Stay at home mums often juggle many responsibilities at a time. I wasn’t always a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM). In the first one and half years after becoming a mother, I worked. Thus I know what it feels like to be a full-time working mum (FTWM). Now, after my 3-year stint as a full time SAHM, I am uncovering what it’s like to be a work-at-home-mum (WAHM) as I recently accepted a contract for a freelance project management job.
In all these various permutations, it was while I was a SAHM that I received a lot of awkward comments from strangers, family and friends.
It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you have a job (this is not to imply that SAHM’s don’t work). For example, aunties picking up their grandchildren or whom I meet at the pediatrics’s clinic will often start a conversation this way:
Aunty: Where do you work?
Me: In Putrajaya
Aunty: What do you do?
Me: I am doing work for the Government Transformation Programme
At this point, if they have heard about the programme, we will talk about it further. If they give me a blank look, we would then chat about other things like who takes care of the kids when I go to work. They will ask if I have a good maid, and can I recommend the agent, and so on.
What do you do all day?
After I stopped working, the conversations steered in another direction. Some common comments thrown at me after I say “I don’t work” are:
“You just stay at home and look after the kids?”
“What do you do all day?”
“Oh dear, what a waste of your education!” (or in Malay, “rugi belajar tinggi-tinggi”).
“Oh, why don’t you start a business, like food delivery or baking?” (And in my head I’m thinking: I can’t even feed myself most days with these 2 little monsters, when will I have the time to cook and deliver meals??)
The most uninvited response however, is “Do you want to generate extra income?” This is followed by a pitch to join some multi-level-marketing scheme or some other so-called “business” ventures.
Don’t take it to heart
Fortunately, I had ample warning from other SAHM friends and I knew better than to take these to heart. I would just smile and shrug it off and not let it bother me too much. After all, I knew my reasons for choosing this path, and I was not forced into it by anyone.
Although these remarks may seem unkind, I do believe that they were not intended to hurt my feelings. It might be they are genuinely ignorant about what a SAHM does all day. Some of them are not mothers, they are men, or single women, or they are older mothers who have forgotten what it’s like to have small toddlers.
Affinity and recognition
Then there are the neutral or good responses, often from friends who know better. Most of their comments are lighthearted and funny:
“Wow, you are so brave to stay at home with them!”
or “I’m sure working was easier, right?”
There are also the empathetic ones who say:
“Caring for the kids full-time? That in itself is already a full-time job!”
or “I could never do what you do!”
Soothing words to the soul
But in all my 3 years of being a SAHM, there was one particular encounter that I will never forget and which I have held on to dearly in my heart. I would remind myself of it whenever I needed a pick-me-up.
It was a response I received from an older woman whom I met in the vicinity of my condo. She always came to the condo to spend time with her grandchildren. After a few occasions of bumping into each other in the car park and in the lift, one fine day, she asked me “You don’t work?”
I smiled and said “No”. She turned to glance at my then 1 year old baby whom I was carrying in my arm, and then at my then 3 year old toddler whom I had just picked up from school. And then she said “They are so lucky to have their mum with them everyday!”
My heart just bloomed, and a big wide smile spread across my face. Wouldn’t your heart bloom too, hearing this from a total stranger?
I need to type that again.
THEY ARE SO LUCKY TO HAVE THEIR MUM WITH THEM EVERYDAY!
Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is the perfect, most positive and uplifting thing that has ever been said to me about staying at home to care for my kids. No awkwardness, no jokes, no judgement. Just purely uplifting and beautiful.
Next time if you find yourself in a conversation with a mother and she says “I don’t work” and you don’t know what to say, you may borrow this line from this fine lady. I’m quite sure she wouldn’t mind.