake. In the afternoons we try to get outside for fresh air. Maybe we’ll meet a friend for a walk/park/football in the garden – some sort of physical activity. If it’s bad weather we just play at home and then it’s dinner, more play time then bath and bed!.”
“My favourite thing about being a stay at home mum is meeting up with other mums and planning my week ahead to make sure we have nice activities to look forward to. I also enjoy not having the pressure and stress of work targets and office dramas. And the hardest part? Most days I am caring for my son on my own for 12 hours + which is really tiring, both mentally and physically, especially day after day. I would say although I don’t go to work I most certainly have a job which has lots of roles and responsibilities. There are always a million things to think of and to-do lists going through my mind. I can find it frustrating that I want to be really productive but some days it’s just not possible with a toddler in tow.”
I always wanted to be at home with my kids like my mum was.
Tanya* is 26-years-old and has a son who is nearly two. She previously worked as a nursery nurse and had just enrolled in teacher training when she found out she was pregnant. She says: “I worked as nursery room leader for eight years and loved life. I wa planning and doing activities and days were filled with love and so much fun. Since I was little I’d always said ‘I want to be a mum’. I wanted to be at home with my children like my mum was and have days filled with adventure.”
“The reality? It’s the only option that actually makes most sense. Daddy’s career is higher earning and has longer hours, so when would I actually work? But I do work; I’m a mum. I don’t bloody sit down! If I went to work who would have the baby? And how would I get any money for myself? It would all have go on childcare. Would I be able to love my job and love my baby? And enjoy my life all at the same time? So for now I’m a stay at home mum, living purely in the now.”
“Every day we tend to wake up bright and early. I run about chasing toast crumbs til nap time, pretend I’ll have a hot cuppa whilst he naps (and instead scroll through my phone, do the chores, answer any messages and sort any orders and shoot any content for the small business I share with my mum). Once my boy is up we have lunch, meet friends or go into town, go to the local park to feed the ducks or the woods for hours on end and then head home for playdough/paints and to cook dinner for a family dinner when daddy gets home and then bath, bedtime, and repeat!”
“It’s just me and the boy but I love it like that. I also adore the freedom and the fact I don’t miss a heartbeat. I know every little detail, can pinpoint every little freckle or bruised knee.”
I have so much more respect for my mum now.
Helen* is 36-years-old and has two kids who are two and four. She worked as an office and events manager before kids and went back part-time between the two. She says: “I LOVED my job but a multitude of reasons meant I never went back. I had a very difficult second child (a non-sleeper and very clingy baby) and had to make my decision about returning during the second lockdown. My mum was a SAHM and all three of my sisters are too, so I didn’t feel like I had the family support for things like childcare.”
“That being said, I did want to give my all to my kids in their early years. It’s a short term pain – because it is painful being with kids every second of every day and not feeling like you have any of your own time. I often feel like I take on a lot of the family duties – all the usual burdens that fall to women, like birthday cards and school PTA events. I try to be quite structured in my days/weeks to give me some sanity. My afternoons are often things like playball (local ball skills group), music classes, swimming, park trips etc. I have to get out of the house as much as possible (my own motto – if in doubt, go out!).”
“One of my favourite things about being a stay-at-home mum is that I feel like I know my kids really well. I feel like I know when they are going to tantrum/need a change of game/need food etc before they even do. I think that spending so much time with your kids means you are in tune with what they need. And the hardest part? Mostly I hate not having my own money. I used to get my hair done guilt-free, and didn’t think twice about spending £50 having brunch with my friends. Recently I had a friend’s hen do and it was £170 to go. This felt like such a huge sum of money. My husband obviously happily ‘gave’ me the money to go, but at the same time it just doesn’t feel the same. On top of me going on the hen he obviously had to look after the boys for the weekend – so the guilt is sort of double whammy.”
“I find it’s really hard being a SAHM because there doesn’t seem to be many of us around. Wherever I go, and whoever I meet, be it a mum at a soft play or a random in a café, everyone always asks “what do you do” and it often doesn’t feel good enough to stay I stay at home, I often am defensive and offer reasons as to why I chose this route – no childcare, demanding job, fussy child etc – and that in itself is really sad. I hope my boys appreciate the sacrifices I made for them – I sure as hell have more respect for my mum!”
I didn’t have the maternity leave I wanted because of the pandemic.
