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Are housewives really as happy as working mums?

Apparently so, according to a new government study which found stay-at-home mothers didn’t feel remotely downtrodden or unfulfilled. Here, two Northern Ireland mums debate the issue.

Work say Karen Ireland

As a mum of three children who has worked full-time, part-time, from home and from the office, all in pursuit of the holy grail of the perfect balance between home and family life, I really don’t know what the secret to happiness is except that for me it certainly doesn’t lie in staying at home.

I know this because when my youngest son Teo, now seven, was born, the cost of childcare forced us to rethink things and I decided to leave my job as a journalist and be at home.

Well, lots of my friends did it and they survived and seemed to enjoy it. Surely I could to? I lasted six weeks before I was printing out my CV and advertising for a nanny.

I think for me it boils down to two simple things — I love my job and I hate housework. Everything in between is about compromise.

I realised when I was at home I didn’t feel complete.

Yes, I love my children and looking after them is the most important job I will ever have, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do other things as well.

I love getting dressed up to go into the office or out to meet clients and I relish that sense of wondering what each new day will bring. In the world of communications no two days are ever the same.

I have always enjoyed having colleagues to share things with and even had a gym buddy for a while which was great — we went to the gym in the mornings before work every day.

I’ve also made friends over the years in the work environment who will be friends for life. Plus, I feel I can be a better mum to the boys when I am more fulfilled myself. And, as my husband will testify, housework does not fulfil me at all.

In fact, I have found that when I am working the house is much more organised than when I am at home. I plan things better and I think I make more of an effort to enjoy the time I have off and to do things with the boys.

Weekends are precious when you are working during the week and we tend to fit a lot more into them as a family.

Now, if only there was an extra day or person for ‘housework’ then I would definitely be a lot happier.

Home says Frances Burscough

Since my first child was born 19 years ago, I’ve tried every approach to parenting. In the early days when I was married and had just one child, I went out to work full-time and left him with a child-minder, but my hours (in TV production) were so erratic the childminder eventually downed-tools. Next I tried using a nursery but this was so expensive it was counter-productive as it swallowed up half my wages.

After child number two was born, thus began the third phase as a stay-at-home full-time mum.

I didn't have a long-term plan, but my husband was more than happy for me to be at home with the kids when he returned from work and we could just about manage financially. Of course, we missed the second salary and had to make sacrifices, but I chose to look on this as a privilege that few could afford and I was going to make the most of it. We’d a wonderful few years of closeness together and I knew I had made the right decision.

But then a spanner got thrown into the works; my marriage broke down and I was left living alone with two children and no job. As I'd been a housewife for 10 years I was pretty much unemployable so I’d to re-invent myself. I became a stay-at-home/ work-at-home single mum. It took me a while, but now I think I have found a perfect solution.

As a freelance feature writer, all I need is my laptop, internet and imagination; all of which can be accessed directly from home. It gives me all the flexibility I need and I know this is the best answer for my boys because I’m always here if they need me — if they’re sick, have left behind their rugby boots or have an exceptional closure day.

School holidays are not a problem; I simply lock myself in my study and tell them to shout up if they need me. Yes, there are disadvantages. I'm alone a lot of the time and miss out on the social interaction of a working environment. But the advantages have been so many that pales into insignificance. I have been present for every single stage of their growing up. As a result we are closer than any other family I know.

That, to me, is priceless.

the others having a good time ...

A government happiness survey polled 80,000 people and found:

  • Women who stayed at home scored 7.9 — virtually the same as those who went out to work — on whether they felt their lives were worthwhile
  • House-husbands found life less satisfying at 6.7 and scored only 7 for happiness
  • The survey found that ethnic minorities were less happy with their lives than white people
  • Young people and the elderly were happier than middle-aged people struggling with jobs, mortgages and the high cost of living

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