Monday, May 05, 2008

WAHM ~ what it means to me to be a work-at-home-mother

I knew that I wanted to be a writer long before I had children. In fact, I was a child myself when I made that decision. I was blessed to have a mother who stayed at home with her children for my entire childhood. It’s a gift which will stay with me for my lifetime. It’s something that I now consider so priceless I’m in awe of the life path she chose.

My mother was (still is!!) amazing. She ‘worked’ from dawn to way beyond dusk each day...not in a paid profession, but as a mother. She spent hours making us a beautiful home and a massive edible garden, growing a huge number of trees so we could be self-sufficient. We had olives, avocados, paypaya,figs, carob trees and all the fruit trees imaginable. My youngest brother’s placenta was buried under the pear tree, and boy, did that tree yield some incredible fruit!

She always learnt new skills and was able to build us amazing structures in the garden from wood; she made us a flying fox, and lovely doll houses, castles and so on. One of the things I most love about my childhood is that my mum actually WANTED to be with us…she played with us. We felt this genuine affection and care. I remember once we were all playing hide and seek in the garden (and the garden was a few acres so the ‘seeking’ bit of the game could take a while) and we just couldn’t find her anywhere! Turned out that she was under the upside down wheelbarrow! I remember at the time thinking my mum was a genius. Move over Einstein.

My mother sewed me gorgeous dresses and dolls. And yet, while blessing our lives with her talents and skills she also fulfilled her own needs by studying various philosophies and esoteric traditions. My mum would rise at about 4am and do yoga on the lawn, then meditate and squeeze fresh orange juice for all of us when we woke up. Our house was always clean and tidy. I don’t think she ever watched a daytime soap. In fact, she never just ‘sat’ in front of tv when it was on...nope, the ironing board was out, or clothes were mended.

My mum managed to do all this and look after a 700 acre property single-handedly. Having land in the Australian bush is no easy job. Bore pumps break down, horses get hurt, droughts cause damage, etc.

She was, in essence, a single mum who raised eight children. My dad worked overseas for months at a time…and was only ever home briefly. To me, she was a superwoman. From my mum I learnt that women can do ANYTHING.

I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to stay with my children too when I became a mother. In my childhood mind I figured that being a writer would enable me to ‘work’ and still be with my children especially if I ended up becoming a single mum or my husband died. The reality, as I’ve since found out, is that you can’t write when your children are around. Writing involves being able to follow through on a train of thought without being interrupted by “can I have this…can I have that…can we…” Writing, for me, is something to do when the house is clean, the children are asleep and there are NO distractions.

Bethany was six and Eliza was four when I began editing The Mother magazine. I’d written some children’s stories before that time and Cycle to the Moon (at night while they lay sleeping) but I had spent their early years as a stay at home mum ~ and unlike many mothers who claim they had to go back to work because motherhood was boring, I simply never found that. I thoroughly enjoyed their company and the little lasses always kept me on my toes…there was simply no room for boredom. We’ve always spent a lot of time going out for walks, first when we lived in New Zealand and Australia (where the weather is far friendlier!!) and for the past nine years here in the north of England.

I’d been lent a copy of Compleat Mother, a natural birth, pregnancy and breastfeeding magazine published out of Canada, which felt like ‘coming home’. It gave me a real sense of community when I first came to the UK. When the founder, Catherine Young, died of breast cancer, I felt moved to start a magazine to continue the light she’d held for many years. I’m pleased to say Compleat Mother is still going strong to this day.

The Mother magazine is an entity in its own right with a broader base of articles (covering health, education, finance, ecology, global citizenship, etc) but our ethos is similar.

Being a work at home mother is a completely different kettle of fish to being a stay at home mother. I simply couldn’t do what I’m doing now if I had little kids. I WOULDN’T do what I’m doing now if I had a baby or toddler. I feel it would be cruel to the mother-child bond. A blog reader asked me the other day why I never had more children. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction in ‘producing’ a magazine every two months…it’s like a little birth each time and I never fail to be excited when I pick another copy hot off the press. If I was to have another child I would no longer ‘work’ …whether on this magazine or writing books, doing talks, etc., while the child was young. Clearly I wouldn’t sit on the sofa all day (unless I was breastfeeding continuum-raised triplets!) ~ my in-arms baby would learn about my ‘work’ life from being with me in the garden or around the home or village or in town.

But my life as a magazine editor involves putting myself into the ‘artificial’ and unhealthy electromagnetic world of a computer onto a daily and regular basis. Although we don’t have broadband (and are probably the only house in the UK to still have dial up LOL and I certainly would never have wi-fi, the exposure of the computer isn’t something I’d inflict on a baby or child. As anyone who’s read The Drinks Are On Me will know, I’m very concerned about the rise in the number of women who NAK (nurse at keyboard) for this reason.

My girls are of an age where they disappear for hours on end doing their own projects and activities and playing with their friends in the village. It’s in those times that I ‘work’, or, more often than not, I wait until they’re asleep at night (that’s getting trickier now they’re older and protest at their ‘early’ bed time of 9pm ~ “but the sun hasn’t even set!”).

Life’s infinitely easier now that I’m no longer dealing with administration, publishing, mail outs etc…and for that I’m enormously grateful to The Art of Change for being partners in the business.

Working from home means I can spend all day in my PJs if I want (I don’t!). It means I can have a cup of fennel tea or piece of fruit when my body wants it, rather than a boss imposing eating and drinking times on me. It means I can hang the washing out when the sun makes an appearance. Working from home means that I can check emails while Eliza is cooking (she doesn’t like anyone in the kitchen while she’s creating) or Bethany is playing the violin or piano. It means I’m with my growing daughters full-time and we can enjoy long walks along the fields by the fell (hills) or dip into the woodland or picnic at the local stone circle. It means I can create my own working hours.

It also means my children don’t have to miss out on being able to ask me questions when the urge arises, or if they have other needs to be met.

Working from home means that my family and I can find a great work/life balance that works for all of us. My husband now works from home with me which means after all these years I have the space and time to actually write (and not just edit other people’s writing) as the girls have another parent available for when I’m not, and the same goes for when I need to pop away for a lecture/workshop.

I don’t regret the choices I made, and nor does my husband. I don’t pine for a career I could have had if I’d stayed in the media after giving birth. Actually, becoming a mother has completely opened my eyes to what a manipulative and bullying industry it can be.

I love the work I do and being in ‘ethical media’, but the bottom line is that my children come first. They know this. Both girls fully support me in my life’s work and recognise the importance of showing women and men how to empower themselves. Neither of them want me to stop what I am doing.
For all the hours I spend on The Mother magazine and related projects, I think of myself first and foremost as a stay at home mother, rather than a working mother.

Every mother is a working mother, whether she chooses a career or not.


~ Veronika ~


barrydh said...

Yeah - and I've been a WAHD for many years now and I can't recommend it highly enough! People often think it's the easy option to work from home - I wouldn't say it was the easy option but I would say it's the most rounded option. Children learn by our example and they don't want adults devoting their time directly to them always - they learn by what they see us doing.Seeing us 'work' inspires them to 'work'.

My Vision said...

Wow your mom is a saint! How on earth did she do all that???
I think working from home requires a LOT of organization of time, focus, and prioritizing what is important.