“Don’t give up work to be a stay at home mum…

…unless you have a hefty private income or work from home”.

This was the title of a mumsnet thread that piqued my interest this week – along with several hundred others (the discussion has 771 posts at last count). The original poster (OP) found herself in the unenviable position of a having a husband who had walked out on her, children with special needs who needed home educating and her benefits stopping once the children had grown up.

She writes:
“I’ve been out of work for 10 years now, I have no profession. In 6 years time our child support will stop as will most of our benefits. I will near fifty having not worked at all for 18 years.

“My future is shit. Utterly grey and bleak. All I have to look forward to is a state pension. While my ex earns a fortune, travels the world and has new relationships.

“This is reality for me. So think long and hard about giving up work to stay at home because no matter how shit your job is it’s preferable to my future don’t you think?”

I am very sorry for the OP – life has dealt her a very bad hand. And she makes a good point – that we don’t know what life will throw at us at any point, and having regular, secure employment (as much as any job is secure) should be more prized than it is.

I admit I took it for granted. When my first child was born, I was exhausted (yup, he was a poor sleeper too, although not nearly in B’s league), I had moved cities, meaning my former job would be a long commute, and my partner was earning a good salary. I thought it would be a good idea to leave and go freelance – it would mean being able to spend more time with my baby and not be at the mercy of Southern Railway and its varyingly reliable service.

Fast forward three years, and my partner is no longer in that job but is also freelancing, and our financial circumstances are a lot less rosy. We don’t have paid holidays or a pension. And we are still very lucky – we are in a profession where it is possible to earn money working from home.

in some ways I don’t regret it – I wouldn’t have written Fertile Thinking or the Postnatal Survival Guide had I been working more – I wouldn’t have have the energy. But now I am trying to get permanent work, I’m realising what I gave up. Not only a regular income, but a part-time job (gold dust!) at a level commensurate with my experience. Plus it’s easier to get work when you’re already in a job – employers can be a bit scared of employing freelancers.

If you’d told me this would happen three years ago, I might still have made the same decision. But I would have made tit with a lot more appreciation of the realities of the job market. I thought that “everything would be fine” – because I wanted to believe it. No one wants to think “what if my husband loses his job, or gets ill, or we split up”? Especially in the first flush of motherhood. But this poor woman’s story is a sobering reminder that a good job is hard to find (now more than ever) – and we should be aware what we are giving up if we decide to stay at home with the children full time. Many women think, “I’ll just get a job when they’re older” – but as many women I know are discovering, it ain’t all that easy…

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