Dear Maxine,

I love being a mum, but I’m finding it difficult to accept that as my only job. I used to work full-time and I really enjoyed my job. Although I’m so happy to stay at home with my children, I’m struggling with how society responds to me now that I don’t ‘work’.

I never saw my job as part of my identity but I’m starting to realise how much more it gave me than just something to do. I no longer get the sense of achievement and purpose that I used to have. Of course, my children give me a great sense of purpose, but achieving ‘doing the laundry’ doesn’t feel the same as what I used to achieve at work (although sometimes it really feels like a monumental feat). Could you help me make some sense of this, please?

Dear Follower,

I think I say this every blog post but you are not alone. I know, for certain, this is a common difficulty that (usually) mums face. They are used to having a social standing that comes with being a working professional, and being a full-time mum does not command the same respect.

There’s a few things I think could be helpful to think about in this.

  1. Grieving
  2. Broadening your identity
  3. Meeting your needs
  4. Understanding and responding to society

1. Grieving

All change comes with loss. Even the best change. And, my word, becoming a parent can be one of the best changes and can come with some of the most loss.

What do you think you have lost since becoming a parent? What would it be like to write that down? Make a list and take a good look at it? How would that feel to you? If it feels overwhelming, take your time. Breathe out. Go away and come back to it.

When you look at it, what do you notice? What are the things you’ve lost necessarily and what are the things you’ve lost because you think you’re ‘not allowed’ to do those things any more?

How has each loss affected you? What do you miss about those things? Is there anything you’ve gladly given up?

What’s your relationship with grieving? How do you understand it? Do you think it’s something that should be one cry and it’s over or do you think it comes in waves? As new things come up, so too do the feelings of sadness, anger and despair?

What would it be like to know that grief is not linear for anyone. And grief involves feelings of pain, sadness, anger and despair? To know those feelings that are coming up aren’t random, they’re to do with the loss you’ve inevitably encountered by becoming a parent? How does that feel? That these feelings are common to everyone? That this is a big and unspoken part of becoming a parent? And that feeling these feelings allows you to process them, heal and grow?

How does that sound? Hopeful or infuriating? Either way, why do you think that is? If you’re feeling hopeful, what do you think it is that’s helped? If you’re feeling infuriated, I’m imagining that that’s something to do with really not wanting to feel these things and I’m wondering what it is about them that you find so repellent.

2. Your identity

It sounds like the biggest thing you’ve lost is your sense of identity. Your sense of self as a working person who gives value to society (see understanding and responding to society to start questioning how accurate this is). I don’t want to rush into how you can rebuild your identity until you’ve done the necessary grieving for yourself as a working person.

When it feels right, it could be helpful to think about what it was that you got at work. I know you’ve mentioned a sense of achievement. What kinds of things did you do at work and did you receive praise from other people that made you feel worthwhile? What do you think it was about these things that made you feel ‘good’? When do you think you started associating these things with feeling ‘good’?

It sounds like there was a lot of external validation that you received when you were working that you don’t feel like you receive now. I wonder about your internal validation. I wonder about what it is that you give value to about yourself. Is it your achievements or is it yourself as a person? Where do you think that comes from?

An example

To illustrate what I mean, think about your child when they were first born. They hadn’t ‘achieved’ anything except successfully making it out of your body (and sometimes that’s not even as straightforward as it could be). And yet, my assumption is, that you don’t think they were any less worthy of love or acceptance than someone who has earned billions of pounds or has developed the COVID vaccine or even than the midwife who helped you to deliver your baby. They were worthy of love just by virtue of being. They were incredible just because they were here. Even if you struggled to bond with your baby, even if you didn’t totally love them as soon as they were born (which is very common). Did you ever think they were less worthy of love than the most ‘worthy’ people?

If not, then I wonder why it would be different for you. I wonder why you have to strive to earn the love, respect and acceptance that you so readily afford your children. Where do you think that comes from? How do you think you could let that go? How do you think you could begin tiny, tiny steps to accepting yourself just as you are in any moment. Just as you try to do for your children.

3. Meeting your needs

It sounds as though there were some elements of work that met your needs more than being a parent is able to do. When you look at your list of things you’ve lost, what themes come up for you? What do you notice your needs are in this?

Is there something about having time for you? Connecting with friends? Being allowed to be irresponsible sometimes? Feeling valued by those around you? Feeling valued by yourself?

What things come up for you? How do you think you could find ways to meet these needs?

Just as one partner cannot meet every single one of our needs (despite what Hollywood might have us believe), nor can one role in life.

What roles did you have before you became a parent? What’s made you let them go? What would it be like to start them again? Do you feel you’re ‘allowed’ to do more things than being a ‘full-time parent’ or do you feel that you have to be always available to your children’s every need?

Why do you think that is? Where does that permission come from? Or the lack of it? Who are you waiting to give you permission? Why do they have that power over you?

4. Understanding and responding to society

The first step to this is understanding and responding to your own feelings about being a ‘stay at home’ parent. These will definitely have come from the messages around you and if you’re always looking for society to accept you in order to accept yourself, life is going to be much much harder.

However, I think it’s important to understand how society responds to women, let alone mums, whether they are working or stay at home. This is specific to women. They cannot win. Go back to work and they’re neglecting their children. Become a full-time mum and they’re neglecting themselves. Of course, there are different discourses around for men, which can be damaging as well, and they are different. Men are often heroes for looking after their own children, women are seen as pathetic.

Where do you notice the judgment coming from most? Is it other mums? Other women? Your partner? Men? Family? Your ex-colleagues? People on the street? Which judgments most affect you?

Why do you think this is? What are the stories you tell yourself about being a full-time mum?

What do you find yourself justifying? Which are the parts that you most struggle with in yourself? That you feel most judged about?

Why did you choose not to go back to work? Or did you choose?

As with many of my posts, other people’s feelings about you are their business, not yours. And how you feel about other people’s feelings about you is your business, not theirs.

So we need to really understand which parts of society’s stories about women are affecting you. Why that is and what it’s triggering in you.

How do you feel having read this?

What’s come up for you?

What are you going to take away from it?

What do you want to think more about?

Let me know what you think about this in the comments or on Facebook/Instagram and share this with whoever you can and think would benefit.