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- 6 Jun 17

As a so-called ‘stay-at-home mother’ I often get asked this:

‘What do you do all day?’

This is usually accompanied with a surprised ‘Why on earth would you want to sacrifice your career and do nothing all day?’ look. And this is because there is a general presumption that the stay-at-home mother has it easy.

After all, when her children are in baby stage the stay-at-home mum has a wonderful time just wandering around the shops, walking through parks, sitting in cafés whilst chatting to fellow mothers, drinking lots of lovely tea and watching morning TV. When her kids hit the toddler stage she spends the majority of her time relaxing on benches during playground trips and drinking lots of that tea again whilst taking them for play dates. Finally, when her little mites start school, she goes back to watching morning TV and wandering around shops. She gets to go to spas and pamper herself. She gets to go for long lunches with friends. She gets to indulge in some heavenly me-time.

Well, actually, the reality is very different. How do I know? Because I’ve been through each stage and it goes a bit like this:

Baby stage: Depending on what type of baby you have (I had two of the cried-lots-slept-little kind) your day is pretty much spent changing nappies, feeding, changing nappies, feeding, changing nappies… Add sleep deprivation into the mix and your trips to cafés to meet up with other mothers turn into a rather hazy, unrelaxing ‘Sorry, what was I saying?’/’Oh no he’s crying’/’Wait one minute I’ve just got to change him’ scenario. Yes it gets easier as time goes on – and you can do the odd feed in front of morning TV, so that’s a bonus – but for the majority of the time you are a shattered, emotional wreck who compares getting through a whole day with a baby to wading through treacle. Plus the washing machine is constantly pinging to remind you it needs emptying again, the ironing pile is glaring at you and the kitchen is full to the brim with empty teacups, crusty cereal bowls and last week’s supper plates…

Toddler stage: Having a small person around you the whole time is similar to looking after a hyped-up monkey from a zoo. You have to entertain and watch them the whole time. They do not leave you alone – apart from their mid-afternoon sleep – and they are constantly jumping on top of you. Forget sitting in cafés; you will spend your days traipsing through parks and playgrounds just to tire them out. The rest of the time is spent clearing up (throw a few cereal packets around the kitchen, empty all your toy boxes and break a few of your favourite things and this gives you some idea), cooking (aka attempting to be Annabel Karmel and failing miserably) and changing nappies or wiping bottoms (depending on where you are with potty training…).

School stage: The house still needs cleaning, the washing and ironing still needs doing, the food still needs buying, the dog still needs walking, the meals still need cooking. (See, no spa dates…) And when you finally sit down with a cup of tea? Bang goes the guilt that comes with being a stay-at-home mum – you can’t sit still and do nothing; you have to be doing something. Because when you’ve spent the past seven or so years in nonstop mummy mode, the whole concept of relaxing and taking time out just doesn’t feel right. Plus you’ll be itching to either get back on the career ladder or try something totally new (hands up to Googling ‘How to become a pilates instructor’ umpteen times…).

I know that I’m lucky to have had the chance to look after my two boys since the days they were born. I know I’ve been lucky not to have had to hold down a full-time job whilst juggling childcare – I honestly don’t think that I could have done that. But being at home full-time has not been easy. I’ve had moments when I’ve longed to go back to work, when I’ve felt useless and incredibly lonely. After all, at the end of each day, when I’ve cleaned and cooked and dealt with all the tears, tantrums and general mayhem, I get no real recognition for what I’ve done. I get no pay cheque. I get no real thanks. And I don’t expect it.

The term ‘stay-at-home mother’ is so misleading. It conjures up images of lounging on sofas, nonstop tea-drinking and blue-sky days whilst hanging out at your house with your little ones. Easy, breezy, everyone’s happy. But nothing is what it seems… Just as being a working mother is hard, so too is being a stay-at-home mum. Oh, and in answer to ‘What do you do all day?’ I’ll give you this: Lots.

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Fiona Pennell

Fiona Pennell lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their two boys, Jack, 6, and Otto, 4. A former YOU magazine sub-editor, Fiona now spends her days being trampled on, going on slug hunts and dreaming of lie-ins. (Twitter: @fiona_pennell)

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