While it was the natural order of things for women to stay at home to take care of the kids for a very long time, nowadays most women have a job and combine this with having a family. Our society is very performance-oriented and you’re expected to take part in the whole working life. Being a stay-at-home mom is more the exception now and people often have all kinds of prejudices about it. So, is this considered to be a taboo or not? In this article, Suryani talked to Kathleen, mom of 2, who decided to quit her job to become a housewife.
We can’t all look good at the same time. It’s either me, the kids or the house
So Kathleen, a few years ago you decided to turn your life around and to become a stay-at-home mom. What made you decide to do this?
It was a combination of things. Due to circumstances, my second maternity leave was ending a few weeks earlier. Meaning that I would have to bring our son to daycare when he was only 9 weeks old. I felt this was too young and so I didn’t really wanted to do this. Simply as I was not ready for it. Also, my mother was a stay-at-home mom and I always knew that I wanted to be that as well. If this hadn’t been the case, I might not even considered of doing this.
Around the same time, my husband was being offered the opportunity to go to work abroad for a year. More specific to Sweden.
This started to make me think. And the more I thought about it, the more I was coming to the idea that quitting my job and going with him, could be the solution to my problem. Since people tend to judge you when you tell them you’re a housewife, I don’t know if I would have made the same decision if we had stayed here in Belgium. Sweden gave me, literally and figuratively, a way out.
That must have been a big change in your life without a doubt: moving to another country where you didn’t know anyone and then also not going to work anymore. How did that turn out?
Really well actually. I didn’ t know this beforehand. But in Sweden, people have a whole other mindset when it comes to working outside the home. I remember standing at the gate of my daughter’s school and telling, with some trepidation, to a few other moms that I wasn’t working right now, so I could stay at home with my son. At that time, he was 6 months and to them, it was an obviousness. It’s totally not done to start working again only a few weeks after giving birth. Since there isn’t any form of organized childcare in Sweden before the age of 1, it’s only normal that children stay at home until then. After that, they can go to preschool but they don’t actually teach in there. It’s more a place where children can play and where you can meet other parents.
The government also provides a lot more accommodations for stay-at-home moms. You get , for example, a replacement income and maternity leave is far more extended than in Belgium.
Sweden is a lot more childminded in general. Children are welcome everywhere, even at the office and you have an unlimited amount of days of sick leave when your children are sick. So if you do work outside the house, you don’t have to struggle anymore to find a babysitter. This because your job won’t allow you to take a day off. This mentality was a real relief to me.
How did people react when you told them about your plans?
Unlike in Sweden, unfortunately, most of the reactions I got here were negative. People really judge stay-at-home-moms. Even before I had children, I already noticed this. At the school where I used to work, it was not done to have a long maternity leave. On the contrary, the prevailing mentality was that you started working again as soon as possible.
Then, after my daughter was born, I decided that I wanted to work parttime. I really felt that this decision diminished my chances and that there was a lot of incomprehension.
I don’t understand why people feel the need to react so negative. Some women choose to work on their career and that’s fine by me but I’m just not like that. Personally, I am not so career-minded. I loved my job but I didn’t need it to feel valuable or to have a sense of ‘worth’. Also, I just feel that everyone should be able to make that decision on their own. Every person, child, or situation is different. So I won’t judge someone for making that choice or any other choice for that matter.
You now financially depend on your husband while before you had an income of yourself. How does that feel?
I don’t feel like I financially depend on him at all nor do I feel inferior in our relationship. As soon as we started to work we opened a joint account. So I look at this like something that we’ve been growing towards and which we’ve accomplished together. Let’s not forget that it’s also because I stay at home that he can do the job he does now. He never has to worry about bringing or taking the kids somewhere, I do the household and make sure everything concerning the house and the children is taken care of. Being a stay-at-home mom is definitely also a job!
Looking back at it now, what do you prefer: being a stay-at-home mom or working outside the house?
I don’t consider what I do now as ‘staying at home’. What I mean is that I go on a lot of trips with the children, I started studying again e.g. as a yoga teacher, I do some voluntary work and I always accompany my kids when they have a school trip. It is a really busy life and so to me, being a housewife doesn’t mean ‘staying at home’. However, I can imagine that it would have been totally different if I had done the same thing in Belgium. Since everybody else is working, the social isolation there would have been much bigger.
After my second pregnancy, I was very close to having a burnout, and a lot of the other ex-pat moms in Sweden experienced the same. So, if we would ‘ve stayed in Belgium, chances are big that it would have turned out rather negative for me. My experience in Sweden was like a breath of fresh air and it has been a real enrichment to my life.
Do you think you will be returning to the labor market again in the future or is that not really part of your plans?
I think of this as a phase in my life. Who knows what the future will bring? As for now, we don’t even know where we are going to live next year. We’ve been in Sweden for 5 years already now and this was ideal for me but I don’t rule out the possibility of getting a job again in the future. I’ve never felt nostalgia for my old life and my old job. Only until recently, when I saw a picture of some students I used to teach, it began to itch a little bit.
For now, I don’t know if I would chose a teaching job again or something else but I do have the time now to figure out if this was really something for me or not. Not everyone can handle that insecurity but I have no problems with it. But that’s something to think about later. Maybe when the children are a little bit older.
I do know that, because of this whole Swedish adventure, I would bring loads of fresh energy and motivation to a new job.
So is being a stay-at-home mom still a taboo?
I believe it is in some countries. Sweden, as opposed to Belgium, has a mentality that is a lot less performance-based and people find it to be normal. Also in France, they share more or less the same thoughts.
There are more and more people who are experiencing a burnout due to too much stress. They can’t deal with all the different roles they need to take upon themselves. Not only do you have so many different roles, but you also have to be perfect in each and every one of them.
So maybe, we need to change our mentality. Maybe, we need to think a little bit more like Sweden. We need to realize that it’s ok to take a step back and to withdraw ourselves from the labor market for a while. This to take care of our children or the household and to find more inner peace.