This reminds me of a day, 13 years ago, when I was sitting in the oratory of Mount Carmel Hospital, in Dublin, trying to control my rising panic, as I realised that my day-old daughter was in serious trouble.
She was born six weeks premature and, because she was a big baby, at 9lbs 12oz, she was having severe breathing difficulties.
Her doctor was worried she had an infection, which, he said, “would be the worst thing for her, at this point”.
I was in the doctor’s way in the special care unit, so I sat in the oratory, where I stared into an abyss so dark that I, too, struggled to breathe.
I spoke to God, laying out all my worst fears. As the tears fell, I became aware that all I wanted, more than anything else, was to be at home with my new baby, she in her wicker basket surrounded by her two sisters, myself and her dad. As I held this vision, I was aware that making our home a refuge, a place of safety and of growth and healing, was something I wanted more than anything.
I made a deal with God.
Two weeks later, my baby, Mia, left hospital; a homecoming that was simple, but profound. A month later, I began to work on my side of the bargain — explaining to my boss that I wouldn’t be coming back to work full-time. He was stunned, as were most of my colleagues.
“It’s just for a year,” I told everyone, including my husband. We sat down and we reordered our lives.
When both of us were working, we had divided chores and ‘out of hours’ child minding. We lived in a state of constant negotiation. But reordering was easy — I would do all the childminding and housework, while he earned the money; all charmingly old-fashioned and very straightforward.
I don’t want to give the impression that my new life was all Little House on The Prairie stuff. It wasn’t. There were lots of long, boring, mind-numbing days. There were days when I missed work coffee-breaks and lunches. I missed office gossip and the camaraderie.
I missed getting paid. I missed being thanked for work well done. I missed knowing who I was. Working outside the home requires a job title that rolls off the tongue when someone asks you what you do. Try answering that when you are a housewife or a stay-at-home mum or home-maker (take your pick — all are meaningless).
But I didn’t miss the guilt I regularly felt as a working parent. I didn’t miss the awful foreboding that accompanied one of my children’s coughs and sneezes. I didn’t miss hanging out my washing in the dark, nor constantly telling my small children to hurry up.
I didn’t miss arriving home, tired, with cranky children, to a kitchen still full of the detritus of that morning’s breakfast. I didn’t miss the vague feeling that I was losing out on something important.
Having a partner is usually vital to become a housewife/stay-at-home mom/homemaker. I have also been a single parent. I was doubly lucky that my ‘retirement’ coincided with the Celtic Tiger years, so my husband had plenty of work. But when we rearranged our tax allowances and deducted two full-time creche fees and other ‘costs’ of my working, we were only slightly worse-off financially.
I feel strongly that women have been discouraged from saying that they enjoy running a home and minding their own children. Stepping off the career ladder can be viewed as letting the sisterhood down, of wasting your education.
But, in our rush for gender equality, I think we may have forgotten just how much many of us (usually women), deep down, want to spend some years at home, caring for our children and learning to cook and bake. I have spent ten years delighting in my failed attempts to be a domestic goddess. It’s not for everyone, I know that. But if there is a little voice in your head, a pull in your heart, and if you’ve a supportive partner, it’s worth giving it some thought.
As for my premature baby, she’s just turned 13, and every year I thank God for having come good on his end of the deal, too.
*Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, Emily Matchar (Simon & Schuster)