I will be honest and admit that before the arrival of the sprog, I did not fully comprehend the amount of work involved in raising a child. Indeed I did not know how much time and emotional investment that go into looking after a child. I think having been raised in Nigeria, I was always surrounded by family, and friends and nannies (as is quite common in middle class Nigeria) and thus did not think how raising a child without that support system can be quite difficult.
Increasingly, as the world becomes more globalised and the pressures of economics mean that people are moving further away from family, children are being raised without that treasured presence of grandparents, multiple aunts, uncles and cousins. The result I think is that primary carers of babies and young children are increasingly faced with the choice of putting their children straight into child care or putting their careers on hold in order to look after children.
I am ashamed to admit that when I was younger, I thought that women who stayed at home to raise their children had the luxury of watching soaps on TV all day and painting their nails. Well, I have been at home with the sprog for nine months, and I can tell you that my nails remain unpolished, and the closest I have come to watching any soaps is falling asleep on the sofa after dinner with the chief. It has not been easy. There is the physical exhaustion that comes with looking after a baby, there is the monotony of speaking “motherese” all day, and there is the emotional draining that crowns it all. When I put her to bed at 7pm, I skip out of her room and rejoice for the few hours that I get to be alone before bed. I am thankful that we do not have to spend thousands of pounds on childcare. I am thankful that I have been present for all her milestones so far.
However, I do miss the buzz and the fulfilment that came with my job. I worry about what this break means for my career growth, employers do not like gaps in CVs. Most importantly, I think that my career in many ways gave me a certain validation, and without it now, I feel almost bereft. You see, I grew up surrounded by strong educated women who beat the odds in a patriarchal society, who had day jobs, and could hold their own anywhere. My mother was a teacher and raised four of us. She was pregnant and breastfeeding through most of graduate school and teacher training. So part of me wants to work because I thrive in that environment, but also because I was raised surrounded by strong independent women who built excellent careers.
Choosing to raise one’s child full time is a sacrifice and a full time job, which can only be good for the child. One must remember that the alternative to staying home full time is paying or beseeching someone to do it. Stay at home mums have two jobs really; looking after the child, and also running the home (those meals, that laundry, the cleaning, will not do themselves). Conversely, choosing to be a working mum is a sacrifice too, often for a much needed income and a burden of guilt about leaving one’s child. Let us not forget the question of proving themselves at work because for the most part, women are held to a different standard than men. There is also the question of dealing with the guilt of fitting in mummy and wife at the end of a long days’s work.
What do the professionals say?
A research published by the Telegraph claims that children who go to Nursery do better than those who stay at home with their mothers. The research found significant progress in stringing sentences together and dexterity that comes from interaction at Nursery.
A research by Jay Belsky, a child development researcher at London’s Birbeck College, published by the Huffington Post, corroborates research which states that “long hours in child care are associated with behaviour problems”.
Babies go through monumental and rapid development milestones. These are as varied and as important as their emotional needs. Some babies will require more emotional support than others and no secondary care is better or greater than that provided by parents. It seems to me, from reading the literature that being a stay at home mother, or going to work, both have their pros and cons. Invariably, it does take a village to raise a child, babies will benefit from social interactions with the world, be it grandparents, neighbours, friends or extended family.
As for me and my household, I believe I will stay home for now with the sprog. I plan to return to work, but perhaps when she is a year old and walking, when she has some understanding of object permanence and where Mama has gone. Additionally, I think she will benefit from the social interaction at Nursery, because although I take her to mummy and baby classes and groups three times a week, she has recently become very afraid of strangers. I understand it is a milestone, but I often wonder of this is heightened by the absence of “the village” in our lives as we live far away from our family. What I would prefer is a combination of both worlds. It would be great to have a home based role or a part time job, so that she benefits from some vital nursery time, but also spends time being emotionally nurtured by yours truly.