Kirsty* is 32-years-old and has an 11-month-old son. Before she took maternity leave she was working as a senior graphic designer in the events industry. She says: “I think the option to be a SAHM mum was always there and I knew deep down that if I wanted to I could quit my job as we are in a fortunate financial situation, but I never thought of it as a realistic option. I think I just assumed I would go back to work like a lot of people do.”
“I had a fairly traumatic birth which I’m STILL waiting for procedures to rectify so that paired with my son being born deep in the third lockdown, I can safely say that the first four months of our life together was a blur of pain, tears, anxiety and loneliness. At the time I don’t think you realise these things because you do not have the time or the headspace to comprehend what you are going through, you just get on with every sleep deprived day. When summer came around and the restrictions eased I finally realised what I had been missing and began to really enjoy my maternity leave.”
“The looming date of returning to work was starting to really stress me out. Just as things were starting to get good, I would have to leave him with someone else to have those experiences with. After a very honest conversation with my husband, we came to the decision that life is too short and he’ll only be small for so long so if it’s what I wanted, I could quit my job and get rid of that guilt and anxiety and just enjoy him. And that’s exactly what I did.”
“Some days I feel like I’m absolutely smashing it and I’m washed, dressed, baby is out of pyjamas, we go to a baby class, then for coffee after, three home cooked meals and lots of mum and son play time. Other days I can’t even remember to brush my teeth. For me the hardest part about what I do is the constant feeling of not being enough and comparing yourself to others. It’s quite hard when you see other mums on social media out and about with their kids, going to all these amazing places or setting up lots of activities for their little ones and you can just about manage to put them in the pram and take them for a walk to get a coffee.”
I don’t want to stay at home forever.
Katie* is 39-years-old and has two daughters who are seven and three. She commuted to London for a job in advertising before she had kids. She says: “I had an extremely tough first pregnancy, both physically and mentally. I lost my dad to cancer three days before my 12 week scan and I struggled with my mental health so was signed off work for a short period. I wanted to be out of London and finished with work, but the company I worked for weren’t great in regards to my grief and struggling with a very tricky pregnancy. As soon as I started my maternity leave I was told by my midwife I had signs of pre-eclampsia and was induced later that night – I can’t help but feel like the stress of my job and commuting to London brought that on. My husband and I chatted and I made the decision not to go back to London.”
“After two years I felt ready to go back to work, so I found a local job and worked four days a week. It was extremely old-fashioned and when I announced I was pregnant with my second it didn’t go down well. I also struggled with my mental health again as it brought back painful memories of losing my dad, and the fear of going through a traumatic birth and having pre-eclampsia. After my daughter was born it didn’t get much better and I struggled with post-natal depression.”
“I found a part-time job just before Covid hit, but the pandemic meant they couldn’t afford to take me on. I have looked again since but nothing fits in with school hours. My eldest is at school and my youngest goes to pre-school four days a week. Some people may question why, when I don’t work, but I feel she’ll be far more stimulated at school with all her friends and teachers. She learns so much, has made so many friends, plus she actually eats all her lunch everyday when she’s there (unlike at home with me). She loves it there, and I know we won’t struggle when it comes to sending her to proper school next September.”
“I’m considering doing a part time course, just so I’ve got something for me. And maybe it might help me in deciding what I actually want to do. Because I don’t want to stay at home forever. Once both girls are in full time school I aim to be back in work. Hopefully. But for now I get to take and pick up both girls from school everyday and help out other mums with collecting kids if need be.”
So much of our money would go on childcare if I worked.
Chloe* is 32-years-old and has a two-year-old son. She previously had a role in marketing and sales rep for a office furniture and design company with some travel thrown in too. She says: “Our plan was that I would be at home for the full maternity time and take the full 12 months off. We wanted to spend that time with our son and enjoy the time together. And then covid hit and everything changed. My husband started working from home, the company I worked for was sold and my job role wouldn’t have been the same… so I decided to leave. We decided at this point it was sink or swim so we changed our lifestyle decided that I would be a stay at home mum for the foreseeable.”
“We like to get out the house so we go for lots of walks to the park or to the library which is super near where we live. I met another mum at antenatal classes so we meet her and her daughter who is the same age. My son loves to be in the kitchen so lots of baking, arts and crafts. I manage to fit most the jobs in around playtime and often he helps! Then once or twice a month he goes to grandparents for the day without me and i get as much done as possible”
“We have looked at child care costs and for me to go back into full time work we would see our son less, have less time and so much of our money would be spent on child care. We love our time together and he will start school in two years so we will re-assess our options then. “